Worthy of Cooperstown

The Biloxi Shuckers are the Southern League South Division, First Half victors!  Radio play-by-play guy Chris Harris got it right yesterday:

This 1st half should just go to Cooperstown. 54 games on the road and the club can clinch with 6 games left…It’s insane.

An incredible 15 games over .500.  That would be an achievement even if the team had a benefit of a home stadium to return to occasionally the entire first half.  To do it playing so many games on the road, makes this one for the ages.  Manager Carlos Subero should reward these guys, and give the entire team the next six games off, and just play the grounds crew and office staff.  Well, OK, I know, but some liberal resting is in order.

So will tickets for the first playoff games at MGM Park on September 10 and 11 go on sale this week?

With a playoff spot sewn up, attention now naturally turns to who our opponent will be.  If (When!) we win the second half of the season too, then our first round opponent will be the South Division team apart from us that has the best overall record, including first and second halves.  Although it seemed at times Mobile pitching gave us more problems, as it turns out the M-Braves have a better team ERA, but the way we were able to handle them this series, I wouldn’t mind returning to Pearl in the post season.

And of course you’re not supposed to look ahead, beyond the first round of the playoffs, but that’s exactly what I’m gonna do. If it turns out to be Chattanooga, it looks like at least we won’t have to worry about their best-ranked-in-baseball prospect Byron Buxton.  He was called up Saturday by the Twins,  and all he did was be the hero in today’s game.

At this point however, I think we could give a run to whoever we face.  Isn’t that great to say?

More Homers and All Stars

Starting a big series with the Braves in Pearl tonight, or trying to, waiting out a rain delay as I write this.  Going into this series, the Shuckers lead Mississippi in the Southern League South Division by 4 1/2 games, so if we can take this series, it would really put us in the drivers seat for winning the first half.  Our magic number stands at 6, if I’ve got that figured correctly.  I actually tried to come up with an excuse to go up to Jackson this weekend, to my old hometown, so I could catch a game.

We won Tuesday night’s game with a huge help from back-to-back home runs by Taylor Green and Tyrone Taylor. Mr. Taylor went yard again in Wednesday’s loss, and you just get the sense that finally getting a home stadium and crowd has really helped him find the power he’s always been touted to have.  We won the series against the BayBears, our fifth in a row.

In addition to the eight Shuckers announced yesterday, the League today added two more Biloxi players to the All Star team:

  • Adam Weisenburger C – Has caught a league-leading 47% of base stealers this season.
  • Jorge Lopez P – 3-2, 3.38 ERA, and 51 strikeouts in 50 2/3 innings pitched

The All Star game will be played June 23 in Montgomery.

And this guy has had a good week too:

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All Stars and GoPros

All Stars

The Southern League announced the South Division’s All Stars today, and as expected the Shuckers dominate.  Befitting a team 14 games over .500, we snagged more selections than any other team. Notice the balance – 4 pitchers and 4 position players – which has got to make the parent club Brewers very, very happy:

  • Orlando Arcia SS- Simply put, “El Hombre.” Leads the league with 17 doubles, tied for first with 69 hits. 21 multi-hit games this season, tied for first in the league. Second-toughest strikeout in the league, just once in every 11.85 plate appearances.
  • Nick Ramirez 1B- Actually his second time to be picked as a Southern League All-Star.
  • Michael Reed OF – The Brewers MiLB Player of the Month for May. Hitting .349 over the last month.
  • Kyle Wren OF – A steal from the Braves organization, has raised his batting average almost a hundred points in the past month and a half. Third in the league with 20 stolen bases, and has had multiple hits 8 of the last 15 games.
  • Jaye Chapman P – Promoted to Triple-A on June 4, but before leaving us had a 4-2 record with a 0.82 ERA, holding opposing batters to just a .173 batting average.
  • Hobbs Johnson P – 41 strikeouts against 19 walks.
  • Damien Magnifico P – Leads the team with 6 saves. 2-0 with a 1.42 ERA, posting 24 strikeouts against just 6 walks. Over his last 10 outings he has a 2-0 record and a 1.20 ERA.
  • Tyler Wagner P – Ranks second in the league with a 1.93 ERA. Wagner made his Major League debut last Sunday in Milwaukee and returned to start the MGM Park opener this past Saturday, taking a no decision, but giving up just one run on six hits over seven innings with two walks and four strikeouts. Overall, the Las Vegas native is 5-1 in 60.2 IP, holding the opposition to just a .233 batting average against.

