Coach's Corner

Page Two is where Chronicle chieftains get to vent
their spleen, kinda like a
"Fidel Speaks" column. I'm frequently irritated by the tenor and subject matter in this space. So, I see the words "seat bonds" and "Phoenix Firebirds" and I'm already shaking with indignation and anger. I'm mentally composing a letter to the editor, before, naturally, I've read a word, trashing the Chronicle's leftist, yuppie/populist, knee-jerk reaction to yet another matter. Shockingly, it's a personal note in favor of using a few of our precious tax dollars to help finance a baseball park, bringing a professional sport finally, and at long last, to Austin. I stand humbled, filled with contrition and shame. I rushed - who, me?? - to a hasty judgment.

It's been duly noted we live in the largest city in the nation with no professional sports teams. I wonder why? Austin has a hard core of people who are politically active, think talk radio is important, and have too little to do. Councilmember Brigid Shea (what's she doing in my column?) probably has no interest whatsoever in sports. Then there's cranky, old, right-wing codgers against anything smacking of fun, like Bob Larson. This most unlikely of pairs heads SAFE, an acronym even their phone staff cannot identify. SAFE is comprised of cautious, common-sense folks standing behind the shield of a citizen's right to vote. They're not against something so frivolous as baseball. What, and turn off C-Span? Oh no, certainly not. They say it's a tax issue, pure and simple. As with all political acronyms, it's disingenuously named. It means Save Austin From Extravagance. Oh my, that's sweet.

They're not against a family-oriented, wholesome, inexpensive event taking place 40 nights a year, something all citizens of the city could enjoy for many years to come. Certainly they're not opposed to Austin being provided with an attractive, medium-sized outdoor music venue (desperately needed, by the way). No, certainly not. These are reasonable people, don't you know, who only want the taxpayers to have "their say." They ask, in half-page ads, if our city should not be concerned about "Funding police, EMS, fire stations, libraries, road repairs, and other community needs?" Ugh! How could they forget green grass and oxygen?

Anyone who's been around Austin a few years knows how long it takes for the voters to have their say or, more to the point, how long it takes smarmy politicians to hear anything. This petition, had it succeeded, would have effectively killed the whole deal, and that's the agenda, make no mistake about it, forever. It would be like testing the oxygen unit in an incubator... with the baby in it. The unit will test out fine. The baby will be dead by the time it's put back in.

Cities pay for stadiums. That's how it's done, sportsfans. The Firebirds are going to put up $10 million of their own, certainly indicating a strong commitment to the city. The leaders of SAFE are fully aware any vote, if they could stall long enough, even if it was 99% in favor of building the ballpark, would accomplish their goal. The stadium will take a year to build and the team needs to be ready to play in spring of 1997. The Firebirds will be long gone by then, bringing AAA baseball
to another more reasonable, less politically polarized (paralyzed) municipality.

In cranky, self-righteous Austin, where everyone wants to show how smart they are, finding 15,000 people to sign a petition against anything is easier than selling lemonade on the corner. Someone finally clued Firebird owner Martin Stone in to this uniquely Austin reality. Wisely, he snatched the initiative from
those wishing to save us from extravagance and called for an immediate city-wide vote.

I'm pleased with this turn of events, because now I don't have to sit back, seething in frustration, while a few zealots wag the dog. Sportsfans, if you haven't voted since the McGovern campaign, if after the 17th vote on moving the airport you decided to bag the political process for all time, well, all time is over. The election is in October. It takes a few minutes to register to vote.

The Kingston Trio, a super folk group of the Fifties, had a huge hit called "MTA." It was a story of a guy named Charlie who, because he lacked one more nickel, was not allowed, due to city ordinance no doubt, to get off of the subway. He was doomed to ride beneath the streets of Boston forever. It's an interesting metaphor for Austin. To paraphrase from the song, "It's a small increase. Vote for the Austin Swing, and get Charlie off the MTA."

Parting Shots: Some people, to their shame, seem to think Mickey Mantle somehow got "what he deserved" when he died of cancer last week. I'm sorry if your Dad didn't play catch with you when you were a child. Get over it. Mantle was honest enough to admit to the world he was, alas, not Superman, but only human. There's more than one way to view coming out of the closet. He didn't deserve this any more than someone dying of AIDS does. Some people sound, chillingly, like those they respect the least. n

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