Commentary: Could a return of streetcars lead to Major League Baseball for San Antonio

This past weekend the city of San Antonio played host to history yet again when the Texas Rangers and San Diego Padres played two baseball games in the Alamodome as part of an event called Big League Weekend. Ryan Sanders Baseball, a sports ownership company headed by hall of fame pitcher Nolan Ryan and his son Reid put on the exhibition. The Ryans’ own the Rangers and the Round Rock Express of the Pacific Coast League and put on the exhibition in hopes of making it an annual event for the city of San Antonio.
The first game on March 29 finished in the Rangers favor as they took a 5-4 win over the Padres before an announced crowd of 34,641.
The Rangers completed the sweep on Saturday with a 5-2 victory before 40,569 fans. It was the latest attempt by the Rangers to win the fans of San Antonio over from the Houston Astros. But the 75,210 who showed up for two exhibition games-a San Antonio city record for a baseball series-proved that San Antonio could support its own Major League Baseball team just as successfully as it has the National Basketball Association member Spurs for 40 years.
While San Antonio was welcoming the Rangers and Padres, it was reported by KENS-5 that the city is moving closer to a streetcar system that would run either north-south or east-west through downtown. The tentative opening for the service is 2016 or 2017.
The Alamo city is not new to streetcars with the first line opening in 1878. The system was electrified in 1890, reached a peak of 90 track miles in 1926 and ran for the last time on April 29, 1933.
That same year, the city celebrated a baseball championship after the Missions captured the Texas League Pennant before losing the 1933 Dixie Series to New Orleans four games to two.
The Missions, currently the Double-A affiliate of the Padres have a long history in San Antonio. They helped establish the Texas League in 1888 along with teams from Houston, Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Galveston and New Orleans. Since that time the San Antonio baseball team played under a couple of different names before settling on Missions before the 1933 season. The Missions have won 12 Texas League pennants, their most recent coming in 2011.
As San Antonio has grown it has gotten closer and closer to being ready for Major League Baseball while MLB has time and again shown no interest in coming to San Antonio, save the Florida Marlins.
In 2006, the Marlins were close to moving to San Antonio but in the last minute, the city of Miami stepped up and agreed to build the Marlins a stadium to keep them in Florida. That stadium, known as Marlins park opened last season and in an ironic twist, one of its sponsors was Valero, the San Antonio-based petroleum company.
There are good reasons for San Antonio to have a Major League baseball team. The Texas Triangle rivalry that would develop with the Houston Astros and Texas Rangers could be as great as that of the NBA between the Spurs, Rockets and Mavericks. The city is the seventh largest in the United States and growing as well as one of the most visited locations in the country.
Streetcars downtown could help bring a baseball team because the streetcars will lead to improvements downtown as well as more people congregating in the hub of San Antonio. Depending on the location of a future baseball stadium there could be a line connecting the future stadium to the AT&T Center similar to how Houston links Reliant Stadium to the downtown stadiums with its light rail system.
By the time the streetcar service would open in 2016 or 2017, if all goes right, the Big League Weekend will be putting on its third or fourth annual exhibition series. Its not impossible to imagine that by that time as more and more talent becomes available to Major League Baseball thanks to its international growth, San Antonio might become a strong candidate for expansion. Perhaps by then a team might have relocated to San Antonio (that option seems least likely).
Regardless, it will be up to San Antonians to show that in addition to being able to support a MLB team, they are ready to bring back streetcars. Streetcars that could be a key stepping-stone towards welcoming a Major League Baseball team to the Alamo City.