GoPro

Micah Graves’ (@MicahGravess) incredible one-handed catch of a foul ball Saturday night, caught on video by the GoPro camera he was wearing, has received a crazy amount of national attention this week.  Sites that have picked up the video have included ESPN, USA TodayYahoo Sports, Sports IllustratedHuffington Post, Daily CallerDaily Kos, plus TV stations from San Diego to Dallas to the Quad Cities to Indianapolis.  Cool story for him, but also cool publicity for the team, the stadium, and Biloxi.

Shout out

Last, a shout out for Chris Trew (@Trew2TheGame), Big Man in the New Orleans comedy scene and Pelicans superfan.  He put out a kind word to the Twitterverse last night about this blog, for which I am forever grateful.  Thanks Chris!

More Lyons and Such

In my last post, I wrote about Barry Lyons’ inexplicable absence from the Biloxi Shuckers opening night ceremonies at MGM Park.  His nephew Patrick Lyons also spoke about the injustice, writing this to the SunHerald this weekend

While he was making a living playing baseball across the country, he dreamed about bringing professional baseball to Biloxi. He first discussed the idea with Mayor A.J. Holloway more than 20 years ago.

Mr. Lyons used the term “blackballed” in describing how his uncle has been treated.  I certainly hope this doesn’t indicate that there has been some sort of falling out between Barry and the team organization, but the fact that there been no mention of this pivotal figure in the history of professional baseball in Biloxi – his name seemingly flushed down the memory hole – is troubling.

On a happier note the team itself just keeps rolling along.  We dropped Sunday’s game 4-2, managing to bat only 1 for 8 with runners in scoring position, which wasn’t enough support for our starting pitcher Hobbs Johnson, who actually allowed fewer hits than his opponent, the BayBears top pitching prospect Aaron Blair.  We came back Monday night, winning 2-1, powered by Orlando Arcia’s home run in the 6th, the first in MGM Park’s history.  Brooks Hall was stellar again on the mound. The April 2015 Milwaukee Brewers MiLB Player of the Month held the BayBears to one run, on the way to his Southern League-tying 6th win.  Did I hear someone say Arcia’s homer cleared the netting over the outfield fence?  If that’s the case, then might we start to see folks standing watch on Caillavet Street during games, waiting to snag a souvenir?

So going into tonight’s (Tue Jun 9th) game, we are an incredible 13 games over .500, 3 1/2 games in front of the Mississippi Braves.  Regardless how our series with the BayBears ends, we are looking at a big series with the M-Braves coming up later this week in Pearl.  Anybody going?

If you haven’t caught any of ESPN’s coverage of the Shuckers and their epic road trip, you should.  They did a good, respectful job.  The final installment was posted this weekend, as the team came home at last.  I think I knew before that former NBA All-Star Tracy McGrady was an investor in the team, but I didn’t know that he and owner Tim Bennett were “childhood friends”.  And if I knew T-Mac was in the house Saturday night, I definitely would have kept an eye out – and an autograph pen!

Finally, our radio guy Chris Harris says in his Twitter feed (@CHarris731) that the league will announce the South Division All-Star team tomorrow.  I fully expect the Shuckers to dominate that roster!

MGM Park Opens With Thrilling Extra-Inning Victory

Opening day for MGM Park turned out to be well worth the wait.  The fan experience was mostly positive, and the team graciously gave us four innings of free baseball before pulling out a thrilling victory.  Here’s a few observations, and let me know if you agree.

