It won't happen, but one U.S. city would make every MLB game unforgettable.
It is very likely that Major League Baseball will soon be expanding to 32 teams. Commissioner Rob Manfred and the gang have had their eyes set on adding two more franchises for a few years now, and several cities have emerged as frontrunners. Las Vegas and Nashville seem to be firmly at the front of the pack, followed by Montreal, Charlotte, Portland, and a few others. Those are the serious contenders.
Well, for the purpose of this article, I say to hell with these "serious contenders." I'm the Commish now, and I say the league has its sights set, first and foremost, on one glorious city and one glorious city only.
I'll tell you all about what this might look like in a minute. First, a little background.
High School Glory Days
My high school had a lot of rivalries. I went to an all-boy Jesuit school in Miami, Florida that, apart from being known for academics, was good or great at nearly every sport. As such, a lot of schools didn't like us. We were seen as the preppy, snobby, surprisingly athletic kids who you brought your A-game against each and every time. Wherever we went (I played baseball), you could bet we were going to hear it from opposing parents and students, especially for district and regional games. You always wanted to beat Belen Jesuit.
There was one school, however, that took it to the next level. Not so much because of who we were, but because of what we were: an opponent. Talk to any baseball player who happened to play against this specific high school on the road. Odds are, they will have a war story to share. It didn't matter who you were or where you came from. If you weren't wearing red and white, you were in for 2+ hours of hell.
That school is Key West High, home of the Conchs.
Good. Also, Insane.
You should understand, first and foremost, that the Conchs are good. The program has won 11 state championships, more than any other school in the baseball hotbed that is Florida. They've also produced a solid batch of Major Leaguers, led by former Padres and Cardinals shortstop Khalil Greene and 4X All Star and MVP Boog Powell. They weren't quite at the peak of their powers when I was in high school, but they were formidable, especially at home.
You could expect well over 1,000 people at every big home game and, according to a former manager of mine who won three state titles there (shoutout to Ralph Henriquez, who has returned to Key West High), around 5,000 when the Conchs are competing for yet another championship. Some of these thousands of people are, shall we say, in an altered state of mind. Such is life in the city with the most bars per capita in the United States.
Beware of Projectiles
The drunkest of the drunk can usually be found down the right field line and behind the right field fence, having a game-long tailgate. Lord have mercy on whoever plays right field against Key West. Do not engage with them. Pray they don't learn your name. Try to avoid getting hit by a battery (I'm serious). You'll find more townies down the third base line and next to the centerfield bleachers; the latter is also where the local firetruck comes by to blow the horns and sirens in favor of the Conchs, sometimes mid-inning. But right field is where you really have to put your most mentally strong player. I don't care if he's never played outfield.
Players and Coaches
As for the on-field product, the players seem to feed off the primal, riotous energy the fans give off from the first pitch. Shit, sometimes before the first pitch. My junior year the shortstop overthrew the first baseman during pre-game infield drills, sending the ball rocketing into our dugout and us diving out of the way. Must have slipped out of his hand! Their right fielder later sprinted past us screaming at the top of his lungs on his way in from outfield drills. Totally normal behavior.
You've never seen high school kids play harder than the Conchs do in front of their home crowd. It's like playing the baseball equivalent of berserkers, of Old Norse legend. Norse Kings used to send these glorious fuckers into battle, allegedly foaming at the mouth and chewing on the edge of their shields, wearing animal skins and set on wreaking as much havoc as possible on the helpless opposition, whose weapons were all but useless against them. I cannot confirm the Key West Conchs used any ancient Viking rituals to go "berserk" before their home games, but I can't deny it either. Regardless of them being undefeated or winless, they're tough to beat.
If the coaching staff seems a bit larger in number than a typical high school staff, that's because they are. There was at least one ejection in every game I played against Key West at their place (I did three tours). Makes sense to have some extra bodies in case a few coaches head over to Captain Tony's early.
I could go on and on. And on. And on. Playing the Key West Conchs in Key West is a singular experience for any high school baseball player.
Introducing MLB's Key West...Conchs or Something!
Yes. This southernmost expansion plan for MLB goes right to the bottom of the United States. Key West, Florida. Where you go to fish, party, take ghost tours, eat conch fritters, and now, watch MLB's Key West Whatevers dominate the competition. We'll call them the Tortugas for now, after the famous Dry Tortugas National Park.
If the atmosphere of Key West High School games can be amplified to a Major League level, this team will go, roughly, 81-0 at home. The Atlanta Falcons tried something new a few years ago by dramatically slashing the prices of their concessions. The thinking was that fans would end up spending more overall, due to not being dissuaded by the typically absurd stadium rates. It worked and the Falcons made more money.
Affordable food and drinks in Papa's Pilar Park are MOST DEFINITELY part of my proposal. I want fans full and soused, ready to make things impossible for whichever bunch of idiots they're playing. Papa's Pilar Park will essentially be Key West's biggest bar and grill. Staple some bras and dollar bills with people's names on them on the outfield walls to complete the look. That's our Wrigley Field ivy. I did say this was an "indecent" proposal in the title.
Roster and Ballpark Location
First guy I'm going after is, of course, Adam Duvall. Is he a world-beater? No. But the drinks will be flowing on Duval Street every time this slugger knocks one out of the park (1/2 off all drinks at Sloppy Joe's the inning after a Duvall Dinger!). I leave the rest of the roster construction to my front office execs. My only non-negotiable is All-Star, Gold Glove outfielder, and World Series champion Adam Duvall.
I'm putting Papa's Pilar Park on the north side of Stock Island. Sorry, Key West Golf Club. Some home run balls can and will end up in the Gulf of Mexico, ala McCovey Cove in San Francisco. Good, let's get some kayakers and snorkelers out there. This ballpark will not have a large foul ball area or outfield dimensions and will only seat 30-35,000 fans or so; I want it to feel like the Tortuga faithful are right on top of you roaring in your ear, much like when you're playing the Conchs.
Papa's Pilar Park will be the toughest place to play in Major League Baseball. Book it.
Yes, a pro sports team of any kind in Key West will probably never see the light of day, at least not for a sport played on land. It would likely be an insurmountable logistic nightmare; you win this round, Key West Golf Club! But holy shit is this a fun thing to imagine. If you're a baseball fan who happens to be in Key West in the spring, I highly recommend catching a Key West Conchs baseball game. Sadly, you'll have to wait a little for the Key West Tortugas to run roughshod over the rest of MLB.
For now, whichever two cities are accepted as MLB's next franchise locations will suffice. *sigh*