Tag Archives: southern league

Huntsville Stars Fell Out of Alabama

Not that long ago it was announced that the Huntsville Stars of the Southern League are moving from Alabama to Mississippi to become the Biloxi Shuckers beginning with the 2015 season.

It is not uncommon for baseball teams to move from one city to another, but there are two sides to every move.

For the city getting the team there is the excitement of welcoming baseball to town and having new options for entertainment.

For the city losing the team there are the thoughts of what could have been done differently to keep the team in town.

Although I never made it to Huntsville, Alabma to see them play I did see the Huntsville Stars in action against the Orlando Rays in 1990. Since that time the Rays moved to Alabama and changed their name to the Biscuits while the Stars are headed to Mississippi to become the Shuckers. Photo R. Anderson

Although I never made it to Huntsville, Alabama to see them play I did see the Huntsville Stars in action against the Orlando Rays in 1990. Since that time the Rays moved to Alabama and changed their name to the Biscuits while the Stars are headed to Mississippi to become the Shuckers.
Photo R. Anderson

For Huntsville the decision to move to Biloxi was Ballpark driven. After a deal to construct a new Ballpark in Huntsville failed to materialize the team was sold and moved to a brand new Ballpark in Biloxi.

There are doubts about whether the new Biloxi Ballpark will be done in time which leads to a possible awkward scenario where the team may still play some games in Huntsville next year but for all intents and purposes the days of baseball in Huntsville are done for now.

As I have said many times, I grew up on Southern League baseball at Orlando’s Tinker Field.

Despite several facelifts through the years Tinker Field was, by all accounts, a very old ballpark which lacked luxury boxes, suites, organic concession stands and the other must haves in today’s Ballparks.

While some found the lack of amenities as a negative, in my opinion the lack of those features added to the charm and made the games more fun to watch.

For me a Ballpark should be a little gritty and show some wear and tear. I want to feel like generations of people before me sat in similar chairs and watched nine innings played on a humid summer night under the stars sipping sweet tea and trying to catch a foul ball in the stands.

Although I never managed to catch a foul ball Tinker Field always gave me that time capsule feeling whenever I saw a game there.

Unfortunately for Tinker Field a new Ballpark was built up the road at Walt Disney’s Wide World of Sports complex at the end of the 20th Century and the Orlando Rays, the Double-A Affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays, moved to the Ballpark that the Mouse built in 2000 and left Tinker Field without a Minor League Baseball team.

Despite moving to what they thought was greener pastures, the Orlando Rays broke their 10-year lease with Walt Disney World’s Ballpark and left the Orlando market entirely following the 2003 season and became the Montgomery Biscuits.

Orlando’s loss became Montgomery, Alabama’s gain.

The Pensacola Blue Wahoos are another Southern League team that moved in the last couple of years. The team formerly known as the Carolina Mudcats made the westward journey from North Carolina to the sugar sand shores of Florida in 2012.

In 2012 the Pensacola Blue Wahoos were born when the team formerly known as the Carolina Mudcats made the westward journey from North Carolina to the sugar sand shores of Florida.  Photo R. Anderson

In 2012 the Pensacola Blue Wahoos were born when the team formerly known as the Carolina Mudcats made the westward journey from North Carolina to the sugar sand shores of Florida.
Photo R. Anderson

Since moving to Pensacola the Blue Wahoos have been named one of the best organizations in baseball and have had their Ballpark, which they sell out routinely, listed at the top of several polls.

The Shuckers appear to be trying to follow the Pensacola model of running a franchise where a new baseball starved market replaces a market and/or Ballpark that is deemed to be outdated.

While there are certainly nice features in the new Ballparks being built I think in the era of Ballpark building people forget that the main reason to go to a Ballpark should be to see the actual game.

In recent years I have seen more and more people at baseball games that probably don’t even know that there is a game going on.

It is certainly an individual’s right to pay for a ticket and then spend nine innings reading a book or sitting with their back to the field the whole game, but the actual baseball game should still be the main attraction at a Ballpark.

Pensacola quickly moved to the top of the Southern League ballparks when they took the field in 2012. Biloxi is looking to duplicate that success when they open their new Ballpark next year.  Photo R. Anderson

Pensacola quickly moved to the top of the Southern League ballparks when they took the field in 2012. Biloxi is looking to duplicate that success when they open their new Ballpark next year.
Photo R. Anderson

I will admit that when I am watching a game at home on television I will often find myself doing two or three other things at the same time so my attention is not fully on the game.

But when I am watching a game in person I could not fathom spending nine innings not watching the game.

Of course these new Ballparks are not always built for the regular fan in mind and tend to cater more to businesses who use their suites as places to hold corporate events or other functions.

