Columnist Bill Colley

Columnist Bill Colley has his portrait taken Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2016, at the Times-News in downtown Twin Falls.

DREW NASH, TIMES-NEWS

Twin Falls needs baseball. I read a news release a few days ago. City government is seeking public input about the future of our town. I suggest a small baseball stadium with a few thousand seats. And a professional club as the main tenant.

When I visited Helena last week the local minor league team was on the road and by 2019 will be gone for good. The Milwaukee affiliate is packing up and going to Colorado. Competition for minor league baseball is fierce. Helena is half the size of Twin Falls and in a decade Twin Falls could be three to four times the size of Montana’s capital city. The population is already here to easily support A baseball and likely AA as well. It needn’t cost us a fortune.

There are community-owned teams scattered across America. During the late 1980s I lived in a city with a population of 35,000 people and it was behind its franchise. Routinely there were 3,000 fans in the stands for home games. The ballpark’s capacity was roughly 3,500 seats. The city has since shriveled to just over 25,000 people and the stands are still packed. The franchise has been in public hands since 1957, and a great many families have stock and show up on game nights. When I came home from Helena, I contacted an old acquaintance. John Simone and his father had a combined five decades operating a neighboring community owned franchise in the International League. John now works with Billy Martin Jr. and travels the country offering advice on getting stadiums and clubs off the ground. He would be happy to assist Twin Falls.

We aren’t talking about putting the grip on taxpayers. There are still community-minded spirits willing to underwrite such projects. You need a few acres for stadium and parking. You need a public drive and perhaps even children saving pennies, but it’s not impossible.

Why baseball? It’s a family activity. It’s wholesome, and having spent many a summer night watching balls and strikes, it reduces stress. Televised baseball only makes me a nervous wreck. Baseball under the stars is an entirely different feeling. You’re with friends. Many are new friends who are also stadium regulars. Unlike big league baseball, it’s affordable. A few seasons ago I was taking a date to a Major League game and she wanted seats behind home plate. The chairs were $320 a copy. We settled for 20 rows off the first base line for $83 a ticket. Many minor league parks are cheaper than a night at the movies.

A stadium can also provide space for high school activities, concerts and outdoor trade shows. During winter there are alternative uses. Giant slides, outdoor skating and carnivals. Just don’t tear up the grass! Parent clubs are picky about field conditions. At one post-game promotion I attended almost 30 years ago, I met a fellow who crawled into a coffin in the outfield. Dynamite was then placed underneath and exploded. When I interviewed the poor fellow I had to shout my questions. This is a part of America fading. Baseball’s associations with such colorful characters keeps the past alive. Going to a local ballpark is handed from one generation to another. Memories of family time are made. It teaches us cultural mores across the vastness of the ages. I grew up just 15 miles from where a young John McGraw played his first professional baseball. People were playing the same game 3,000 miles away. Other than families gathering around pianos, it was about the only recreation not involving a saloon. Cue James Earl Jones!

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My idea isn’t built on the notion of a spendthrift government. Although, I’m going to break conservative orthodoxy on another proposal. Government needs to treat the internet the same as water and sewer access. This one has been percolating since the Twin Falls County Fair last summer. I was speaking there with Megan Blanksma. She hadn’t yet been elected to the Legislature’s 23rd District. It stretches through Owyhee, Elmore and Twin Falls counties. Rep. Blanksma ranches in Elmore County. Farming is big business. When I was a young reporter we were told to shy away from stories about barn fires. Being a rural kid, I asked if the local hardware store burning was worth a story. It allowed me to make a point about business being both urban and rural. The hardware store owner has public lighting on the street and public water resources. The farm and ranch generally have none of these things and very rarely the combination of both. In modern times efficiency in all businesses is related to computers and internet access. Megan is a proponent of the Internet as a utility. Her argument made me a convert. Twin Falls suffers two clear economic disadvantages. We don’t have direct access to the interstate. The airport, through no fault of anybody in government, is on the wrong end of town. I’ve talked with economic development staff at Gov. Otter’s office and it’s apparent these disadvantages are going to be our albatross for generations to come (at least our progeny could enjoy some baseball). Public internet may not be an equalizer but it begins levelling the economic playing field. Your thoughts are welcome.

Why baseball? It’s a family activity. It’s wholesome, and having spent many a summer night watching balls and strikes, it reduces stress.

Bill Colley is the host of Top Story on Newsradio 1310 AM.

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