Talking Sports with Don Laible

When it comes to talk of Major League Baseball putting a club in Nashville, R.A. Dickey is in the know.

It was back in 1998 that baseball last expanded.  22 years ago, it was the Florida Marlins (changed to Miami Marlins in 2012) and Colorado Rockies ownership groups each ponying up $130 million expansion fee to enter the National League.

Joining a very exclusive club as owning a professional sports franchise in North America requires extraordinarily deep financial pockets, and have seasoned, successful veterans of the game's front office to get the plan off the ground.

With a projected timeline of presenting an official proposal to MLB owners at next year's Winter Meetings scheduled for Nashville, some well-known executives already have boots on the ground in Tennessee's most populous city.

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Dickey, who logged 21 seasons in pro ball, in 2012 pitched with superman skills.  That season saw the knuckleballer be selected to an all-star game, win the Cy Young Award, and led the National League in strikeouts (230).  Pitching on the big league level for 15 years, Dickey has an ear to what progress is being made to bring MLB baseball to his hometown.

"It's (MLB coming to Nashville) gaining some traction here over the past eight to ten months," says Dickey,46.  "The topic has been bantered around in the past but not as it is now.  This isn't a pipe dream."

Dickey knows of what he speaks.  He is serving on the auxiliary board for the initiative to bring baseball at its highest level to Nashville.  Further adding to the seriousness of the process most recently has been the addition of celebrated longtime baseball executive Dave Dombrowski.  Last serving as the president of baseball operations for the Boston Red Sox (2015-'19), Dombrowski sold his New England home and is relocated to Greater Nashville.

Another great from the game's past entrenched in bringing a franchise to Nashville is Dave Stewart.  A three-time World Series champion and former MLB general manager, Stewart is involved in the process to see a majority-Black ownership group land the franchise.  Plans are for the club to be named the Nashville Stars, giving a salute to the Negro League that operated from the late 1930's through the early 1950's.

"There's enough wealth and interest here to get this done," says Dickey.  "For this to occur, you need a lot of vision; expand or rebrand.  I'm not sure how far conversations are at this time, but there's commitment."

The potential ownership group is committed to building a new stadium seating 42,000 with private dollars.

"I completely agree with this, having no burden on tax payers of the Metro area.  There is so much due diligence to be done.  Finding land for the stadium, and figuring out why community leaders are going to jump on board with an MLB team coming to Nashville is why you need good leadership," said Dickey during a recent telephone conversation from his home in suburban Nashville.

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Dickey knows baseball, and his roots run deep in Nashville.  Living about 20 miles south of Nashville in Williamson County, the former big leaguer lives an unassuming post-public life with his family.  Relaxed, Dickey chooses his words carefully when describing his passion for the region.  He speaks of professional baseball at its highest level as an attraction.

Bringing a team, building a facility, making the baseball grounds an attraction for more than just fans is how the winner of 120 MLB games sees the future in Nashville.  Baseball, from Little League to Division-I college ball, the interest is prevalent in Greater Nashville.

Vanderbilt University, located a mile and a half southwest of downtown Nashville, in 2019 won the College World Series.  This was the second time in the past six years that the Commodores won college baseball's top prize.

Dickey insists that Nashville's climate is welcoming to a full MLB season.

"We have all four seasons.  Neither of them is usually to harsh," explains Dickey.

In April, the average high-temperature is 70 degrees.  In July, 90 degrees is the average.

Minor League Baseball has a long history in Nashville.  Going back 42 years, it was in 1978 that the Cincinnati Reds came to town, and joined the Double-A Southern League with their affiliate.  The first five years of the 1980's saw the New York Yankees place their Triple-A International League club in "Music City".  Don Mattingly and Buck Showalter were among the players coming through the system in Nashville.

Since 2019, the Texas Rangers have placed their Pacific Coast League Triple-A affiliate at First Horizon Park, built only six years ago in downtown Nashville.  The Rangers signed a four-year player development contract with local ownership which runs through the conclusion of the 2022 season.

The 2019 season saw the Nashville Sound take seventh place in PCL attendance, with drawing 578,291 fans.

Of the more than 1,300 players who have worn a Sounds uniform over the past 42 years, Dickey is included.  During the 2007 season, when Nashville served as the Milwaukee Brewers' top affiliate, he finished with impressive numbers.  At age 32, Dickey went 13-6, but disappointingly didn't receive a call-up to the big club.

Before Dickey joined the New York Mets full-time in 2011, who began throwing the knuckleball with Texas in 2006, he toiled in the minors for parts of 15 seasons with eight clubs.  Seven of those seasons were spent with the Oklahoma Redhawks.

When reading his memoir - Wherever I Wind Up - My Quest For Truth, Authenticity And The Perfect Knuckleball (2012) with Wayne Coffey, it's clear Dickey understands the value of a dollar.  Coming from a difficult childhood that saw his parents divorce when he was very young, Dickey becomes a greater hero for all, for reasons far beyond his work from a Major League mound.

In his post-playing days, since last pitching for the Atlanta Braves in 2017, 250 miles south of Nashville, Dickey hasn't been shy in speaking out against child abuse.  At an early age Dickey was a victim of sexual abuse by a female babysitter.  Later in his life Dickey went public with his early childhood troubles.  He speaks out now in hopes of helping others who experienced the same travesty.

This past spring Dickey was the key speaker at the Button Ball in Franklin (TN), a fundraiser for the Davis House Child Advocacy Center.  The Davis House provides programs to help children facing sexual or severe physical abuse.  The black tie event was very personal for Dickey.

A crowd of several hundred packed The Factory at Franklin in Liberty Hall to support the mission, and hear Dickey's account on why their support was making a difference.

By all indications, with an MLB club on Nashville's horizon, it's only fitting that decent and genuine people like Dickey are being asked for their input.  He played the game and lives life within the baselines.  This is a model for baseball success in "Music City."

Don Laible is a freelance sportswriter living in the Mohawk Valley.  He has reported on professional baseball and hockey for print, radio, and on the web since the 1980's. His columns are featured weekly at WIBX950.com.

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