HOOVER, Ala. — It was a beautiful night here Wednesday, and the Hoover Met was absolutely packed.
It’s the prospect of luring thousands of college baseball fans and their ample discretionary dollars that has Metairie; Jacksonville, Florida; and Nashville and Memphis, Tennessee, trying to wrest the Southeastern Conference tournament from this Birmingham suburb, which it has called home since 1998. The decision on whether to move the tournament or keep it here in Hoover over the next three to five years is expected to be announced next Friday at the SEC Spring Meeting in Destin, Florida.
Memphis is seen as a huge challenge to Hoover’s hegemony, with its justly praised Auto Zone Park sitting just a couple of Greg Deichmann tape-measure blasts away (see LSU’s game Tuesday night against Tennessee). The other three aren’t as big a threat as Memphis, quite frankly. Nashville already has the SEC men’s basketball tournament three of every four years, and Metairie’s Zephyr Field and Jacksonville are clearly at a geographical disadvantage as far as most of the SEC is concerned. Hoover and Memphis aren’t within a six-hours drive of every SEC city, but it’s close.
For LSU baseball fans, the prospect of having the SEC tournament in the Tigers’ back yard again — the Mercedes-Benz Superdome hosted the tourney in 1992 and LSU hosted the SEC West tournament at old Alex Box Stadium the following year — is intriguing. But several Tigers fans attending Wednesday’s LSU-Florida game say they don’t want the tournament to leave Hoover.
“We’re not coming back if they move it,” said Donavan Andrews of Colyell. He was parked beneath a purple and gold tent and a shady tree on a grassy patch near the ball park, surrounded by family, hot jambalaya and cold beer.
“I don’t go to New Orleans for nothing if I can help it,” said Andrews, who has been coming to this event since 2009. “(The SEC tournament) couldn’t get any better.”
Chris Ozark drove over Wednesday from Monroe with his son Sam to attend their first SEC tournament session. Despite standing in a lengthy concession stand line during the early innings of Mississippi State’s 4-1 win over Alabama, Ozark didn’t see any reason for the tournament to move either.
“They have free parking, and you get two games for the same price. It’s a great deal,” Ozark said.
The other four cities may be dazzling and different, but don’t think for a moment Hoover is going to give up this sporting jewel without a fight. The city of Hoover has committed to major improvements and renovations to the area around the ball park in what will be called the Hoover Sports and Events facility.
Between now and next May, presumably in time for the 2017 tournament, the city is building a 155,000-square foot multipurpose sports building adjacent to the ballpark. It will house basketball courts much of the year but can be used to host SEC fans during the tournament. Also on the drawing board is expanded parking (including more RV parking) and items designed to benefit the local gentry (soccer fields, tennis courts, youth baseball diamonds).
Though the SEC’s Alabama-centric nature has long concerned me, I’d be OK with the tournament staying here for three out of four years and branching out occasionally to a Memphis or Metairie. Or how about the Atlanta Braves’ new ballpark when it opens? Or Minute Maid Park in Houston? Or Busch Stadium in St. Louis?
LSU coach Paul Mainieri wouldn’t mind seeing the tournament go to Metairie for the near home-field advantage it would afford his Tigers, but on balance he’d be happy to see the tournament stay in Hoover. To him, the city has become the SEC’s version of Omaha and the College World Series, a destination that teams and fans shoot for every season.
“If it ain’t broke,” Ozark said, “don’t fix it.”
He’s got a good point. And Hoover has a very good chance to be hosting this tournament again in 2017.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter, @RabalaisAdv.