Homesteads baseball stadium sports a fresh red-and-white paint job. Palm trees surround the small ball park, and a nearby lake glints in the Florida sun. Inside, the crack of a bat rings out as cheers erupt.
But the applause is far from a roar. The parking lot isnt close to full and neither are the stands about 200 of the stadiums 6,500 seats are filled. The new paint covers crumbling and rusted posts and columns. The toilets dont flush in the bathroom.
This stadium was supposed to be Homesteads salvation. But that was 21 years ago, just before Hurricane Andrew made straight for the small town south of Miami, and nearly leveled the ball park. These days, the stadium that was supposed to be the citys ticket out of the backwaters has come to stand for something else entirely: how Homestead has never fully recovered from Hurricane Andrew.
Andrew sent major league baseball packing. Though the city promptly rebuilt the stadium, attempts to sell or rent it always seemed to fall through. At one point, the city considered imploding the multi-story structure until that proved too expensive. Last summer, when the city finally thought it had found a stable tenant a budding sports media company the relationship soured, spawning two lawsuits.
In the two decades since Mother Nature stole its momentum, Homesteads stadium has stood largely unused, a symbol of what could have been. Over the years, the city has paid about $6 million to keep it ready, on an increasingly slim hope: If you rebuild it, they will come.
I love that stadium, said Homestead Council member Judy Waldman. Im not a quitter, and I think she has great potential.
JEALOUSIES AND OUTRAGE
Back in 1989, Homestead stunned its metropolitan neighbors when it announced that the city would build a world-class baseball stadium using county hotel-tax dollars everyone assumed belonged to Miami and Miami Beach.
I feel like Ive been hit in the head by a two-by-four, Jack Eads, Coral Gables city manager, complained at the time, after learning that his city also could have been eligible for the money.
Homesteads then-city manager, Alex Muxo, had pulled off a financial coup and may have yanked the money out from under Homesteads more powerful neighboring municipalities by simply reading the laws governing who could use the funds.
As Homesteads mayor at the time, John Tad DeMilly, put it: There were jealousies.
And outrage. Miami Beach tried to take the money back. Homestead sued. A judge ordered Miami Beach to pay up. But beach officials didnt let go easily: Convinced the deal was illegal, they ordered an independent investigation into Homesteads actions. The investigation found no wrongdoing.
Homestead had been, I dont think it is today, but it had been generally a rural community separated by a fairly large tract of space on U.S. 1 that was not developed. And metropolitan Dade county Miami, etcetera kind of looked down on Homestead as a redneck community, DeMilly said.
But Homestead had Muxo, an ambitious, young city manager, the first Hispanic to hold the job.
Though Muxo did not respond to repeated interview requests for this story, his mother told the Herald in 1992: Of our three sons, he was the most concerned about being American.