Review by Gary
The sun is setting on Municipal Stadium in Hagerstown, Maryland, home of minor league baseball since 1930. I first visited this ballpark in 2012 and, upon returning in 2017, found that nothing about the place had changed in 5 years. Curious as to why this old park was not being cared for, I did some research. With the exception of a 26-year absence until 1981, professional baseball has been played in this western Maryland town since the late 1800’s and it looks like that streak will come to end any year now.
The current major league affiliate, the Washington Nationals, deemed in 2012 that Municipal Stadium was no longer up to Minor League Baseball standards. This prompted the current owner of the Suns to begin looking for other stadium options and, sadly, other towns to play in. As a result, this classic old ballpark has been pretty much left to fade into the sunset, as there is no point in putting any money into it. And yet, with no deal on the table (there have been three Virginia cities once considered), the Suns will be in Hagerstown for the foreseeable future.
Municipal Stadium was built in 1930 in a mere 6 weeks and holds 4,600 people. It has gone through two renovations, the last being in 1995, and it shows. Wooden bleacher floors and walkways are sorely in need of painting after years of exposure and neglect have turned the wood gray, with chipping and curling around the ends. Once-painted aluminum bleacher seats are flaking and faded. The gift shop is two-thirds full of aged and limited Suns product since the Suns have not changed their logo since 1981. One notable aspect of the stadium is that while the home bullpen is just steps from their first base dugout, the visitor’s pen is behind the fence to the right of centerfield. With the sun shining in the relievers’ eyes, towels draped over the home run fence serve as shades as they squint to see the action on the field. Talk about an unfair advantage. The manual scoreboard sits right underneath the miniscule video board that was installed in the 1990s.
Members of the single-A Southern Atlantic League, the Suns have seen the likes of phenom Bryce Harper and, most famously, Orioles pitcher Jim Palmer come through Hagerstown. Palmer is the only Hall of Famer to have worn a Suns uniform and is one of a few players honored on plaques around the walls of the grandstand. Another fun fact is that George HW Bush attended a Suns game here in 1990 as a sitting president.
With added bleachers down each line, the best seats are under the shade of the beer hut set back beyond the left field line near the picnic area or under the grandstand roof, where the press box (nicely named Pretzel Box) sits. There are many obstructed view seats under this roof as 8” thick steel beams hold up the roof overhead. Hopefully, these seats were sold at a discount during the stadium’s heyday. There are about 100 field level seats in front of the raised grandstand section that place you right near the action as the distance from the backstop to home plate is about 20 feet. Both dugouts are about as close to one another as I have ever seen without actually being next to each other. With all the concessions and restrooms directly under the grandstand and the gift shop and ticket office in 2 smaller buildings, the stadium seems to be an early ancestor of Pfitzner Stadium in Woodbridge, VA.
My only ticket-purchasing option for the day was to pay for the $16 Belly Buster All-You-Can-Eat ticket. Unable to buy a cheap seat and enjoy the game with just a cold drink, I felt like I had to at least grab a dog or two and take a bag of chips for the drive home. There were probably not many vegetarians in the sparse crowd as the choice of AYCE dog, burger, chips or popcorn was certainly limiting. Missing from your typical minor league experience were any kid-friendly promos or between-inning games and the mascot, Woolie, a giant bear/caterpillar, was spared suffering in the summer heat. Historic Municipal Stadium is one of the three oldest stadiums in all of Minor League Baseball but its best years are in the distant past. Unfortunately, that noble distinction will sadly come to an end one of these years and Woolie the Caterpillar will turn into a butterfly and float into the setting “sun”.
"My one visit to Hagerstown, in 2004, was not quite as successful as Gary's. A heavy thunderstorm rolled thru town an hour before the game and, despite clear skies, the game had to be cancelled due to a wet field. The gates were open and people were still in the stadium, but the guy at the gate would not let me in to take pictures, even though I had a press pass. He wouldn't even call the guy who gave me the pass to check. He was pretty rude about it, too. So, the Hagerstown Suns... not my favorite."