FOR local baseball fans, the dream has come true at last. On Tuesday, May 11, the Fredericksburg Nationals will play their first home game after opening their 120-game season on the road a week earlier.
A city that’s seen a lot over the past three centuries will see something new in 2021: professional baseball, played in a sparkling new ballpark.
It hardly could have worked out any better.
The FredNats are the Low-A affiliate of the Washington Nationals, the ’Burg’s favorite team, located just 60 miles away. Some current FredNats will no doubt play on a bigger stage in D.C., for a lot more money, in the near future.
The deal that brought the Nats here seems much more palatable than past proposals. A deal to bring the Hagerstown Suns here back in 2013 and 2014 appeared to be a bad and costly mistake for Fredericksburg and mercifully fell through.
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Then, in 2018, Art Silber, the chairman and owner of what were then the Potomac Nationals, made a better offer. He promised to build a stadium himself. The city would be the anchor tenant, paying the club a little over a million dollars a year in rent.
The city said yes, and the rest is history—delayed by a year and a month by the coronavirus pandemic. The new stadium will be available for other entertainment throughout the year on the 60 days or nights the FredNats aren’t playing.
The facility, which seats 5,000 with 13 suites, has already been used as an alternative training site for the big team. When major-league Nats are coming back from injuries and need to get in a few innings or at-bats, they likely will do a star turn for a game or two in FredNats Stadium.
Fredericksburg’s good fortune is in contrast to the bad news inflicted by Major League Baseball on many other cities and towns, including four in Virginia.
MLB, opting for the bottom line over loyalty, has give 42 localities their walking papers, including four in Virginia. Danville, Pulaski, Bristol, Bluefield (we split the last one with West Virginia, which lost all four of its pro teams in the great purge) and the rest of the Appalachian League will not be part of pro baseball this year. They have been thrown the sop of a collegiate summer league, featuring rising college freshmen and sophomores in a wood-bat league. Not quite the same thing.
We wish former Free Lance–Star editorial page editor Paul Akers were alive to see this. He lobbied for years to bring professional baseball to the city. He should have been here to throw out the first pitch.
Kudos to Fredericksburg for seizing the opportunity to get into this exclusive club while others were being shown the door. Kudos for holding out for a deal that won’t be a financial burden on taxpayers.
Kudos also for eschewing cuteness. In a league populated by Woodpeckers, Wood Ducks, Cannon Ballers and Riverdogs, the team’s brain trust went for simplicity. FredNats works just fine.
We have our first pro team. It’s an affiliate of the local-favorite Washington Nationals. It comes with a brand-new stadium that somebody else built. How good is that?