A New Ballpark In Bristol? Why Do the Tri-Cities Think So Small?

On the surface, it sounds like a good idea. But only if you wish to keep the area dinky-poo.

Marky Billson, Tri-Cities based sports talk show host

An article written by Leif Greiss of the Bristol Herald Courier reports Bristol, Tennessee might want to build a new ballpark to replace Bristol, Virginia’s aging Boyce Cox Field, unquestionably the worst ballpark in the Appalachian League’s West Division.

It would seem the article speaks of addressing a need, but in so many ways it is just more money to spend to keep the area in the dark.

After Elizabethton took a reported $1.5 million from projects originally intended for renovation of the police station and athletic fields designed for public use so that Boyd Sports can ultimately expand their footprint of operating practically every professional sports franchise in Tennessee north of Knoxville, Kingsport and now Bristol are having conversations to build new ballparks for their teams that do not draw 1,000 fans a game.

While it’s likely new ballparks will increase the attendance of the teams; Cox Field is decrepit, Hunter Wright Stadium, though only 24 years old, is isolated, it fails to address the issue that needs to be discussed.

Is it better for individual communities to think small in the Tri-Cities, spend millions of dollars individually for bad baseball teams featuring maybe four future major leaguers that are almost always unidentifiable at a Rookie League level, or is it better to come together as a Tri-Cities community, think more cosmopolitan and think of privately raising money for a AA caliber park for all of the Tri-Cities to enjoy featuring half a team of future big leaguers?

Greiss’ article doesn’t paint a picture of knowledge from local officials. For instance, the meeting discussing a new ballpark happened a month ago. Why wasn’t this news reported earlier?

The article speaks of a study done four years ago suggesting that a new ballpark could be a boon for Bristol and beyond, bringing in “concerts, high school sports, college sports and other outdoor events.”

Bristol needed a study to tell them this? Do the politicians in Bristol also need a study to tell them the sun is shining?

Now the City of Bristol, Tennessee will likely spend thousands for another study, this time estimated to cost $50,000, to find out things like where the new ballpark will go, who will pay for it, and how to run it.

The study will be partially funded by Bristol Baseball, so the idea of breaking away to something bigger than the Appalachian League won’t even be considered. It’s not in their interest.

Local communities will therefore continue to spend millions of dollars to keep the area small.

There’s a disturbing mentality in the Tri-Cities that has communities thinking “every town for themselves” rather than coming together for the region as a whole.

We have a bunch of small arenas; Freedom Hall, Viking Hall, the Buck Van Huss Dome. All seat approximately 5,000 people, all have modest floor space that prohibits them from having events like hockey or monster truck pulls or other major events, all were built approximately a half-century ago, and all are limited to what they can do. It’s a big deal when they can host a high school basketball tournament because essentially that’s all these arenas were built for.

The community is on the cusp of making the same mistake again with baseball parks.

Can you imagine if Larry Carrier or Bruton Smith had not pushed for Bristol Motor Speedway to be what it is today? If they had just accepted that a modest bullring would be all the Tri-Cities could support or want, and never spent the money to build on to it?

What would the Tri-Cities be without it?

What if the mentality at Bristol wasn’t to keep up with the Daytonas and Charlottes, but rather the Kingsport and Asheville-Weaverville Speedways?

That appears to be what is going on with the proposed construction of new baseball parks. Instead of trying to get the Tri-Cities to compete culturally with Knoxville and Chattanooga, we’re trying to compete with Princeton and Pulaski.

Is it any wonder, then, the Tri-Cities fell out of the Top 100 television markets this year?

Marky Billson is a sports talk show host in the Tri-Cities, TN-VA area. Watch his show 12–2 p.m. ET weekdays live or archived here.

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