JACKSON — The Capital City could be only about 18 months away from hosting a AA baseball team at Smith-Wills Stadium, according to one city official, and it is one of the top priorities of the city.
Ramie Ford, director for parks and recreation for the city of Jackson, feels comfortable that will happen. He and others are working diligently to find a AA franchise team.
“It’s not an issue of having someone with a lot of money; there has to be one (team) available and the affiliation has to be willing to relocate,” he said.
Ford said it is not the city’s intention to go back to independent ball but to seek a team affiliated with the majors.
“There’s an awful lot that has to be considered,” he said. “One thing it’s going to have to have is the support from the city of Jackson, and I don’t mean the municipal government,” he said.
And as for the DiamondKats, Ford said that particular team was under-funded, under-capitalized and simply came into the area too quickly.
“In any business when you go in the way they did, it’s generally going to fail,” he said. “In the meantime if we don’t have a team we’ll continue to put the Cotton States League (in the stadium), concerts, baseball clinics; we’re not going to let the stadium draw cobwebs. We’re going to utilize it.”
Con Maloney, chairman of the board of Cowboy Maloney’s Electric City and minority owner of the Express in Round Rock, Texas, formerly the Jackson Generals, said he would love to see another team play at Smith-Wills.
Maloney owned the Jackson Mets, affiliates of the New York Mets, from 1975 until 1990, and then the Generals, affiliates of the Houston Astros, from 1990 until 1999. He said nonaffiliated baseball is not going to bring the “avid fan” to the field.
“I have no problem with the private league as long as people understand what it is,” he said. “Some people think good college baseball is just as good as a AA team and that’s just not the case. The real fan looks for the higher levels.”
Maloney said he did not know of any A team or A league close enough to Jackson that they would affiliate.
“If I did I’d be working very hard to bring it because that’s what we need,” he said. “I think Jackson would support a middle A or high A program and I think it would be financially workable. It would be such that you wouldn’t lose a lot of money.”
Unfortunately though, Maloney said, there are no A leagues close to Mississippi, a major drawback to the city’s seeking a team.
Maloney projected that a AA team in Jackson would lose $700,000 a year and, he said, it is going to be hard for someone to bring in a AA team that might lose that much annually.
“It’s a terribly difficult situation,” he said. “It’s all based on economics and that’s the reason that even Major League Baseball is in trouble.”
Maloney said he would be at the field virtually every night for an affiliated program, as well as try to be financially involved, but he said it has got to “make sense.”
“The bottom line for Jackson is its numbers,” he said. “It has nothing to do with interest of the fan. The fans who love baseball supported it, but all of a sudden there were more things for people in the Jackson community to do. You can’t put a gallon of water in a quart bottle regardless.”
Randy Bell, program director at WJDX — The Score 620 AM, agreed with Maloney that even with the AA club it was fighting for people’s time and the recreational dollar.
“I’m inclined to doubt that another club would be successful here, but perhaps after a number of years there would be a hunger built up and the community would rally around it,” he said.
WJDX broadcasted the games for the Mets and the Generals but not for the DiamondKats. As to whether they would make an arrangement with another team to broadcast, Bell said that is unlikely.
“You can say minor league baseball, but what kind are you talking about?” he said. “Last year you clearly had an inferior product. (There were) some talented players on the team but not the same level people were accustomed to.”
Charlie Dixon, assistant director of the Agricultural and Forestry Museum, would love to see another team back in Jackson.
“I think it would just help what we’ve got out here,” he said. “We couldn’t ask for a better location.”
Michael Rubenstein, executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum, said he too wants Smith-Wills to be occupied.
“It’s in the museum’s best interest to have someone active at the stadium,” he said.
Rubenstein compared the location of the hall of fame to a small store near an empty anchor store at a mall.
“Traffic is what everyone wants,” he said.
And as a citizen, he said he would very much like to see professional baseball return to Jackson. He is hoping the absence of a team for several years may motivate some people to actively seek a franchise.
“I think the right product with the right promotion in the right place can have a chance to succeed,” he said.
Contact MBJ staff writer Elizabeth Kirkland at firstname.lastname@example.org or (601) 364-1042.