I am sure that Biloxi will be a fine city for baseball and I look forward to adding it to my list of cities to catch a game in. And while Biloxi is certainly close for me to get to then Huntsville, I do feel bad for the people who lost their team.

I know how I felt when Orlando lost their Minor League Baseball foothold so it is definitely rough for the fan bases that are left behind.

While I am a firm believer in keeping Ballparks free of distractions that take away from the game I will admit that I enjoy watching the boats go by when I attend games in Pensacola. It is also possible to see the Blue Angels flying home to Pensacola Naval Air Station some nights. Photo R. Anderson

While I am a firm believer in keeping Ballparks free of distractions that take away from the game I will admit that I enjoy watching the boats go by when I attend games in Pensacola. It is also possible to see the Blue Angels flying home to Pensacola Naval Air Station some nights.
Photo R. Anderson

The Southern League currently has teams playing in Birmingham, Alabama, Chattanooga, Tennessee, Jackson, Tennessee, Montgomery, Alabama, Kodak, Tennessee, Biloxi, Mississippi, Jacksonville, Florida, Pearl, Mississippi, Mobile, Alabama, and Pensacola, Florida.

By comparison the cities represented by the Southern League in 1992 were Memphis, Tennessee, Charlotte, North Carolina, Greenville, South Carolina, Knoxville, Tennessee, Raleigh, North Carolina, Huntsville, Alabama, Orlando, Florida, Jacksonville, Florida, Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Birmingham, Alabama.

It is likely that the Southern League has not seen the last team relocation. There are already rumblings that Huntsville is going to try to get a team to replace the one that they lost. Panama City, Florida is also rumored to be looking to add a team so for either of those cities to gain another must lose.

While there can be only one when it comes to certain sword wielding movie immortals, in the Southern League there can only be 10.

With only 10 slots available at any given time that leaves a lot of southern cities fighting to join the league. I just hope no one loses their head in the process.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am suddenly in the mood to watch the Highlander.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson

Tinker Field’s Fate Likely Sealed by Progress

The other day I learned some troubling news about an old friend.

Growing up this friend and I shared many adventures during the spring and summer months with family and friends.

Sadly time and neglect have finally taken their toll on my good friend, Tinker Field, and at the ripe age of 91 years old he is facing extinction.

Tinker Field, my good friend, is a ballpark in Orlando, FL that I have written about many times.

It was at Tinker Field that I saw most of my professional baseball games during the 20th Century.

From Spring Training for Major League Baseball, to full seasons of Minor League Baseball, the quaint little ballpark in the shadow of the Citrus Bowl was a unique venue where a who’s who of baseball players played.

In the late 80's and early 90's I saw quite a few Southern League games at historic Tinker Field. Photo R. Anderson

In the late 80’s and early 90’s I saw quite a few Southern League games at historic Tinker Field.
Photo R. Anderson

Think of almost any baseball player from the 20th Century and odds are pretty good that they stepped foot on the infield grass of Tinker Field at one time or another.

The last professional affiliated baseball at Tinker Field occurred in 1999 with the Orlando Rays who were the Double-A farm team for the Tampa Bay Rays.

While the Orlando Rays were the last of the Southern League teams to call Tinker Field home they certainly weren’t the only ones.

The Orlando Twins, Orlando Cubs and Orlando Sun Rays were among the many teams to call Tinker Field home.

The Orlando Juice of the Senior Professional Baseball Association even spent a season in the shadow of the Citrus Bowl.

Eventually it was the shadowy neighbor looming over right field that signed Tinker Field’s death warrant.

A massive expansion is planned for the Citrus Bowl that will greatly widen its footprint. Unfortunately this widening will creep into right field to the point that Tinker Field can no longer function as a baseball field due to an outfield depth that would make a Little Leaguer feel like Barry Bonds sending everything he hits over the fence.

So, despite being declared a national historic site Tinker Field will likely soon meet the fate of many ballparks before it and be torn down in the name of progress.

There is still a small glimmer of hope that the ballpark structure can be saved. There are petitions and social media campaigns already in full swing.

In the event that cries from the Tinker fans fall on deaf ears, a halfhearted attempt to appease fans who will miss the ballpark by creating a new Tinker Field a few hundred yards away on the site of a current softball field has been floated by local officials.

Still despite calling the new ballpark Tinker Field, there will never be another Tinker Field and every effort should be made to preserve the historic grandstand and related facilities.

If the wrecking ball does come, Tinker Field will become the third ballpark I attended games at to be torn down. Despite missing Memorial Stadium in Baltimore and Baseball City Stadium in Haines City, Florida the loss of Tinker Field hits the hardest.

Tinker Field was where my mom and I spent many afternoons and evenings together watching games despite it being in a part of town where one did not want to really venture too far away from the safety of the ballpark lights.

