Monday, April 11, 2011
30 seasons later, the Suns’ fan base is still going strong
We are so fortunate to have professional baseball in our town", says longtime Suns' fan and Fan Club member Garry Laing. Laing added what was his favorite aspect of Suns' baseball "watching the progress of the Suns as they advance in the ranks of baseball." Laing's feelings are also shared by another Suns' fan, Regina Swope. Regina and her husband Dale, who are long time season ticket holders, take joy in watching the players of Minor League baseball. "At low A level this is the first real opportunity these guys have to prove themselves and everyone has a shot", says Swope. "To be able to say "I saw them when they were just starting" makes me go to the park every night, wind, rain, snow and beautiful days." Suns' fans are also very diverse in terms of family demographic, as exemplified by the Hawbaker family, who attend nearly every Suns' home game. "Our summer vacation lasts 70+ days, not just a week" say Brenda Hawbaker. While she too takes pride in seeing Suns' players advance through professional baseball, there is an even more gratifying feeling that she gets, which is "watching your own child learn to love the game in his own hometown and be happy for his favorite players when they move up." The enthusiastic spirit of these fans has impressed fans from other cities. So much so, that three men from over 2 hours away regularly attend Suns' home games. "I'm a Suns fan because of Suns fans" says David Ickes of Johnstown, PA. "Their friendliness, knowledge, and love for the game and their team made us feel at home." Ickes added that he and his friends Gary and John spent much of the 2003 season looking for a new favorite team, after the loss of Johnstown's Independent team and settled on Hagerstown over Altoona, Williamsport, and Frederick. He felt that the "atmosphere in Hagerstown was different. The tailgating, kids playing catch in the parking lot, the friendliness of the staff and concession workers." This is what lead to Dave and his friends finding a new team and they are not alone in their feelings about Suns fans.
Bill Papierniak is currently the General Manager of the AA Richmond Flying Squirrels, who last season lead the Eastern League in attendance. Despite the fact that he has not worked in Hagerstown since 2003, Papierniak still feels very strongly about Suns' fans and the Hagerstown Suns Fan Club. "Working in Minor League Baseball for 14 years – the Hagerstown Suns Fan Club was the most organized and provided the most to ease the transition for our players, coaches and staff of any that I have been associated with" says Papierniak. "I will always fondly remember my years in Hagerstown in no small part due to the work done by the Fan Club to allow the front office and team the best opportunity to focus on our jobs." He is not alone in his sentiments, as another former Suns' executive still has allegiance towards Suns fans. "The Hagerstown Suns Fan Club is unlike any other I've seen in Minor League Baseball" says former Suns' GM and current Trenton Thunder GM Will Smith. "The Fan Club is a true community of Hagerstown Suns baseball fans. It's a sincere organization that mutually promotes togetherness and support of the Hagerstown Suns." The Fan Club and Suns fans have another supporter in Fort Myers Miracle Director of Food & Beverage Nick Bilski. "Out of all of the teams I have worked for in Minor League Baseball, Hagerstown has the strongest base of loyal fans" Bilski stated. "They truly support the team and the staff through any decisions that are made." Players and coaches also display affections for Suns' fans. "The Hagerstown Sun's fan club is made up of individuals who truly care" says Paul Menhart, the Suns' pitching coach in 2007 and 2008. One time Sun Tim Pahuta, who was an infielder on the Suns in 2008, shares similar feelings. "Given the amount of moving from city to city that we, as players and staff, are forced to do, having a group of people like the Hagerstown Suns Fan Club to facilitate us is a huge advantage." Pahuta also adds the he appreciated the Fan Club for making him feel "more than welcome." The enthusiasm from around Minor League baseball shows that Suns' fans are truly respected and noticed. As these great fans begin their 31st season, the great reputation is only sure to spread in the years to come.