They are mere teenagers, The Ted and The Joe.
Both ballparks opened in 1997, Atlanta’s Ted Turner Field and Charleston’s Joseph P. Riley Jr. Park. One is named after a media/bison mogul famed for large charitable donations, the other after a popular mayor and longtime baseball fan.
The Ted is a lame duck now that the Atlanta Braves have announced a move to Cobb County. Thanks to $450 million of public money, the Braves will take to the affluent suburbs north of the I-285 perimeter for the 2017 season.
The Joe thrives. Credit goes to the sound relationships between private enterprise and local government, plus political and business leaders that look out for the best interests of a city — virtues in shorter supply in Atlanta and Columbia.
The minor league Charleston RiverDogs, The Joe’s primary tenant in a sharing arrangement with the Citadel, are satisfied. Their 2013 attendance total of 283,274 was up 11.5 percent from 2012. The Class A South Atlantic League affiliate of the New York Yankees just signed a new 10-year lease with the city of Charleston, and they serve award-winning peanut butter and jelly jalapeno burgers.
But here’s some food for thought: There are a few disturbing Ted and Joe similarities. The Braves say they are bolting 10 miles north to get closer to a ticket-buying fan base and dodge downtown traffic problems.
The RiverDogs could give such reasons to move up I-26 to Summerville, Goose Creek or Ladson.
Or perhaps over the Cooper River. As the economy comes back and Mount Pleasant re-booms, the Upper Mount Pleasant development trend will nudge Awendaw.
Still, a RiverDogs dash isn’t likely.
“We’re extremely satisfied with the ballpark and our relationships with The Citadel and the city of Charleston,” RiverDogs general manager Dave Echols said. “It’s hard to believe the ballpark is 17 years old. The ballpark does require more constant care and attention, but it is holding up exceptionally well.”
Atlanta, Columbia flaws
Greenville’s Fluor Field and Myrtle Beach’s TicketReturn.com Field don’t have the Ashley River view of The Joe, but Greenville has a lively downtown nearby and Myrtle Beach has open air between the concourse and the field.
Charleston, Greenville and Myrtle Beach with sustainable ballparks have small problems compared to Atlanta and Columbia.
Atlanta: A metropolis fundamentally fails its citizens when a baseball stadium born in 1997 and a domed football stadium opened in 1992 are already booked for demolition (the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons will jump to a $1.2 billion home with retractable roof for the 2017 season).
Columbia: One of the only significant Southern cities without a minor league baseball team, an embarrassing flaw for a sports-mad town. The University of South Carolina and the city couldn’t get together on a shared-use project and Columbia lost its minor league team, depriving fans and costing lots of seasonal jobs.
Atlanta has some excuses. It had to take the converted Olympic stadium discount deal, too convenient to pass up after the 1996 Summer Olympics. But sightlines at The Ted were never baseball friendly. While Camden Yards and Coors Field and many other modern Major League ballparks are surrounded by restaurants and trendy bars, fans at The Ted have a choice: The Bullpen Café or a very long walk.
Follow the money
The Joe was designed by HOK, the Kansas City ballpark architects that gave us Camden Yards in Baltimore, Coors Field in Denver and Jacobs Field in Cleveland, among other projects.
It cost $19.5 million.
Carolina Stadium, the South Carolina Gamecocks’ 8,242-seat college baseball jewel, opened in 2009 and cost $35 million.
Bayfront Stadium in Pensacola, Fla., opened in 2012 as home of the double-A Southern League’s Pensacola Blue Wahoos. The 5,038-seat ballpark has a spectacular Gulf of Mexico backdrop. It cost $18 million to construct, but was rolled into a larger $56 million maritime project that includes an amphitheater and lots of green space.
Exterior landscaping is one of best things about The Joe. It’s tough to beat Brittlebank Park on one side, an expansive marsh out back.
I asked Echols for a wish-list.
“I’d love to have more storage, another sizable picnic/gathering area, possibly covered,” he said. “And I’d love to have a true kids’ area.”
But the RiverDogs are not moving to Ladson or Upper Mount Pleasant. At least not before the Braves announce they are leaving Cobb County for a land grab somewhere between Flowery Branch and the South Carolina border.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff
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