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Good Sports: The Impact of a Sporting Economy

The Games People Play Have Lasting Effects on Our Culture and Economy

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They're jocks at heart. Bruised and sometimes battered on fields of play, their personal and professional paths have been carved out between the goal lines. In fact, they would be the first to say that sports helped define their destinies.

"I'm the daughter of a sports coach. I was in gymnastics until I grew too tall, so I played basketball, ran track and swam. Come to think of it, sports is really the main reason I got involved in politics," said Meridian Mayor Tammy DeWeerd. "I wanted my community to have more playing fields."

"I grew up on Boise's sports fields," said Boise Mayor Dave Bieter. "Whatever the season, there I was playing sports."

Dreaming of being a Green Bay Packer like his idol, Idaho native Jerry Kramer, Bieter waxes poetic to "being a pretty decent football player" when he would suit up for the Bishop Kelly High School Knights.

But his gridiron days are long gone. In fact, the life of Boise's fullback in chief changed forever when he hit the turf for good in an intramural football game during his law school days at the University of Idaho.

"I was 25 years old and ..." Bieter thought for a moment. "I could have died. I could have lost my leg."

"I severed the artery that ran behind the knee. I was rushed into emergency surgery and woke up six hours later," he said. "When I came to, they told me I could keep the leg."

Just before Christmas 2009, Bieter underwent total knee replacement surgery to treat his long-standing problem traced to the 1985 injury. All these years later, Bieter still winces with sense-memory, recalling something that occurred 27 years ago.

Bieter still loves the Packers, and when it comes to baseball, it's the Minnesota Twins.

"I once bet the Twins would win the World Series. Now, here's how big a deal it was: The Twins were in last place when I made that bet, but that's how big a fan I was. I was given 60-1 odds," said Bieter. "The Twins won the next 16 games and won the series. I made $300. That was a long time ago."

But Bieter makes his political wagers with a bit more caution these days, especially when it comes to baseball--the stakes are higher.

While Boise Hawks franchise management tells anyone who will listen that the team is overdue for a new facility, conversations with Boise and Meridian officials have been cordial but unproductive. Both Bieter and DeWeerd are more than willing to facilitate conversations regarding the possibility of a new multi-sport stadium, but the most important question remains unanswered: Who has the money?

"The Hawks are trying to keep their options open," said DeWeerd. "I've sat down with them and some of our developers who would like to see something happen. It's a business decision, not necessarily a government decision."

If Bieter were as rich as, say, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a new stadium would be a no-brainer.

"If I had the money, I would build the stadium myself," he said. "That's how strongly I feel about it and how much I love sports. But it's prudent for a mayor to go about this in a way that verifies the wisdom of such a decision."

EXTRA INNINGS

"We've talked to Boise. We've talked to Meridian. We've even talked to Nampa. Plus, we've talked with Garden City and Ada County about renovating this place," said Todd Rahr, president and general manager of the Boise Hawks.

Anyone paying even remote attention for the past two years has heard the constant drumbeat from the Hawks: They want out of Memorial Stadium. At the very least, they want a new facility to replace their Garden City home. Their druthers would include a new home, preferably in Boise or Meridian.

"We know [a new stadium] would be pretty good for downtown Boise, pretty good for Meridian, pretty good for right here," said Rahr waving his arm across Memorial Stadium, built in 1989 for $2.3 million.

Rahr admits that the original designers of the ballpark didn't necessarily have fans' best interests at heart.

"Our first baseline has a reputation for being incredibly hot. You're staring at the sun. Those seats are not desirable," said Rahr.

Traditionally, first-base seats are the best in any other ballpark.

"We added some club seats, but we don't have skyboxes," he added. "We don't have a video scoreboard. And we have some ADA components we have to deal with."

Rahr was referring to the Americans with Disabilities Act, enacted one year after the stadium was built, requiring full access to those with disabilities when visiting public locales.

Rahr describes the Hawks' professional relationship with its parent organization, the Chicago Cubs, as a "marriage of convenience."

"They need a place to house their minor league team, and we need a team to play here," he said.

But it's a marriage that is on the rocks.

"I believe that in my heart of hearts, the Cubs will leave at the end of the season," said Rahr.

The Hawks' season wraps Saturday, Sept. 1.

"The Cubs need and want their minor league teams to be in the best facilities in the country, and I don't think you can say we're one of those," he said.

When BW asked if he had mixed emotions about divorcing from one of the best known franchises in professional sports, Rahr was more blunt.

"Mixed feelings? I don't even know if they're mixed. It's sad, in my estimation," he said. "Why would we want to let them leave? I honestly don't have mixed emotions. I have one emotion: sadness."

But the looming possibility of losing the Cubs or, worse yet, losing Boise's minor-league franchise to another city didn't leave the Better Boise Coalition sobbing in its Cracker Jacks. It served as its motivation.

THEY WANNA PLAY BALL

The BBC, a coalition of Boise business, civic and community leaders, want a new multi-purpose sports and entertainment complex. It goes to painstaking efforts not to call the dream facility "a baseball stadium." Sure, it would host as many as 30-35 baseball games a year, but BBC officials say they gain greater support by touting a new facility as a location for high school football, minor league soccer, concerts and even an outdoor skating rink.

"Think of this as your Rockefeller Center in Boise," said Rahr during a Feb. 15 community pitch.

As for a location, the coalition recommended to Boise officials that an ideal site would either be a parcel of property at 27th Street and Fairview Avenue, currently owned by St. Luke's Hospital, or another parcel on 30th Street, owned by the city, which used to be the location of Roundtree Chevrolet.

Can a new stadium, or lack thereof, influence whether a baseball team stays or leaves town? More than a few interested parties took note when Hillboro, Ore., announced on June 19 that it will steal the Yakima Bears away from its Washington home once Hillsboro cuts the ribbon on its new $15-million baseball stadium, funded through city backed bonds. Yakima is a member of the Northwest League, which includes the Boise Hawks.

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