Major league still on horizon

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 28, 2005

If the Hampton Roads area does manage to land a professional sports team, it won’t just be about the money, although there would probably be an economic bump.

It wouldn’t just be for the attention, although playing in the big leagues would definitely bring a huge amount of interest to Norfolk, Chesapeake, Portsmouth, Virginia Beach, Suffolk and the rest of the region.

Perhaps the biggest benefit of the professionals would be the sense of regionalism that the area just might experience.

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It’s what Will Somerindyke and the rest of the Norfolk Baseball Co. (NBC) saw while trying to bring the Montreal Expos and other teams to Virginia over the past few years.

&uot;The sense of regional unity that we got was just unbelievable,&uot; said Somerindyke, who joined with Jason Osborne and Mark Reinsert in June 2003 to start the group that became NBC in August. &uot;Sixteen cities and counties did resolutions of support, which I think has to be some sort of record.&uot;

Five local mayors, including then-Suffolk leader Dana Dickens, took part in a television commercial wearing batting helmets and eye black. A baseball bus spread the word throughout the region, as well as northeastern North Carolina. Roughly 10,000 season tickets and 100 luxury suites were sold.

&uot;A lot of people argue (about the economy),&uot; Somerindyke said, &uot;but I think a more important issue would be the quality of life.

&uot;It’s a sense of pride, and it brings the region together having a nationally-known identity that comes with a sports team. Cities like Memphis, Jacksonville and Sacramento, which are defined as mid-range, are defined in the public eye by the fact that they have a major league team.&uot;

Somerindyke called attention to the success of the AAA Norfolk Tides, which have been a fixture in the area since 1969, and the high participation in little league baseball.

&uot;It’s a very fan-friendly atmosphere,&uot; he said. &uot;It just fits within the demographics of the region.&uot;

In September, Major League Baseball decided to give the Expos to Washington, D.C. But in February, Somerindyke and the General Assembly pushed forward to keep their fight alive.

A bill extending to 2008 the Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority Act, which allows tax dollars to pay for stadium construction was passed, getting through the Senate 39-1 and the House of Delegates 64-24. That’s why Somerindyke remains optimistic that he’ll one day open up the sports page and read about his neighbors.

&uot;Baseball’s still a possibility,&uot; he said. &uot;Washington, D.C. is 200 miles away, and we are still a unique market.

&uot;We have looked at the NBA, the NHL, and even the NFL. It’s just really going to depend on what opportunities arise and what we can bring to the region.&uot;