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Save Bringhurst Field (From The Media)

Because I was born with a physical disability, I’ve never been good at throwing or catching a ball or running or jumping or anything else that would qualify as athletic, but when I was a kid, baseball was therapy for me. I collected baseball cards, and in the fifth grade, I embarked on ambitious letter-writing campaign to my favorite major league players. I’d send them my baseball cards and politely ask them to send me back an autograph. To make it easy, I included a self-addressed stamped envelop. Dozens of major leaguers responded, and I amassed an enviable stash of memorabilia. In the seventh grade, while I was recovering from an orthopedic surgery, I spent afternoons swinging at tennis balls thrown by major league pitcher Russ Springer, one of Alexandria’s hometown heroes. During the off-season, Russ and I went to the same physical therapist; I was a part of his routine, and he was a part of mine. And sometimes, my younger brother and his friends would let me play baseball with them in the neighborhood pick-up games they staged in our front lawn. I may have been a terrible player, but I knew more about the game than any other kid. They respected me, which meant they struck me out every single time I went up to bat; regardless, I loved every second of those games.

Baseball has always been a passion of mine, and truth be told, I probably had no choice: It’s in my blood. My father and his father both grew up playing the game. My second cousin Jodie White is known in my hometown as “Mr. Baseball.” My great-grandfather, Frederick White (with whom I share a name), helped to build Bringhurst Field, Alexandria’s minor league park, back in the early 1930s.

I didn’t just grow up in a baseball family; I was born and raised in a baseball town.628x471

In the late spring and early summer, Alexandria’s Little League parks were the biggest draw in town. You were lucky if you could find a parking spot.

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In 1994, the City of Alexandria renovated Bringhurst Field, and for the first time in nearly twenty years, the Alexandria Aces took the field. My dad bought us box seats, directly behind the Aces’s on-deck circle, and for nearly four years, we went to every game we could. I was there when the Aces won a league championship in 1997, and I was there again for their championship season in 1998. We were good, but even when we lost, it was still fun.

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Minor league baseball games need to be about more than baseball, and for a few years, the Alexandria Aces seemed to recognize that. Aside from the year Michael Jordan played for the minor league team in Birmingham, the players have never really sold tickets; the experience sells tickets. The Alexandria Aces could offer an experience that no other minor league park in the entire country can offer: Only Wrigley Field and Fenway Park are older than Bringhurst. But to get people there, you have to sell the whole experience: Good food, good beer, good music, comedy, contests and prizes, and maybe even some fireworks at the end.

In its first season, the minor league park in Frisco, Texas, home of the Roughriders, made more money than the Ballpark in Arlington, home of the Texas Rangers. A few years ago, I went on a private tour of the ballpark in Frisco, and I asked their General Manager what the formula was. “Programming,” he said. “No one is here just to see a baseball game.”

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I spent the last three days back in Alexandria, and like many, I was alarmed to hear on KALB that the City was proposing a tax that would be used to demolish Bringhurst Field. I knew the Aces have been struggling for years, and I knew that the ballpark itself is dire need of repair. I worked for Mayor Jacques Roy for more than five years, and in that time, I learned, first-hand, that he is one of the fiercest proponents of historic preservation in the American South. At his direction, I helped plan and organize two different regional summits and multiple community meetings that largely focused on the issue of historic preservation. Under his leadership, for the first time ever, Alexandria now employs an historic preservation director. A few years ago, we commissioned a master plan on parks and recreation programming, which was adopted by the City Council. If anyone at the City had ever endorsed tearing down the historic baseball park my great-grandfather had helped to build, I would have known, and I probably would have called them out.

KALB’s story, in other words, made no sense to me.

So, I did what KALB should have done: I asked Mayor Roy, his Chief of Policy, Jonathan Bolen, and his Director of Community Services, Daniel Williams, “Why is KALB reporting that you want to demolish Bringhurst?”

My friends and former colleagues at the City of Alexandria may not say it, but I will: KALB’s reporting on this issue is a textbook example of journalistic malpractice. They based their entire report on speculation posted on a Facebook group called “Save Bringhurst,” and despite the fact that, today, the group’s spokesman, Adam Lord, told KALB he was “on the same page” as the City administration, KALB continued to inaccurately report the City is considering a proposal for demolition. This is simply untrue, and if KALB is to maintain any credibility in the future, they should immediately retract and correct their egregious misreporting.

After KALB’s most recent report, I spoke with both Adam Lord and Daniel Williams, and both of them, independently and separately, told me that their interviews with KALB had been selectively and severely edited. In my opinion, it borders on outright deception. Contrary to KALB’s report, the City didn’t “clarify” its position; the City’s position has never changed. KALB got tripped up in a lie, and instead of admitting its mistake, they doubled-down and put the blame on public officials.