This ticket stub allowed me to meet one of my baseball heroes, Earl Weaver, along the third base line of Tinker Field.

This ticket stub allowed me to meet one of my baseball heroes, Earl Weaver, along the third base line of Tinker Field.

Tinker Field was also where I met the late Earl Weaver on the third base line.

I met many other players at Tinker Field through the years with some of them making it to the Majors and others relegated to a career of being bused from game to game in the Minor Leagues.

While I saw numerous Spring Training games at Tinker Field it was Minor League Baseball that really grabbed my attention and stoked the desires of younger me to work in sports promotions at a ballpark.

During our trips to Tinker Field my mom and I were often joined for a few innings by team president Pat Williams, who was also the General Manager of the Orlando Magic at the time, and I used to think how cool it would be to be a team executive getting paid to watch baseball.

I have yet to fully realize that dream of spending all of my summer nights as a Minor League Baseball employee but I may yet before all is said and done and when I do it will be because of those nights at Tinker Field.

I last visited Tinker Field in 1999 during a University of Central Florida football game. At the time UCF played at the Citrus Bowl since it did not have a stadium of its own yet.

During a pregame tailgate I learned that the souvenir stand at Tinker Field was open since the Rays were moving to a ballpark at Walt Disney World and the team was selling all of their merchandise to avoid moving it to the new facility.

During my last visit to Tinker Field in 1999 I was fitted by sight for this hat. Sadly, the hat no longer fits but the memory of getting it remains as vivid as ever. Photo R. Anderson

During my last visit to Tinker Field in 1999 I was fitted by sight for this hat. Sadly, the hat no longer fits but the memory of getting it remains as vivid as ever.
Photo R. Anderson

I ended up getting an Orlando Rays fitted cap. To this day I am amazed that the seasoned ballpark employee correctly guessed my hat size just by looking at me. I am also amazed that in the years since my already large head grew to the point where I can no longer comfortably wear the fitted wool cap.

I am sure the cap vendor had done the same thing thousands of times but it was fascinating to me that he had that skill. I don’t know what happened to that vendor but I like to think he lived out his remaining years comfortably after his days at the ballpark were over randomly telling people on the street how big their heads were.

In the end the Orlando Rays’ time at Walt Disney World was short lived and the team moved to Montgomery, Alabama and became known as the Biscuits.

To this day there are still no Minor League Baseball teams in Orlando making the decision to tear down a nearly 100 year old Ballpark an easier pill to swallow for some.

Others point to the peeling paint and overworked plumbing as reasons that it is best to raze the ballpark instead of spending money to preserve it and bring it up to current code.

I knew that the day would come when Tinker Field would be torn down in the name of progress. I had hoped that the day was further into the future but knew deep down that people in government do not seem to always value their history and often times the bulldozer wins out over preserving the past.

In Houston people are dealing with a similar potential loss of a treasured sports fixture as the pending demolition of the Astrodome seems all but certain.

In Atlanta fans of the Braves of preparing for the loss of 20-year-old Turner Field in the name of progress.

A few years back even Yankee Stadium, of Babe Ruth fame, was torn down so I know that the loss of Tinker Field is not totally out of line with the rest of the world of sports but it is still sad day.

While the Astrodome, Yankee Stadium, and Turner Field cannot compete with the intimacy of Tinker Field fans of those venues are justified in feeling their loss.

But as I have said before the loss of the physical building, while difficult, does not take away the memories that occurred in those facilities.

I can close my eyes and still picture Tinker Field the way I remember it. I prefer to think of it like it was and not like the neglected facility it became.

I guess the morale of the story is to treasure your brick and mortar ballparks while you can while building up memories that can last long after the ballparks are gone.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some ballpark preservation petitions to sign.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson

Wahoo Wishes and Other Notes From Beside the Bay

This past weekend I took my first baseball road trip of the 2013 season to book end the opening week of the baseball season.

After starting the week at the home opener for the Houston Astros, the week was rounded out with a trip to Bayfront Stadium in Pensacola, FL for a Southern League game between the home standing Blue Wahoos and the visiting Tennessee Smokies.

Prior to moving to Texas, the bulk of my non Spring Training in person baseball watching was through Southern League games at Tinker Field in Orlando FL.

Despite moving about 800 miles away from the borders of the Southern League, to this day I still try to catch Southern League games whenever I can.

It was clear skies at game time but as the flags indicate there was a stiff wind blowing. Photo R. Anderson

It was clear skies at game time but as the flags indicate there was a stiff wind blowing.
Photo R. Anderson

I am sure this is partially due to history and familiarity with the league and the various teams but a lot of it is also based on the fact that there is some good baseball being played on the farm teams of the Southern League.

