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Shinn's folly 

When it comes to baseball, commissioners struck out

Curt Schilling, the hulking, Cy Young-award-winning, World Series ring-wearing ace of the Boston Red Sox, was in town recently. Sort of.

Schilling actually made his "Charlotte" appearance — part of a rehab stint with the Boston Red Sox's AAA affiliate, the Pawtucket Red Sox — in Fort Mill, SC, the place the "Charlotte" Knights call home. Why Fort Mill, you ask? Call it Shinn's Folly.

George Shinn — who sold the Knights to Don Beaver back in 1997 — decided that relocating the team to Fort Mill would serve a two-fold purpose. (Did I say a two-fold purpose? I meant a billfold purpose.)

Granted, blaming anything on George Shinn these days seems like piling on. Thanks to his other relocated team, the NBA's dreadful New Orleans Hornets, Shinn is on most people's shortlist of the worst owners in pro sports. The Hornets are so embattled, in fact, that rumor has them moving yet again — this time to Las Vegas — sooner rather than later.

Shinn entered our consciousness as a can-do Napoleon, a sprite of a man with business-school millions and the ability to talk his way into anything. He left us unable to talk himself out of anything: sex trials, botched hirings and firings, big-money busts, PR snafus. Yes, from George Shinn you could expect bad — really bad — decisions.

Now, it seems, you can expect the same sort of long-term thinking from our Mecklenburg County commissioners. Charlotte had the chance to build a $35 million ballpark in Third Ward near Bank of America stadium, but voted to build yet another park, this one "New York City-style" (what does that mean — cramped? crime-infested?) in its place. Never mind that the Knights and Don Beaver would have paid up to half for a new ballpark. And never mind that nobody really lives near the 8.5-acre tract located within Second, Mint, Graham and Fourth streets, or that parks without people are sort of like, well, grassy fields. Now, it remains to be seen if the county will eventually spring for a ballpark in Southend or in the present Memorial Stadium location, but many local baseball fans were rooting for the Third Ward spot.

Want a park with people? Want a grassy field people will actually come see? Build a ballpark. There's a reason they're called ballparks, by the way. Had our commissioners actually made a trip to Fort Mill, had they seen fit to spend that $17.5 million — less than the annual salary of the starting defensive line of the Carolina Panthers — on something people might use (downtown, in the dead time between the NBA and NFL seasons), they would have seen what high-level minor league baseball has to offer.

On the night I attended Schilling's rehab start, traffic was backed up for more than an hour on I-77. More than 10,000 people poured into Knights Castle (and out of Charlotte) to see the game, most clad in logo-ed baseball caps and T-shirts. Folks brought their kids, something that's actually possible when your most expensive ticket tops out at $10. People ate affordable concessions; children played on a large grassy knoll, ate funnel cakes and scaled a climbing wall; friends grilled out and tailgated in the parking lot. In other words, they did things people do in parks.

They also got to see a future Hall of Fame pitcher, along with some younger kids who might also end their careers in Cooperstown. (Did I mention that Schilling also pitched in Charlotte once before, back in the old Southend stadium? In fact, Schilling was pitching — for Charlotte — when he got called to the major leagues). Charlotte has seen some Hall of Famers play here before — Harmon Killebrew, Eddie Murray and some guy named Cal Ripken, Jr. — and boasts a couple more (Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome) who'll be considered hard for induction after their retirement.

Of course, we're only talking about the home team here. Do you wish you'd have plunked down a five-spot to see Derek Jeter — then with the Columbus Clippers — back in the day? Five dollars is pretty cheap for a lifelong memory, something you could tell your kids about.

Too bad that our county commissioners' memories are so short. Ours may not be when it comes time for re-election.

Boomer with Attitude will return next week.

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