WHEN I find myself slapping my own face and craving a family-size box of Cracker Jacks, it can mean only one of two things:
Either I’m enduring a particularly gnarly round of PMS, or sand gnat season is upon us.
(Careful, those who snicker that they’re not mutually exclusive might accidentally get their face slapped, too.)
No matter where you are in your cycle, mid- April always marks the return of those miniscule menaces nipping around our hairlines—as well as our man-sized Sand Gnats’ first game of the year.
And while I’d love to see the insects buzz straight into Satan’s piehole and never return, the thought of our beloved boys of summer leaving Savannah for good has got me vexed.
We all know that our minor league baseball team has wanted a new home for years, but last fall’s $55K feasibility study failed to convince city leaders or anyone else to spend $35 million for a fancy stadium at the seemingly ever-barren Savannah River Landings. Lumping a shiny new diamond into the already-approved Westside Arena complex has been suggested but not formally proposed, and options are petering out like Barry Bonds’ testosterone levels.
Speaking of hormones, I don’t think I was the only one overtaken by a bout of uncontrollable weeping when the City of Savannah’s Leisure Services announced a couple of weeks ago that this would be the Sand Gnats’ last season and that the team would be moving to Columbia, SC in 2016. The fact that parent company Hardball Capital has already broken ground on a new stadium there seems damning.
But don’t scarf down a whole pint of Ben ‘n’ Jerry’s just yet. Hardball Capital also recently acquired another team for its stable, the Chattanooga Lookouts, and Sand Gnats President John Katz says the company doesn’t want to leave Savannah without a baseball franchise.
“Nothing has been decided yet,” promised Katz. “We’re still working on possible solutions.”
Whatever they are, they probably won’t include Historic Grayson Stadium, anchoring the northeastern corner of Daffin Park like a lovely old manse. Built in 1926, it may be the oldest operating minor league ballpark in the country and one of the city’s most enchanting landmarks, but even the blindest umpire would call steeerike! on its outlier location and the lack of lavish amenities showcased at other parks (dude, the Myrtle Beach Pelicans have a craft beer garden and mini-golf.)
Add in that the updating and renovations befitting an affiliate of the New York Mets would cost as much or more than building a new stadium and it’s out.
“It’s just not up to the standards of professional baseball,” sighed Katz. “Most of our players can’t walk out of the dugout without bending their heads sideways.”
Sure, Grayson can continue to host high school and college games and would make a fine concert venue. But it portends a certain summertime sadness to think of it without a team to call it home.
Who among us can imagine a Savannah that doesn’t include whiling away the weeknight sunsets under a Big Ass Fan behind the angry guy who mercilessly heckles the rookies?
Or singing “Sweet Caroline” on Thirsty Thursdays and knocking back beers that we never seem to be able to drink fast enough before they turn tepid? How about watching the moon rise over Herty Pines just before we doze off during the seventh inning stretch, then snapping to attention the second the bat cracks?
Even lathering ourselves in Skin-So-Soft and having the soles of our shoes stick to the stairs feels sacred.
The only one who won’t miss it any of it is my pug, who has a minor heart attack every Saturday night during the fireworks.
No wonder I’m consoling myself with carbs and old movies. Particularly 1988’s ode to minor league baseball, Bull Durham, in which Kevin Costner as has-been catcher Crash Davis delivers an epically sexy speech to Susan Sarandon’s Annie Savoy informing her that, among other things, he believes in the hanging curve ball, that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone, and “long, slow, deep, soft, wet kisses that last for three days.”
That monologue has everything to do with why small city, single-A baseball is far more charming than its salary-, scandal- and steroid-bloated MLB big brother. It acknowledges that baseball is about so much more than the game—it’s about the romance. (It’s also the reason I always watch Waterworld when it floats by on late-night TV even though I should know better.)
By the way, the Durham Bulls present an interesting case: After Durham residents voted down a referendum for a new stadium not once but twice in the 1990s, the city council went ahead and approved $16 million for it anyway—and it’s now cited as one of the most important economic drivers of the city. Katz doesn’t discount that some kind of game changer is possible here.
“As they say in spring training, hope springs eternal,” he shrugged, swatting the air at the cloud of gnats swirling around us. “The dreamer in me hopes something will happen to keep baseball in Savannah.”
So take heart, sports fans, because no matter what pitch passes the plate, we still have 70 home games in front of us to cheer on the home team. My big ass plans to be at as many as possible, Cracker Jacks and natural bug shpritz at the ready.
I’m a dreamer myself, and I hope Katz is right that we never know a Savannah without baseball, even if means braving the bugs.
But I’ll tell you right now, I am never going to root for a team called the Fire Ants.
The Savannah Sand Gnats 2015 home opener is Thursday, April 16.