First of all, I will say this because someone needs to.  Where was Barry Lyons?  Of all people that needed to be there tonight, it was him.  Sure, Bennett and Ford and Holloway (and to a lesser extent Bryant and Gilich) had reason to be there and bask in the spotlight of opening night, but no one, and I mean no one, deserved it more than Mr. Lyons.  He is the one man who kept the dream alive all these years before others did, and figuratively kept a candle light on the idea alive of professional baseball on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.  I have no qualms in saying that if it weren’t for Barry Lyons, there would be no Biloxi Shuckers here today.  That he wasn’t here and featured in the opening ceremonies is a disservice.

Before the game, there was a breeze to left, and guys in BP were knocking balls over the left field fence.  We thought man this could be the start of something epic, but as it turned out the wind shifted to right for the game, and we didn’t get see the first homer.

Anybody else notice folks watching the game from the roof of the Beau Rivage parking garage?  Shades of Wrigleyville in Chicago.

What we liked –

  1. Arriving a little before 3:30, traffic and parking weren’t really that much of a problem.
  2. The crowd was family-oriented (showing how starved this area was), knowledgeable, and supportive
  3. The seats were comfortable (with cup holders, yay!) and easy to get to and from.
  4. Concessions were varied (Brats!? Well, we are a Brewers farm club, and hey I like brats), the lines manageable, and the staff friendly.
  5. The program was actually interesting to read.

What we disliked. Most of these I hope can be marked down to opening night issues, and will be ironed out straight away –

  1. Even though the city was having a Game Day Experience all through the area, the Shuckers team store on MLK Jr Drive still closed at 3:00.  They missed a lot of sales.  Then the store in the stadium stayed prohibitively overcrowded seemingly the whole game, leading me to follow the Yogi advice: “That place was so crowded, nobody goes there.”
  2. I was told to come back later for a root beer float.  😦
  3. It was stuffy and insufficiently ventilated in the bathrooms.  My wife confirms the same for the Women’s bathrooms.
  4. The player introductions were muffed by the PA.  We were introduced to all the Bay Bears by name, down to the trainer, but the Shuckers were just allowed a hurried group wave, with no individual introductions.  Buzzkill.  That crowd really wanted to cheer each and every Shucker.
  5. The scoreboard operator too often fell behind the action on the field.  No excuse for that.
  6. The screen behind home plate seemed kind of small.  I’m sure it’s regulation length…
  7. The walk back through the Vieux Marche and through a side street back to the car, around midnight, was little a anxious for families with small children, as we passed the night clubs along the way.

Overall, though, it was a great experience tonight, and I am thrilled we finally have our Biloxi Shuckers home!

Opening Day Jitters

Pro baseball is here. So great to finally be able to say that.  No longer just a franchise meandering across the South in a bus, that we fans have to follow on radio or in the papers or on the Internet, but a real live team that we can now go see in person.

Finally we get to see the uber prospects and the other warriors that have us – incredibly – in first place in our division 54 games into an interminable road trip. Orlando Arcia: Southern League Player of the Week, and in some lists a top 25 prospect in all of baseball.  Tyrone Taylor: our other top prospect, for whom things are really beginning to click, and who just needs the friendly confines of a home stadium to really start to show his power and speed.

Tyler Wagner gets the start for the historic occasion, and I couldn’t be happier.  After being called up to The Show, but only lasting for a cup of coffee, he was in danger of having an asterisk by his name, for being the first Biloxi player called up to the major leagues, but without actually ever playing in Biloxi.  Now, no danger of that asterisk.

[We do need an asterisk, however, for David Goforth, the Meridian, Mississippi native and Ole Miss alumnus, who pitched for the Huntsville Stars last year.  He was technically on the roster as the franchise transitioned from Huntsville to Biloxi last fall.  The Brewers purchased his contract on November 20, in order to protect him from the Rule 5 draft.  Assigned to Colorado Springs, he started this season pitching for the Sky Sox, and was called up to the Brewers the week before Wagner.  So in some sense one could make a claim that Goforth was the first off the team to make it to the big leagues.  Without ever putting on our uniform – either here or on the long road trip – the link is tenuous, I agree, but since he is a Mississippian I have a desire to put whatever claim on him we can.]

