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In The Batter's Box

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by Joe Driskill

by Joseph L. Driskill

for the Business Journal

With the changing of the seasons, fall brings a time for us to reflect on our successes over the summer of 1998. It is no secret that tourism is big business in Missouri. And this is why we particularly look back and assess why out-of-state visitors chose the Show-Me State to spend their valuable vacation dollars.

From year to year, tourism organizations undertake studies and conduct surveys to determine the nation's top tourist attractions, and Missouri always has a lot of contenders. Is it the Gateway Arch or Bass Pro Shops? The scenic riverways and lakes, or the Pony Express Stables? Or is it the rich history and folklore of the Mark Twain attractions?

This year, it doesn't take a lot of effort to determine that Missouri's top tourist attraction for 1998 was St. Louis Cardinals slugger Mark McGwire.

McGwire's outstanding accomplishment of topping Roger Maris' 37-year-old Major League, single-season home-run record can't be reduced to mere dollars and cents, although there were plenty spent. Indeed, it is perhaps a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see such a record fall.

But as the Department of Economic Development focuses on promoting new economic opportunities for Missourians, this is certainly a welcome phenomenon.

According to the St. Louis Regional Commerce and Growth Association, McGwire's march to the home-run record contributed more than $60 million in economic benefit to the St. Louis region alone. And in spite of a rather lackluster season for the team, ticket sales to St. Louis Cardinals baseball games were up by more than 20 percent.

And increased ticket sales mean more cash registers ringing all over St. Louis. Merchants say that anything with McGwire's name, face or jersey number on it sells. St. Louis restaurants reported increased sales of up to 40 percent on the days of home games. And hotels booked hundreds of additional rooms.

And this was just in the St. Louis area. McGwire memorabilia is selling everywhere in Missouri, and we are confident that if out-of-state visitors went to St. Louis for an evening at the ballpark, they probably spent a little time and a few dollars at one of Missouri's many other tourist attractions.

Skeptics might say that this is a one-shot deal, and after McGwire's No. 25 jersey is retired in the Busch Stadium outfield, the luster will be gone. But I disagree.

Many baseball fans might not have considered visiting Missouri had it not been for the home-run chase. However, I think we can all agree that once we get people into our state, there is a good chance they will see something that will make them want to come back.

On the days that McGwire belted home runs 60, 61 and the record-breaking 62, baseball fans from all over the world were riveted to their television sets, waiting for the historic moment. And every one of those viewers watching television saw scenes of the Gateway Arch and the St. Louis riverfront.

This is the kind of publicity most convention and visitors bureaus only dream of.

We look forward to seeing Mark McGwire continue to belt his towering home runs for years to come in St. Louis. Perhaps his Major League record of 70 home runs in a single season will be every bit as enduring as those set by Maris and Babe Ruth before him.

But in the meantime, we can enjoy the ride and take pride in the fact that St. Louis is now an even more important part of baseball history. And just as important, it will be a mark that will contribute significantly to Missouri's continued economic success.

(Joseph L. Driskill is director of Missouri's Department of Economic Development.)

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