Such was the case on this colder than normal April night at the stadium on the bay.

More on the game in a bit but I feel it is important to stop and mention the weather at game time and throughout the festivities.

Anyone who knows me well, most likely knows the following two things about me. First, I check the weather constantly before a trip to make sure that I am properly prepared for the conditions.

Second, it takes in awful lot for me to be cold. I am the type who has a fan going year round and I have not turned the heater on in my house in over 8 years.

More ballparks should be waterfront ballparks to allow for scenery like this. Photo R. Anderson

More ballparks should be waterfront ballparks to allow for scenery like this.
Photo R. Anderson

So after checking the forecast before heading to the game, I was fairly satisfied with my no jacket required assessment. Unfortunately while the temperature was within a good short sleeve window, in my haste to make it to the game after a nine-hour drive to the ballpark I forgot to account for the wind chill and feels like factor.

To say it was cold with the wind coming in off the bay would be an understatement. How cold did it feel?

It felt cold enough that I was seriously considering buying a $100 jacket in the gift shop or at the very least a $60 sweatshirt to try to stay warm.  How a jacket and sweatshirt can cost that much is certainly another story for another day.

At least I was not alone in my frigid feelings. Apparently the guy sitting to my right had also made the same error in judgment as we were the only two people in the ballpark wearing short sleeves.

As the innings wore on we became very close as we tried to block the wind and stay warm. Not a word was spoken but a knowing nod was all that was required to show that the contest was one to see who could last the longest.

He ended up leaving in the bottom of the sixth inning which meant I just had to make it to the seventh inning stretch to get the victory in the two cold guys challenge. Yes, boys and girls this is what men do, we turn everything into a contest.

So I made it an extra half inning and then packed up my bobble head, souvenir cup and other assorted stadium items and walked the 10 blocks back to the car.

Although the game was a very lopsided affair and included a Man versus Wild like survival challenge in the stands, there were several items of note that occurred.

It was Billy Hamilton bobble head giveaway night. For those who are unfamiliar with Billy Hamilton he set the single season stolen base record with 146 last season.

Billy Hamilton stole a record number of bases last season and became immortalized as a bobble head this season.  Photo R. Anderson

Billy Hamilton stole a record number of bases last season and became immortalized as a bobble head this season.
Photo R. Anderson

I met Billy last season when he was about four steals away from the record and although he has moved on to the Triple-A affiliate of the Reds it was nice to be there for the bobble head night and close the circle as it were.

I have little doubt that after one more season of seasoning in the Minors Billy Hamilton will make the Reds roster and show his speed in front of the larger audience.

I have always enjoyed the art of the stolen base. Major League Baseball’s all-time stolen base leader Rickey Henderson was always a favorite players of mine. When everyone in the stands knows that you are going to try to steal the base and you still manage to do it, that is some serious talent and is something to be respected.

Billy Hamilton has a very good chance to be a Rickey Henderson like player and set the base paths on fire. And when he does, I will be one of the people who gets to say I knew him when.

While Billy Hamilton was not in attendance for his bobble head night there was another player who was certainly worth paying attention to.

At 7'1", Ludovicus Jacobus Maria Van Mil of the Blue Wahoos is the tallest pitcher in baseball. Photo R. Anderson

At 7’1″, Ludovicus Jacobus Maria Van Mil of the Pensacola Blue Wahoos is the tallest pitcher in baseball.
Photo R. Anderson

Ludovicus Jacobus Maria Van Mil, or the more sportswriter friendly Loek Van Mil, is the tallest pitcher in Professional Baseball topping out at 7’1”.

During his warm-up pitches it became very clear that he was a very tall man.  Van Mil is currently being targeted as a relief pitcher but time will tell whether he can find the right balance between control and velocity to make it to the Big Leagues.

As with my previous visit to the ballpark there was a lot of opportunity to people watch. Being seated directly behind the all you can eat party deck provided ample amounts of entertainment. One fun game was the how many trips through the hot dog and hamburger line will particular people make game.  Of course the rush of steam when the hot dog tray was opened provided a little bit of warmth for me as well so I was certainly counting on people making as many trips as possible.

While the party deck in front of me provided countless amounts of amusement when the action on the field became lopsided, the row of people behind me was very annoying. I am a huge believer in free speech so in no way am I suggesting that people shouldn’t be allowed to talk in a ballpark. I am saying that a row of people should not talk so loud that everyone in the section can hear every little detail about them.

But despite a losing effort by the home team, cold temperatures and certain annoying fans my first road trip of the 2013 baseball season was certainly enjoyable. I came, I cheered, I left and I have the bobble head to prove it.

Now if you’ll excuse me,  I think it is time to plan another road trip.

Copyright 2013 R Anderson