2011 was supposed to be the second season of the Peach State League and things were expected to get underway at Luther Williams Field June 25th with the first game of the season. When some fans were checking the Macon Pinetoppers website for the 2011 schedule, they got a webpage that had not been updated since August of 2010. In an announcement on the team's website (which has since been shut down), the team has folded. Flopped. Dead like a somewhat overfed goldfish.
Since the team and league announced they were suspending operations, they were hoping to get underway in 2012. Two years later, the ballpark still sits empty. Once again, Macon baseball has hit another rough spot and it's not the first time that's happened. From the time the Atlanta Braves Class A team left the city to move to Rome, there have been two independent league teams and one college wood-bat league team that has called Luther Williams Field home prior to the Pinetoppers that season.
In the event you're wondering why the team that gave the Braves Chipper Jones, Andruw Jones, Rafael Furcal and other stars that would go on to the majors left after the 2002 season is because City Council didn't want to work with the team to make the changes that had to be needed. And let's not forget this fellow named Rose that stopped here before heading off to Cincinnati. Yes, that Rose, the one that SHOULD be in Cooperstown. Did I neglect to say that the movie "The Bingo Long Traveling All Stars and Motor Kings" was filmed there? In the event you haven't seen it, it features Billy Dee Williams and Richard Pryor. Luther Williams has also been the backdrop for current films "Trouble With the Curve" and "42."
Luther Williams Field is not a bad place to play or watch a game. It's no Turner Field and it sits in the middle of the Georgia State Fairgrounds but it's not bad and it's really a great place to watch a game. In fact, it's the third oldest ballpark in use, behind Fenway Park and Wrigley Field and got new grass installed two years ago. The grass is still cut and the field maintained.
While Pinetoppers management stated there were money problems, could it have been really be public apathy in Macon? It would appear so and I've sat in the press box at times and would be able to count the number of people in attendance by the end of the third inning.
Macon needs a professional minor league baseball team, preferably with an established MLB team. Granted, there would be some legal problems that would have to be worked out, since this part of the Southeastern United States is territory held by the Atlanta Braves. With the addition of the Mayhem coming in 2015-16, could baseball be far behind? Even if a team were to be placed in Macon and some of the jobs that would affect the ballpark would be temporary, it would at the very least put some money in the city coffers.
That means that work for sponsors and staffing has to begin as soon as possible as well as finding an MLB team that can move into Luther Williams Field as soon as possible. Building a new stadium would take too long and putting a team in Warner Robins is not viable for those that live in Macon proper. It also means that there would be some work needed on the field, including a new scoreboard, as well as lighting and paving the parking lot area.
Even when there was minor league baseball again in Macon in the 80s and 90s and part of the prior decade with a pair of independent league teams, unless it was a major event, the average crowd for a baseball game was about 400 for a ballpark that seats about 1,500. In the past, there have been at least a pair of break-ins at the park and in 2003, the main office downstairs was set on fire and the public address system was stolen from the press box. It's sad that there's that much apathy in Macon, given that the city recently lost the Georgia Music Hall of Fame. It could be that the city of Macon, being small town like it has been for so many years, has been a "word of mouth" town. It doesn't fly like that, folks. Whoever comes in has to be ready to hit the ground RUNNING and that means getting the word out, even if it means putting ads on every MTA bus and plastering their name and faces on billboards as well as using electronic and social media.
Now it would appear that with the exception of some high school games and Macon State College, a 2-year school here in town and the Macon Giants, a wood-bat summer league team, got to use the ballpark. Other than that, Luther Williams Field sits empty and with the exceptions of a few events on the field or chirping birds making a stop, it sits silent and wonders "why doesn't anyone come?"
Time to make the next move.