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October 19, 2022

Play ball? Not yet, but ceremony held for new baseball stadium

Credit: Herald-Mail, Dwight Weingarten

Baseball has a way of bringing people together. Such was the case Tuesday as a ceremony was held in downtown Hagerstown for a multi-use sports facility that has been years in the making.

“It’s almost a great day for baseball,” said William George, of Falling Waters, W.Va., who drove into town for the event headlined by the state’s outgoing governor, Larry Hogan.

Hogan thanked his “good friend” Howard “Blackie” Bowen, CEO and chairman of the board of Ewing Oil Co., for helping to bring a baseball team back to Hagerstown. At play in bringing the ball club was another friendship —between Bowen and his college roommate Frank Boulton, founder and CEO of the Atlantic League, a Major League Baseball professional partner league.

“I’ve been coming to Hagerstown to visit Blackie for years and years,” Boulton said. “When Blackie thought there was an opportunity for funding, he called me up.”

In 2021, Hogan, a Republican, signed legislation to allow the Maryland Stadium Authority to issue bonds to finance and construct a facility, to be owned and operated by the Hagerstown-Washington County Industrial Foundation, also known as CHIEF.

The Maryland Stadium Authority is the same organization that managed the construction of Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore, which opened 30 years ago this year. An Atlantic League team will lease the Hagerstown facility.

The governor’s supplemental budget provided $8.5 million for the project, and another $1.5 million was designated for the effort in the capital budget for fiscal year 2023.

When will they start to play the games?

There still may be many months ahead before the first pitch in the new stadium, with a proposed opening in fall 2024. On Tuesday, Hogan, Hagerstown Mayor Emily Keller, and U.S. Rep. David Trone, D-6th, shoveled dirt in what was the parking lot of The Herald-Mail building near the Washington County Community Action Council on Summit Avenue.

A recently closed coin-operated laundry also stood inside the gates where the event took place. Demolition of existing buildings is scheduled to be complete in Fall 2022.

About 60 people were at the ceremony, including Washington County Republican state delegates Brenda Thiam and Neil Parrott, who is challenging Trone for the 6th Congressional District seat in November.

Outside the gate, in another instance of baseball bringing people together, are the houses of two Summit Avenue neighbors with opposing political party signs in their yards.

However, the homeowners, Harold Wills and Douglas Zaruba, during interviews for other articles, were in agreement in opposing the stadium. Potentially increased traffic and decreasing property values were cited as reasons for opposition.

There may be temporary closures of public sidewalks during the demolition effort too.

George said his experiences attending Atlantic League games in York and Lancaster, Pa., have been positive ones, and that the ball clubs have brought an economic boost to those cities.

With the Hagerstown Cultural Trail nearby, that’s the desire in Hagerstown too. Keller showed Democratic candidate for governor Wes Moore a portion of the trail on a walking tour Monday.

Hogan called the ballpark Hagerstown’s “Field of Dreams,” referencing the 1989 fantasy/drama film starring Kevin Costner.

Fans and players in the new ballpark are still not quite a reality yet, but the film’s enduring line might be good advice for the construction team with a hopeful fan like George: “If you build it, he will come.”