Underneath the Honky-Tonk Lights
The hot sun begins to set. As the insects start their evening ballad, their buzzing is met with the flashing lights of fireflies dancing in the warm, summer breeze. But it’s not just the bugs that are making noise. Down the road, the music scene is booming.
The honky-tonks are getting rowdy and their music is spilling out onto the streets. The hard twang of steel guitars and banjos is met with the smell of ice-cold beer flowing through the air. This is Nashville. As soon as the last glimmer of light disappears behind the horizon, the crack of a bat echoes through the all-familiar, local sounds and smells, followed by the deafening cheers of a screaming crowd and an explosion of fireworks.
The Tennessee Shiners just hit a three-run home run to take the lead over the Atlanta Braves at Jack Daniels Ballpark. The 425-foot home run landed in the upper deck and sent the entire stadium into one unison roar. As the three players were heading back to the dug – wait – the Tennessee Shiners? None of that really happened, but don’t fret Tennesseans. It could all become a real possibility.
Nashville, Tenn., has been on the Major League Baseball hot list for an expansion team for a few years now and even more likely the landing spot of one of the leagues bottom dwellers in attendance (we’re looking at you Tampa). And if MLB was smart, it would pull the trigger on such an idea and here is why.
There are baseball roots in the Music City; roots that date back to the 19th century. Nashville has played host to baseball since the 1860s in a place known as the Sulphur Springs Bottom, the name given to Nashville’s recreational area after the city became the capital. Way back when there was this thing called the Civil War, stationed Union soldiers introduced the game to the local community.
The game was played at the Sulphur Springs Ball Park. The field acquired renovations and name changes throughout the years, including Athletic Park and Sulphur Springs Dell, and eventually was demolished in the late 60s.
Then in 1978, the minor league team the Nashville Sounds was established as part of the Class AA Southern League. Over the years, the Sounds have had multiple partnerships with major league clubs and currently are associated as the Oakland Athletics’ AAA minor league team.
In 2015, the Sounds got a new stadium, First Tennessee Park, which was built on the original site of Sulphur Springs Ball Park.
Hence the city, most notable for its musical roots, also has some of the deepest baseball roots in the country.
Now, let’s look at Nashville’s population.
According to U.S. census quick facts, Tennessee’s 2014 population was more than 6.5 million, and of that total, an estimated 1.73 million belongs to the Music City’s metropolitan area with around 612,000 in the city proper. That’s a lot of numbers to crunch in one breath, but the point is it’s a lot and it’s large.
Nashville also is the second-largest city in the state, behind Memphis, and the fourth largest in the southeast. According to majorleaguenashville.com, 76 percent of the U.S. population lives within 500 miles of Tennessee with six states bordering that do not have an MLB team. Right there are seven reasons Nashville certainly could support an MLB franchise.
Then there is the argument that Nashville is only about the National Football League Titans, which warrants some merit sure, but it’s not as straightforward a statement as it suggests. First, see the part earlier about baseball since the 19th century. Now, the Titans have sold out every game since moving from Houston. LP Field seats a little more than 68,500 fans in a metropolitan area of 1.73 million. Simple logic dictates that there is plenty of room for more sports teams.
Also, the city wasn’t a hockey town either until 1998. Now, the Predators have some of the most devout hockey fans in hockey – and they sell out games.
The Music City has one of the larger media markets in the U.S. ranking 29th-largest (1.04 million TVs in 2014) in the Nielson ratings. To put that into perspective, Nashville has a similar market to Pittsburgh (1.18 million), Baltimore (1.09 million), San Diego (1.08 million) and even Kansas City (942,000), which rank lower than all the aforementioned cities.
And because of baseball’s antitrust exemption, which Beyond the Box Score says allows MLB to monopolize the baseball market, a decision that has been upheld by the Supreme Court, owners can designate territories for their teams and in doing so keep possible relocators from moving in too close.
For example, according to J.R. Lind of the City Paper, this was “the biggest speed bump in the Expos-to-D.C. move.” When MLB stepped in to take over the Expos dismal situation, Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos brought up the “territoriality issue.” MLB had to appease Angelos by guaranteeing him certain shares of media revenue lost due to sharing a market with another team, to which he eventually agreed.
If a team was to move to Nashville, it would lay claim to Middle Tennessee, without worrying about crossing into the Braves, Cardinals or Reds respective markets and territories. That team would never look back, all the while potentially creating a natural rivalry between each other. It would seem the most likely and perfect fit for expansion or relocation.
Finally, the last piece to the pie, which of course isn’t necessarily a glaring reason to get a team, but it certainly is the fun part. When Nashville gets a team – and most people speculate it’s only a matter of when and not if – it’s going to need a name; one that represents not only the Music City, but also Tennessee.
Now, anyone can do a quick Google search and find some article with suggested names, but to save time here is a quick list of some of the more notable ones: the Fiddlers, the Stars, the Distillers, the Shiners (moonshiners), the Jacks (named for the state’s own, Jack Daniels), the Tennesseans and the Bandits (like the Raccoon).
There are so many good reasons why Nashville should get a MLB team. From the rich baseball history, the very large metropolitan area just dripping with fans waiting to assimilate and the awesome possibilities to add to a plethora of already great MLB names, nothing could be more certain than this – Nashville it’s your time.