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.
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 for the scheduled home opener.
Ballpark delays create a possible awkward scenario where the team may still play some games in Huntsville next year, even though, 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, for me, the lack of those features added to the charm and made the games more fun to watch.
In my opinion, 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 there, Tinker Field always gave me that time capsule feeling whenever I saw a game.
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 to become 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.
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. However, the actual baseball game should still be the main attraction at a Ballpark.
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. Instead, they 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; it is definitely rough for the fan bases that are left behind.
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. 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