Baseball becomes more popular across region

While fans love the Battle of the Beltways, they also love the hometown feel of minor league games. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

WASHINGTON – Has the success of the Washington Nationals changed the culture and economy for baseball in this region? There is some evidence to suggest it.

Despite worries that the Nats would would dip into the fan base of the nearby Baltimore Orioles, it looks as though baseball is becoming more popular in the region.

On top of the two major league teams in the area, there are three minor league teams and one existing Independent League team. One new Independent League team is expected to start play next spring. And there’s a move in Fredericksburg to try to lure a minor league team there.

“Sometimes people think putting a second team into an area means that the two teams have to split the market, but sometimes there is synergy,” says baseball economist Andrew Zimbalist.

“You have competition between teams that are in the same area. It’s a natural rivalry that develops,” he says.

Zimbalist says the minor league and independent teams draw from smaller markets, and as long as they are 30 to 40 miles apart from each other or the major league team, they can survive.

Minor league teams have an easier time because the players salaries are paid by a major league affiliate, while Independent League teams have to make their own payrolls.

Bob Farren, CEO of VIP Sports & Entertainment, which will field the new Loudoun Hounds next spring, says a salary cap on players helps teams like his.

Zimbalist says the success of minor league and independent teams is not just about baseball. The appeal for fans is the family atmosphere.

“They have little acts that go on between innings and they give things away,” Zimbalist says.

“It’s basically a wholesome way to spend your weekend afternoons or weekday evenings in the summertime.”

He says teams very often will work with local businesses, rather than the big corporate sponsors associated with the major leagues.

Farren says he expects to draw an average of 5,000 fans a game when the Hounds take the field next spring.

The Hounds will play in the Atlantic League, one of the oldest independent leagues. Ground for the new stadium will be broken Tuesday.

The Southern Maryland Blue Crabs in Waldorf also are in the Atlantic League.

The region currently has the Potomac Nationals, based in Woodbridge, Va., a Single-A team in the Carolina League affiliated with the Washington Nationals.

The Orioles are affiliated with the Single-A Frederick Keys and the Double-A Bowie Baysox.

Fredericksburg’s city council recently made a move to try to get a minor league team for its city. Several news reports say Fredericksburg is trying to lure the Hagerstown Suns, also a Nationals Single-A affiliate.

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