Something Special Is Going On

A “really good” professional baseball team should be expected to win their home games – meaning they win at least as twice as many as they lose – and to split their away games.  For the Shuckers that would mean going into this weekend with a record of 27 – 27. That would have put us in third place in the Southern League South Division, 3.0 games behind the M-Braves, and a half-game behind the Bay Bears.  At the outset of this season I thought a realistic goal for this team would be second place in the first half, and hope to make the playoffs by winning the second half, since we would by then have the benefit of a home stadium.

Instead, all this team has done has gone 11 games over .500, and leading the division by 2.5 games.  And check this out: even if you were to count the 25 “home” games we’ve played in away stadiums as indeed home games (without, as it turns out, even the benefit of the home team locker rooms or dugouts), we’re even ahead of the win-at-home-split-the-away-games pace.  That formula would have us at 31-22 going into Friday’s game (17 “home” W’s, plus 14 away W’s), where in fact we are at 32-21.

Although I have been a fan from the start, I’ll tell you the moment I gained true respect for this team.  Last Wednesday, May 27, on day forty-something of the forever road trip, the team arrived at Chattanooga, Tennessee to start a five game series against the (at the time) leaders of the Southern League North Division, for whom the top prospect in all of baseball plays.  It was going to be a tough series, but at least we could at least look forward to coming home, the real home, in Biloxi in the next week.  Or not.  That same day the new mayor of Biloxi said he wasn’t satisfied with the readiness of MGM Park, and said the Shuckers would have to wait beyond June 6 to start playing at home.  You could just feel the air let out of the fans and the team.  With that buzz kill, I would not have blamed the players for calling that game in that night.  In fact, the Shuckers did fall 5 runs behind at one point, after the Lookouts number 1 overall prospect Byron Buxton hit an inside-the-park home run.  So what did the Shuckers do?  Give up and wait for the bus to the hotel?  Nope, these road warriors dug down deep in themselves and found a deep well of pride, professionalism and competitiveness that propelled them to a remarkable come-from-behind victory that night.  That’s when I realized we have something special going on here.

And so they’ll be here tomorrow.  God it looks like it may be a mad house around Biloxi tomorrow afternoon: in addition to the game, there’ll be the Blessing of the Fleet, a fishing tournament, and even a dance recital at Saenger Theater that I feel kind of bad for. I’ll be in the middle of it all, then I’ll watch the game from section 111.  See you there!

About this site

Biloxi Shuckers fans deserve a dedicated fan site.  BiloxiBaseball.wordpress.com intends to provide that site.  As such, we shamelessly and brazenly seek to emulate the best sports fan blogs in existence today, and tailor their best attributes to suit the Shuckers Nation.  Accordingly…

Biloxi Baseball

The aim of Biloxi Baseball is to help Biloxi Shuckers fans, no matter where they may be, to get the best Shuckers information available as soon as possible, and to provide a forum for all fans to freely express themselves about the team and its fan experience. If someone has a question about the team, we want the correct answer available to them here. If the information exists elsewhere online, we won’t hesitate to point our visitors in that direction. We will obsessively follow every move the team makes and share our thoughts frequently on the site, aiming to deliver fresh and thought-provoking content. Biloxi Baseball intends to cover all aspects of this franchise, including financial, economic, and marketing, as well as the cultural importance of this team to the Coast, Mississippi, and the Gulf South. We will insist on high standards for this site, and as such our writers – beginning with your host – will need to consistently prove ourselves to be educated, responsible, and passionate about the subject, the team, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

Mission

To provide a forum of excellence for the fan discussion and analysis of all facets of the Biloxi Shuckers. To be a meaningful and significant part of the culture of the Biloxi Shuckers. To interact with the Biloxi Shuckers, their fans, and their media in a consistent and mutually beneficial manner.

