Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Birmingham Barons 9 at Biloxi Shuckers 2 (Southern League) - June 13, 2016


After being rained out on Sunday evening in Pearl, Mississippi, I spent some time rejigging my schedules to see how I could get back there this season. Fortunately a later trip has me close to Mississippi so I will revisit Trustmark Park in August, and thus was able to continue this trip as planned with a game in Biloxi on Monday night.



The Biloxi Shuckers are in their second year of operation after moving from Huntsville, Alabama to begin the 2015 campaign. Their new stadium, MGM Park, was not ready when the season began, so they played on the road for a while (including 15 games in Huntsville) before opening their new digs in June of last year. The Shuckers nickname received a few laughs nationally, but it was chosen in a fan contest and celebrates the oyster and seafood industries that make up a large part of the city's heritage, and the locals have taken to it. The logo is great in my opinion.



Next to a smaller entrance is a statue of a lion, the symbol of MGM.



Biloxi is a beach resort town with a number of casinos, and MGM Park is located right in the middle of it. Across the street is the Beau Rivage Casino, with the Gulf of Mexico just behind. The only view of the water is from the second level along first base and even that is blocked by the casino's parking deck across the street. Parking is free here, and you have provides easy access to I-110, the highway on the right of the photo below that takes you to I-10 and points east or west.



It is the casino that dominates the view beyond center field.



The layout is fairly typical, with a single seating bowl below an uncovered concourse and suites above, along with a few bleacher seats out on the berm. As the stadium is next to the Gulf of Mexico, only the field is at street level, with the concourse up a set of stairs. It should be noted that Biloxi was devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 but without all the media coverage afforded New Orleans. The town has rebounded in the ensuing decade, and the Shuckers are part of that renewal.



Tickets are reasonably priced, though the cheapest is a $10 berm seat, a bit more than usual for general admission. There are many standing areas around the concourse with tables on which to rest your dinner and scorebook as you can see above. I used these for the first few innings before moving to the seating bowl. It was a wet Monday and the NBA Finals were on, so the crowd was a bit smaller than usual (2,000 vs an average of 2,600), leaving most sections beyond the bases wide open.



Food here is incredibly varied for a stadium at this level, with much of it seafood. The concession names are also very creative. I had found a nearby bar before the game (Adventures Pub and Spirits, highly recommended) and dined there, so I did not partake at the stadium, but found the choice to be very impressive and reasonably priced. Seafood is also featured in the mascot race, where a crawfish takes on a cob of corn and a potato.



As the team is still new, there isn't a lot of history on display. The ballpark still feels like a work in progress with some blank spaces on the walls, but as the team sees players make the majors (Milwaukee's #4 prospect Josh Hader just got called up to AAA), a "Road to the Show" display should make an appearance along with other fun facts. There were a couple of posters on a fence outside, including one with Hader (on the right below).



Overall, I enjoyed my time here. I'm not sure why the team is not drawing more fans as they provide an affordable evening out in a good location. I guess it will take time for the team to settle in completely, but regardless, I do recommend a visit to MGM Park next time you are on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi.



The Game

Birmingham (White Sox) was in town to take on Biloxi. Jorge Ortega started for the Shuckers while the Barons countered with David Holmberg (2nd round in 2009) who has started 12 games in the majors with Arizona and Cincinnati.

This was a messy affair, with the teams combining for 6 errors. Four of those were Shucker miscues, which led to three unearned runs and doomed Ortega to his sixth loss without a win this season. No need to recap other than to say an ugly 5-run fifth gave the Barons a 9-1 lead and made the second half of the game rather dull. Biloxi did score another run to make it slightly closer as Birmingham won 9-2.



There were two players I'd like to note in addition to top prospects such as Brett Phillips, who is #2 on the Brewers list. First is Eddy Alvarez of Birmingham, a small slap hitter who won a silver medal in the 5,000 meter speed skating relay at Sochi. His 5'9 160 frame is probably too small for a regular role majors, but he managed a home run on this night off the right field foul pole, his first in AA. He could be a useful utility player down the line, and if he makes it, expect to hear a lot more about him due to his unique background.

Johnny Davis is another interesting story. He did not start playing organized baseball until he was 22, but he was drafted in the 22nd round as a 23-year-old in 2013 when he was considered the fastest player available. Since then, he has moved his way up the Milwaukee chain and recently joined the Shuckers. He has no power whatsoever (about 10% of his hits in the minors have been doubles or triples) but he does hit for a decent average. He is probably too old to make a real run at the majors, but again, it is amazing that he is in AA in only his fourth season of ball.

Notes

This was my 660th venue lifetime, 250th ballpark, and 1st venue in Mississippi. I still have to see games in Alaska, North Dakota, Montana, and Wyoming to complete all 50 states.

The Sunday night rainout in Pearl was only the third I have encountered on my minor league trips. In 2001, a Midwest League game in Appleton, Wisconsin was postponed and I have yet to be back; while in 2009, a game in Norwich, Connecticut was called off due to wet grounds, causing me to miss a Madison Bumgarner start. I returned to Dodd Stadium last season to finally check it off.

The rainout was due in part to a surprise storm that passed through about 45 minutes before game time, surprising the grounds crew, who didn't have time to put on the tarp. The field was drenched, and once the rain stopped, it took the better part of an hour for the crew to get things back to normal. By then, more rain was forecast, so the tarp came out and we were told to go home. A disappointment, but such is life when traveling to watch baseball.

Best,

Sean

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