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Columnist's potshots are out in left field

By JIM ROSS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 23, 2003

Citrus Times readers might have been surprised Tuesday when they found a column from the Boston Globe reprinted on the front page.

Let me explain how it got there.

The piece, by sports columnist Dan Shaughnessy, discussed the ceremony held last weekend at the Ted Williams Museum and Hitters Hall of Fame. Shaughnessy forcefully argued that the museum should be moved from Citrus Hills to Boston, where Williams played for the Red Sox.

"With Ted gone, it's going to be difficult for museum folk to lure baseball stars and fans to this remote outpost" for the annual ceremony, Shaughnessy wrote.

But Shaughnessy didn't stop at calling Citrus Hills and the surrounding area "a remote outpost." In case you didn't catch it the first time around:

"The entire Citrus Hills region feels depressed," he wrote. "One hundred miles northwest of Orlando, 80 miles north of Tampa, it's a dreary landscape of orange groves, tattoo parlors, bail bond shops, and Circle K's. A billboard off Route 486, just a couple of miles from Ted's museum, shouts, 'Eternity in Hell is a long time!' Another billboard tells you that Pat Boone and the Oak Ridge Boys will be coming soon (no doubt the local social event of the year). Where else could the baseball legends be housed in a resort named 'The Plantation'?

"There no longer are billboards with Ted Williams urging people to buy homes at Citrus Hills," Shaughnessy continued. "And it's hard to imagine folks taking the trouble to find Ted's hallowed hall in this empty space of Florida's ugly middle."

That, he wrote, is why the new Red Sox ownership should find a way to get the museum to Boston.

The Times has permission to reprint columns like Shaughnessy's because the newspaper belongs to a wire service that makes such work available to members. (Likewise, some stories and columns from the Times can be used in other publications.)

Readers often will see work from other papers appear in the sports section or on the editorial page. It doesn't happen often in the Citrus Times. Then again, it isn't often that a national media figure takes a shot at us.

I published the column in the Citrus Times for two reasons:

Shaughnessy made good points about a local issue: the possible relocation of the museum to Boston. He is an influential columnist, and his opinion carries weight with the people, both here and in Boston, who will decide the museum's future.

Citrus residents and leaders need to know what's being written and said out there. Do people in Citrus want the museum to stay? If so, they had better start fighting. If they already are fighting, they had better redouble their efforts.

Citrus readers also need to know what a well-respected member of the media such as Dan Shaughnessy thinks about Citrus Hills and the surrounding area. Don't dismiss his description as a few offhand potshots from a big-city outsider. He is a serious man, and his opinion matters.

The people who read his column -- remember, it isn't just published in the Globe; it's also circulated to many other newspapers nationwide -- are the people who someday will seek a place to vacation, relocate or retire.

Let's face it: People don't always, or just, base their opinions on research. We also rely on word of mouth, what we read, an advertisement that catches our eye. In that context, these cheap shots from Shaughnessy can have a negative effect, no doubt beyond what he intended.

As for the column itself, let it be said that Shaughnessy is free to write what he wishes. Still, his Citrus Hills description came off as ugly and incomplete. Tattoo parlors? Bail bond shops? "Empty space of Florida's ugly middle?"

That's not the Citrus Hills, or the Citrus County, that I know and love. Say what you will about the area, but it deserves much better than what Shaughnessy gave it.

Shaughnessy later told the Citrus Times he hates this region. Fair enough. But a man of his stature, who occupies such a powerful pulpit, is professionally obliged to be more fair -- both to his readers and to the subjects about which he writes.

The regrettable part is this: Shaughnessy didn't need to insult the area to make his point. In fact, the insults detracted from his otherwise reasonable argument about the museum.

When I began writing this column, on Tuesday, I planned on encouraging the Tourist Development Council to write a letter to the Boston Globe. Council Chairman Josh Wooten, who also is a county commissioner, beat me to the punch. He didn't wait for the next council meeting; he fired off a letter Tuesday.

Many other people joined him. I hope the Globe publishes at least some of the letters.

Among the many things I've learned about Ted Williams during the past decade is that the Splendid Splinter had great eyesight. That's a big part of why he was a successful fighter pilot and hitter.

Ted saw fit to call Citrus Hills home. He must have seen something here he liked.

Ted's vision was better than Dan Shaughnessy's. Then again, maybe Ted just bothered to look around.

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