According to Mr. Williams of the City of Alexandria, he told KALB reporter Brooke Buford, more than once, that the City was never and had never considered “demolition” of the historic baseball park, and according to Mr. Lord of Save Bringhurst, he made it abundantly clear to KALB that he supported passage of a dedicated parks and recreation tax, which would provide $3.9 million toward the restoration of Bringhurst Field. Mr. Lord acknowledged there was some confusion about the language of a draft document the City released in connection with the tax measure, but that after meeting with administration officials, his group’s concerns had been properly addressed and resolved. KALB edited out these comments from their report.

If KALB had taken the time, like Mr. Lord did, to actually learn about the issues, they would have learned that there was no serious proposal to transform Bringhurst into a water park or an aviary or even a parking lot; the City simply disclosed a series of broad ideas pitched during the recreation master planning process. If they are to be faulted for anything, it’s for being too transparent about what was pitched. The plan and the vision, all along, has been to preserve the baseball park, which is precisely why they believe in dedicating $3.9 million for the project.

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I applaud Adam Lord and all of those who believe, like he does, that Bringhurst Field is worth saving. I also know, beyond any doubt, that Mayor Roy and his entire administration want to preserve this historic treasure. And that’s why I think it’s important to be so strong about KALB’s shoddy reporting: The only way we can guarantee Bringhurst Field’s future is by ensuring there is a sustainable, dedicated source of funding for parks and recreation programming. Yes, that may mean Bringhurst Field is no longer, exclusively, the home of a struggling semi-professional baseball team; it may mean Bringhurst becomes something even bigger: A venue for high school tournaments and concerts and weddings and special events. It may mean the City consider multi-purpose uses. It may mean leasing out space for a restaurant. At the very least, it’s all worth considering. Right now, it’s collapsing in on itself.

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But, because of KALB’s irresponsible journalism (which has been picked up by other sources), a tax call that was intended, among other things, to save Bringhurst could be defeated as a result of the misinformation they have repeatedly peddled as fact.

Alexandria deserves a jewel like Bringhurst Field, and KALB owes those who truly care about preserving Bringhurst an apology. I’ve been covering my hometown news for nearly a decade, and I’ve never been more ashamed of and embarrassed by the local Alexandria media than I am today.

The tax call protects more than Bringhurst; it ensures that the Alexandria Zoo no longer needs to rely on utility fund transfers to subsidize its operations. It ensures that children have the opportunity to participate in after-school basketball, soccer, golf, and tennis programs. It provides the community the resources it requires to maintain all of its numerous parks and walking trails. And it’s all desperately and urgently needed.

It’s not all about baseball, but again, baseball is in my blood and right now, my blood is boiling.

Here is my personal vision for Bringhurst:

1. Reconstruct the stadium’s facade with as much original material as possible. Install terra cotta roof that ties thematically to the neighborhood, and conforms stylistically with design features at other city facilities. See: the entrance of Camden Yards.

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2. Install public art at the main entrance and at the first and third base entrances. (Issue an RFQ).

3. Reconstruct the stands to ensure they are safe and ADA compliant.

4. Demolish the back fence. Add outfield, stadium-level seating for right and left fields. Maintain centerfield as an open grass field with potential water feature (and which could double as stage). Relocate bullpens in front of raised outfield seating.

5. Significantly upgrade bathroom facilities.

6. Expand box seating.

7. Relocate clubhouses behind outfield fencing.

8. Lease out existing clubhouse facilities for year-long restaurant enterprise.

9. Develop and enforce design guidelines for commercial signage.

10. Consider corporate naming rights.

11. Construct stage for musical performances near third base.

12. Develop programmatic synergies with the Zoo.

I am more than open to additional ideas, and I know my friends at the City feel the same way.

EXCLUSIVE: Louisiana Republican Party Chairman Demands Senator David Vitter’s Resignation

Late last night, Roger Villere, Chairman of the Louisiana Republican Party, demanded that United States Senator David Vitter immediately resign from office, only hours after Villere called for the resignation of another Louisiana Republican, Congressman Vance McAllister. “The Louisiana Republican Party must be a party of principle. Both Congressman McAllister and Senator Vitter have admitted to engaging in actions that betrayed not only their families but also the citizens who entrusted them with their votes. It does not matter if these actions occurred four months ago or four years ago or even ten years ago; as Republicans, if we are to be credible, we must be consistent.”

Earlier this week, Congressman Vance McAllister admitted to having an affair with staffer Melissa Peacock, following the release of surveillance footage from the Congressman’s district office that showed him kissing Mrs. Peacock in a dark room and then escorting her through the office and to her car. In November, McAllister, who represents Louisiana’s Fifth Congressional District, stunned political observers when he soundly defeated State Senator Neil Riser, a fellow Republican who was heavily favored and had the endorsements of several high-profile state and national Republican leaders. Many attribute McAllister’s upset victory to the support of Phil and Willie Robertson of the hit reality television show “Duck Dynasty.”

On Wednesday afternoon, Louisiana Republican Party Chairman Roger Villere called McAllister’s Chief of Staff, Adam Terry, to demand the Congressman’s resignation. According to Politico, Villere became so emotional during the call that he had to hang up. Quoting (bold mine):

When Louisiana GOP chairman Roger Villere Jr. left a message for McAllister, he heard back from the congressman’s chief of staff, Adam Terry. A source familiar with the call said it was “heated” and that the chairman hung up.

