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!

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