It ain’t over ‘til it’s over

In the movie, “Field of Dreams,” the resurrected Joe Jackson looks at the ballpark built in a cornfield and asks, “Is this heaven?” “No, Iowa,” he’s told.

Sports fans in New England may be feeling the same way as we look at our new and revitalized sports franchises, including the world champion Boston Red Sox and Super Bowl champion New England Patriots. Still, you might wonder how long it will take the Red Sox to lose their charm as the Olde Towne Team when the residents of Olde New England can no longer buy tickets to a season that was sold out before spring training started, despite the highest ticket prices in all of baseball.

Here in New Hampshire, the city of Manchester is financing construction of a more than $20 million stadium to seat a capacity of 6,500 to watch a minor league baseball team. The city, for its part, wrested a commitment on lease and profit-sharing from the ballclub – a commitment that Eastern League Commissioner Joe McEacharn called one of the “most onerous” agreements, from the league’s point of view, in all of minor league baseball.

Minor league teams continue to offer good baseball and excellent family entertainment at very affordable prices for two reasons: taxpayers are shouldering the cost of building the new ballparks the fans seem to like so much and the big league parent organizations are paying the salaries of the minor league players. But as municipal, county and state governments face rising salaries and benefits for their own employees, as well as increased demands for things like transportation and education, enthusiasm for building minor league stadiums may soon diminish. And as major league teams continue to bid against one another for the talents of the game’s best players, the parent organizations may soon be able to afford fewer minor league teams.

Baseball has come a long way from the days of Shoeless Joe Jackson, but it remains to be seen how long the game’s fans and the taxpaying public can continue throwing vast amounts of money at it. Manchester, like Iowa, is not heaven. Its residents may get there some day, but they can’t spend our way there.

Yogi Berra’s famous line, “It ain’t over ’til it’s over,” might apply not just to ball games, but to the bills taxpayers will be footing for the decades it will cost to pay for minor league venues with luxury suites and other major league “amenities.”

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