ACC tourney brings bittersweet reminder

Once upon a time, the ACC brass decided to hold its 2009 baseball tournament in Boston’s Fenway Park.

It was a brilliant idea in theory. Setting the annual tournament at one of baseball’s premier ballparks, even if it were only for one year, would make for a tremendous experience for the players involved and would draw plenty of fans.

The idea hit a hitch, though, when the Fenway Sports Group realized it had accidentally scheduled a Red Sox home series at the same time. No matter, though—the ACC simply moved back the Fenway date to 2010.

Naturally, that didn’t work out either. About twelve months ago, the league made the decision to cancel, or at least indefinitely postpone (again), the idea of Fenway as a home site. And so, rather than having the ACC’s top eight teams face off on a major league field, the 2010 ACC Tournament is taking place at NewBridge Bank Park in Greensboro, N.C.

In fairness to the city of Greensboro, the new host site is a top-notch minor league facility. As the home field of the Florida Marlins’ Class A affiliate, the Greensboro Grasshoppers, it offers seating for roughly 7,500 spectators and has recently been ranked highly among minor league baseball stadiums.

It is not, however, Fenway Park. It’s unfortunate that the baseball tournament was a victim of cost-cutting measures.

First off, the biggest beneficiaries would have been the players of the eight teams to qualify for the tournament. The unfortunate truth is that many of them will not play professional baseball, much less reach the major leagues, and for these student-athletes to receive the opportunity to take the field at one of Major League Baseball’s most historic sites would have been a rare and great experience.

It also would have been a great setup for Tech’s lefty-heavy lineup. Several of Tech’s left-handed sluggers are good at hitting to the opposite field, but the fact remains that Derek Dietrich, Tony Plagman, Matt Skole and the rest would have had the chance to target the Pesky Pole in right field, just 302 feet away from home plate.

Add in that they’d be using aluminum bats, and Tech could have put up some big numbers.

That same logic could apply to just about any power hitter from any team, though. Right-handed hitters would get to take aim at the Green Monster in left, tall but just 315 feet away from the plate at its farthest point.

From a fan perspective, this would have been the perfect reason to set a tournament at the edge of ACC territory. Whereas drawing fans to Tampa has proved difficult for football, the fairly new Raymond James Stadium is not a shrine to professional football the way Fenway Park is to professional baseball. With a tournament hosted at Fenway, it’s likely the ACC would draw in a large fan contingent even in its northernmost city.

Would attendance be high enough to fill the 39,000-plus seats in the ballpark? No, but it’s a safe bet that more fans would be compelled to make the trip than if it were held at some other, smaller site. Between the excuse to take a trip to Boston and the chance to visit a prominent MLB stadium for (probably) far less than a ticket to a Red Sox game would cost, the tournament should draw a fairly large number of spectators, more than it would if held at a number of more centralized sites. Aside from individual schools’ fans that make the trip, there would be decent attendance from Boston residents.

The ACC’s cited reason for the change was to limit travel costs, which have also played a key reason in the conference’s decision to centralize as much as possible.

It’s a legitimate argument; certainly, moving the football title game from Jacksonville/Tampa to Washington, D.C. and then to the geographic heart of the conference in North Carolina can only benefit Tech and the nine other ACC teams north of the state of Florida.

Still, the situation is somewhat different for baseball. Temperature will (in theory) not be a factor, and the opportunity to increase the profile of the tournament and draw in new fans should be worth the risk and additional cost of holding the tournament at Fenway—but that cannot happen until 2014 at the earliest.

For the moment, at least one former Technique sports editor who has long wanted to visit the stadium will attend class this week severely disappointed that he is not sitting in the Fenway Park press box.