  • While the SunHerald, WLOX, WXXV, and other media outlets provide excellent coverage of the Biloxi Shuckers, space and time limitations at each of those sites necessarily cause certain aspects of the fan experience to be underserved. We resolve to fill those gaps with ample opportunities for fan discussions, and coverage of topics the media for whatever reason may not choose to or be able to cover in depth. We resolve to be correct, clear, consistent, and comprehensive.
  • Likewise, the Biloxi Shuckers organization does a fine job in media and fan relations, but by definition there will be some topics that they will not be at complete liberty to discuss freely.  We resolve to fill those gaps, as well.
  • Readers and Fans: As we are fans and readers ourselves, we resolve to treat fans and readers at least as well as we want to be treated. This includes encouraging fandom, educating fans, promoting good interactions with fans and discouraging interactions that negatively affect the culture surrounding the team or our operations.
  • We are not journalists, and although not full-time or paid members of the media, we resolve to hold ourselves at least to the standards that paid and full-time media members are held. This includes going out of our way to compliment and promote good work by media members, be an available resource to media members, and engage in criticism of opinion or analysis in open, accepted, and respectful ways.

 

Your Humble Correspondent

I have lived on the Mississippi Gulf Coast since 1989, having moved down here to work out at Stennis Space Center in Hancock County.  I am a sixth-generation Mississippian, having been born and raised in Jackson.  Like so many other families in the state, we spent just about every summer vacation down here on the Coast, so when it came time for me to move down for the job, it was to well-familiar and much-loved surroundings.

  • My personal baseball experience is limited to an ignominious two years in Little League (with team “Capitol 66”) and a somewhat less-embarrassing year before that in Minor League (“Harkins Builders”).  I loved to play pick-up games in the neighborhood though, and still firmly believe our four-foul-balls-and-you’re-out rule should be instituted in MiLB and MLB.
  • My MLB team allegiance has evolved through the years – though my hatred of the Yankees has not, and neither has my distaste for the Designated Hitter.
  • I started off with the Cardinals, since my dad, like a lot of Southerners, listened to Dizzy Dean, Haray Caray and Jack Buck call the games on St Louis’ clear channel radio station KMOX.  He had a special affinity for Dean, who had the good sense to retire to South Mississippi, and whose museum was in Jackson for many years.  Is his brand of charcoal still around?  My favorite Dizzy Dean story from my dad: while calling a minor league game in Montreal, Dean was amazed at all the folks speaking French up there, “Even the little kids!”
  • I watched live on TV the night Hank Aaron hit home run 715, and I watched live – way past bed time – Game 6 of the 1975 World Series. In my mind still the best single game ever played. By that time I was a fan of the Big Red Machine.
  • Along came cable TV, and I fell into following the Braves through the Atlanta superstation WTBS.  Their highlight was the worst-to-first season of 1991, then the World Series victory in 1996.  By 2000, though, it was getting harder to reconcile my baseball affection for Atlanta’s baseball team, while I maintained (as a Saints fan) a football hatred for the Falcons.  I justified my break from the Braves when it seemed the fans had become blase, and didn’t fill their stadium for playoff games.
  • The Red Sox caught my imagination with their epic 2004 ALCS come-from-behind victory over the hated New York Yankees, but once they reversed-the-curse and won the World Series, I was ready to move on.
  • Staying with my love of the underdog – being a New Orleans Saints fan since the day they drafted my childhood hero Archie Manning – I have since laid my allegiances with the Chicago Cubs, the ultimate underdogs.  Honestly, I don’t know how this will work, also rooting for the Double-A farm team of a division rival. We’ll see!
  • Jackson also had the Double-A farm club of the New York Mets, and it was thrilling to see Darryl Strawberry and all the rest (include our own Barry Lyons, sort of) before they made it to the 1986 “It-gets-past-Buckner!” World Series.
  • To conclude my baseball fan resume, I’ll just add that I went to school at both LSU and Mississippi State, which have both occasionally fielded pretty respectable teams…

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the blog.  I want it to be as much yours as it is mine. Go Shuckers!

-James Duke, June 2015