Is the Southeastern League here to stay?
Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 22, 2002
As the newly formed Southeastern Association of Professional Baseball prepares for the May 31 start of its first season, there’s only two questions that still linger on my mind:
One: will it stay or will it go?
And two: just where does Troy fit in all of this?
The caption on the league’s website reads: "Bringing baseball back to the Southeast," which it appears to have done. And as a baseball fan, one can’t help but get a bit giddy thinking about professional baseball being played in your own backyard. Half of the six-team league resides within the State of Alabama; Selma, Ozark and Montgomery. Then there’s the Arrows in Americus (Ga.), the Pensacola (Fla.) Pelicans and Baton Rouge (La.) RiverBats.
Okay, so it’s not professional baseball as in big pay checks and even bigger egos. It’s not even a minor league associated with the majors such as the former Alabama-Florida D League that existed around here from 1936-1962. But it is baseball. And the players who make the cut will be drawing paychecks.
So this year’s 72 game schedule is in place. The league will go on.
But what about next season? Will the interest still be there in 2003?
Tough questions with trail mix-like answers.
The AFL was dumped because it wouldn’t accept integration yet it prospered because of the era in which it was conceived. People went to AFL baseball games because of a sense of team ownership and nights at the diamond were like
community events. It was cheap and exciting. Today there’s just more offered. Movies, computers and outings to the Blockbuster Video store eat up a good portion of a family’s entertainment dollar.
Prior to last year, the people of Montgomery had went 21 years without some sort of professional baseball team to call its own. They were starving for their peanuts and popcorn and Cracker Jacks. As a result, the Wings led the league in attendance in the now defunct All-American Association.
However, in contrast, Baton Rouge, which won the AAA’s only league title, drew an average of just under 600 people to its games.
The league received a major boost when Pensacola decided to jump on board this year. An estimated 400,000 people live in and around the area and if just a fraction of that number show interest then the Pelicans will be perched for an encore presentation next season. As will Montgomery and Baton Rouge. Which could mean growth. Six teams is a fine start, but eight or ten would do even more toward enhancing the league’s credibility.
So the question remains, where’s Troy in all of this? Why don’t we have a team? After all it was a Troy businessman, George Grant, who started the AFL back in 1936 and Troy had a team for 10 of the league’s 28 seasons.
My guess, is there wasn’t enough interest. Some would say it’s because we already have a collegiate baseball team in Troy State, but so does Baton Rouge in LSU. Besides the college season ends before the Southeastern League really gets started good.
Again, we come back to a question of people saying ‘what other things are going on that I can be doing right now’. Recreation league for one. American Legion baseball for two. Add in swim team, camps, and just a chance for parents to take a break alongside their kids during the summer months and you get the idea. The fans just wouldn’t have come out to support a Troy professional baseball team. And after finally getting their baseball facility exactly where they want it, do you think Troy State would have been willing to offer up Riddle-Pace Field for a 36-game home schedule? Don’t think so.
Personally, I don’t mind that Troy doesn’t have a team. I’ve got the best of both worlds. Ozark down the road and Montgomery up it. And some of those seniors from TSU will be headed to seek contracts at either location.
Maybe this thing will be around for awhile.
But if it isn’t…
Well, to quote Tom Hanks from A League Of Their Own:
"There’s no crying in baseball."
Even if there’s not a game to be played.