Sometime in 2003, when he was the mayor of Pearl, Miss., Jimmy Foster got a visit from a man he’d never met. The stranger, Tim Bennett, came to City Hall, an old brick schoolhouse on Pearl’s church-lined main street. “He just showed up in my office that day,” says Foster, “and started talking about baseball.” Specifically, Bennett wanted to know if Pearl might be interested in building a stadium for a minor league team.
A ballpark, it turned out, was just the kind of project Foster was looking for. Now 62, with gray hair and a potbelly, Foster, who spent 19 years as a policeman in Pearl before becoming mayor, was desperate to help his hometown shed its reputation as a poor neighbor of Jackson. “There just wasn’t a lot of commercial or retail in town,” he says. “And there wasn’t a lot of money.” The sewers, the streets—it all needed attention. “Having a baseball team in Pearl? That was a pipe dream.”…
…Over the last 15 years, the Braves have extracted nearly half a billion in public funds for four new homes, each bigger and more expensive than the last. The crown jewel, backed by $392 million in public funding, is a $722 million, 41,500-seat stadium for the major league club set to open next year in Cobb County, northwest of Atlanta. Before Cobb, the Braves built three minor league parks, working their way up the ladder from Single A to Triple A. In every case, they switched cities, pitting their new host against the old during negotiations. They showered attention on local officials unaccustomed to dealing with a big-league franchise and, in the end, left most of the cost on the public ledger. Says Joel Maxcy, a sports economist at Drexel University: “If there’s one thing the Braves know how to do, it’s how to get money out of taxpayers.”