“It’s been a trying week for our party,” Villere said. “I’ve been praying for guidance non-stop. I realized as a man of God and as the leader of our state’s party, I would be a hypocrite if I demanded the resignation of a duly-elected Congressman because he was caught kissing a woman other than his wife and didn’t also demand the resignation of Senator Vitter, who admitted, in so many words, to soliciting prostitutes. I can’t ask for one man to resign for kissing a woman, which is not a crime, and then stand behind another man who has committed a crime.”

Villere stated that he would be submitting a formal written letter of demand to both Congressman McAllister and Senator Vitter on Friday. “It was a mistake for the Louisiana Republican Party to stand behind Senator Vitter in 2007. I know Governor Jindal probably regrets what he said at the time,” Villere said, referring to then-Congressman Jindal’s statement that Vitter’s affairs with prostitutes should not be “used by others for their own political gain.”

Villere claimed his decision has been painful and could potentially cost him his job. “As the leader of our state’s party, I have to make tough decisions. It’s time to clean house. As long as I am chairman, we are going to be the party that champions family values, in both words and actions.”

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Editor’s note: Just joking. Roger Villere would never ask for David Vitter to resign.

In Defense Of Louisiana’s Magic

Maybe it was when, in the fifth grade, I visited the Evangeline Oak in St. Martinville. Or maybe it was before that, when my parents took us to Natchitoches, and we stood on a balcony overlooking Cane River and watched the moment a switch was flipped and the entire town became awash in elaborate Christmas lights. Or perhaps it happened during the weekends I spent as a kid on the grounds of an old plantation outside of Cheneyville. Or sometime during the trips my mother and I would make down to the Children’s Hospital in New Orleans, how the whole place seemed musical to me; even the street signs read like song lyrics. It also could have happened in the seventh grade, when my classmates and I drove down to Cocodrie and spent a weekend exploring the surreal landscape of the marshland. Or the countless times we stopped into a rickety old restaurant in Livonia and ate, what was to me, the best food in the world. More than likely, it’s something I’ve always understood on some level, even before I could articulate it: I grew up in a place that seemed, at times, capable of being truly and unexpectedly magical.

This is not to suggest that other places in the world are not equally as capable, and it’s not to overlook all of the bad in Louisiana: We’re poor; our politicians have always seemed to care more about themselves than the public they serve; we still struggle with myopic racism and historical denialism. We’ve become increasingly infected by self-righteous religious charlatans, and we’ve been repeatedly victimized by Christian dominionists, people who mask their intolerance for others by arguing that they are somehow the victims of persecution.

But, although it may be easy, don’t confuse the absurdities and failures of our politics and the extremism of those on the religious right with our culture.

On Tuesday, Dave Thier, a freelance writer based in New Orleans, published a piece in Esquire titled “Sorry, Louisiana Is Not Actually Made Of Magic.” I really wanted to like Mr. Thier’s piece, because I thought the headline was provocative. But the article was absurdly patronizing and completely disconnected. Mr. Thier is a Yale graduate who has lived in New Orleans for only three years. While we should all celebrate smart, young, educated professionals who move to Louisiana, it is unwise, arrogant, and misguided for a self-described “transplant” to hold himself out, to a national audience, as a curator of Louisiana culture, particularly when he implies that his understanding of his newly-adopted home has been informed by Hollywood.

Indeed, that seems to be the point of his article: Hollywood has lied about Louisiana being magical, which he can prove by way of juxtaposing the banalities of his own life. He watches Netflix and plays video games and prefers Thai take-out over the native cuisine of his adopted Louisiana. And this, I think, may bolster Mr. Thier’s argument that he’s just an ordinary American in his late twenties. But it completely destroys his credibility when it comes to opining on the culture and, yes, the magic of Louisiana.

Guess what? Hollywood lies about the magic of Los Angeles far more frequently than it does about Louisiana.

Maybe I’m being a little rough on Mr. Thier. After all, he does say some nice things about Louisiana, and in fairness to him, us Louisianians are notoriously protective over our culture. To be sure, his article for Esquire wasn’t nearly as obnoxious as a recent piece published in The New York Times.

But there’s a good reason we’re protective. We recognize our own vulnerability and fragility. We fear homogenization; we resent anything that resembles Disneyfication. We know what we possess is special and unique, and we don’t want it to become a part of a tour guided by some kid from Massachusetts whose most vehement defense of Louisiana is the suggestion that the movie “Beasts of the Southern Wild” is nothing more than “Southern Orientalism” or that the HBO show “True Detective” overly romanticized the Lake Charles area. Perhaps that sounds smart, but it’s sloppy and condescending and inaccurate.

Either way, though, Hollywood has nothing to do with the magic of Louisiana culture. You can’t learn about the magic on the silver screen or by paying for a Netflix subscription. It’s something that you have to experience, over and over again, in real life, before you can even begin to make sense of it, much less before you can really write about it.

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