On the Road: The Raining Champ in Biloxi

To see all posts from my July 29-30, 2015 visit to the Biloxi Shuckers (this is Part Two) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my July/August 2015 trip through the Deep South, clickHERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE! 

Part one of this Biloxi blog saga gently deposited us at the door step of game time. In this, part two, we’ll quietly open the door and step inside. The date was July 29th, and the Shuckers were taking on the visiting Jackson Generals in an evening contest at MGM Park.

048Shortly after the game begin, I rendezvoused with designated eater Cale Merrill and director of food and beverage Mike Brulatour. My time with these individuals was extensive, and will be documented in the following blog post. It encompassed the first four innings of the game as well as, inevitably, a rain delay.

082Fans took shelter under a concourse overhang, as they are wont to do.

083Ballpark VIPs, such as daredevil clown Bello Nock, waited out the rain delay from the comfort of a private suite.

084Some fans tired of waiting, and headed out into the Mississippi night via the long, winding, gently sloping exit.

085Finally, the tarp was removed and the game picked off just where it had left off. With normalcy restored, I engaged in conversation with Shuckers ticket executive Kevin Trembley.

098

Kevin, a 2013 college graduate, is the son of former Baltimore Orioles manager and current Atlanta Braves director of player development Dave Trembley. Kevin has known Shuckers general manager Buck Rogers since he was a kid, when he was a batboy for the turn-of-the-21st century Daytona Cubs.

In those days, Kevin’s dad was the Daytona manager and Buck was the GM. These days, Kevin works in the ticket department by day and serves as on-field emcee by night. There are, most likely, many chapters in his baseball career yet to be written.

Further wanderings brought me to the berm area, where the view was as pleasing as the grass was wet.

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My wandering also brought me into contact with a fan by the name of Charlie O’Brien, who was wearing this irreverent and self-deprecating Huntsville Stars shirt. (The Stars, of course, are the team that moved to Biloxi and became the Shuckers.)

102

This shirt gives an accurate peek into the mindset of Stars fans and front office members during their final years of existence, when they were overseen by an absentee owner and left to languish in a decrepit city-owned facility. Buck Rogers was the general manager there (he moved with the team to Biloxi), and this shirt has “Buck” written all over it.

“This is Huntsville Stars baseball,” the shirt reads. “This ain’t Montgomery and we ain’t perfect. Our ballpark is a train wreck. We have a skunk for a mascot. Out videoboard is shot. But ya’ know what? We don’t care! The drinks are cold and & the ‘dogs are great! Stars fans are my family. And this is my team! 

But wait — there’s more. I’m not gonna transcribe this side, for I am only one man.

103

When I met Charlie, I assumed that he was a die-hard Stars fan who, like a jilted lover stalking an ex, had come to check out the team’s new digs. But, once again, my assumptions proved unverified. He’s a committed ballpark traveler who chronicles his journeys over at charliesballparks.com

“I just roll along,” Charlie told me.

And so do I. More accurately, I roll in slow circles around the perimeter of the ballparks I visit.

IMG_0038This picture was aided and abetted by Instagram.

IMG_0041I spent the waning moments of the ballgame speaking with Shuckers co-owner Tim Bennett, who has an interesting story to tell regarding how he got involved with professional baseball and his future goals in the industry. An article based on this conversation is “in the works,” but most likely won’t appear until sometime in September.

106That did it for my evening at the ballpark, with the Shuckers losing to the visiting Jackson Generals by a score of 3-2.

But wait! There’s more!

As an anti-rainout insurance policy, my itinerary included two nights in Biloxi. Shortly after waking up the following morning, I belatedly issued forth a “groundbreaking and subversive” Vine joke.

Unfortunately, I didn’t spend much time exploring Biloxi on this Thursday afternoon, which was largely dedicated to writing this MiLB.com piece on the MGM Park experience. When I returned to the ballpark that evening, this was the scene: Another day, another tarp on the field. It’s just been that kind of season.

006

I hope that this maintenance vehicle made it through the storm unscathed.

My rain-soaked meanderings eventually brought me to the “Shuckers Shop,” which is overseen by retail manager Babs Rogers. 007Babs is the wife of GM Buck Rogers. The couple’s two daughters — Bree and Holly — work retail for the Shuckers and Babs’ father serves as an usher. For the Rogers family, baseball really is a family affair.

“It’s always been that way,” said Babs. “Back to the days of our daughter doing her homework at the fan assistance desk in Daytona.”

Shuckers merchandise has been a hot commodity in Biloxi, ever since the team name was announced this past offseason. Babs said that this shirt — simple, eye-catching, elegant — has been the number one seller.

005With the tarp still on the field and more bad weather still expected, I had to find ways to pass the time.

For a while I engaged in conversation with usher Mike Steer, a resident of nearby Ocean Springs. He said that his town had plenty to recommend on the culinary front, and then went about recommending it: –

Murky Waters Barbecue: “Get there by 12 if you want the burnt ends,” said Mike. “Get there at 12:05, there ain’t no burnt ends.”

— The Tatonut Donut Shop: “Go there for breakfast. It’s donuts, but they use potato flour.”

Aunt Jenny’s Catfish Restaurant: “All you can eat catfish and shrimp.”

McIlroy’s on the Bayou: “Go there for oysters.”

For the record, I went to Murky Waters for the next day in search of burnt ends. This mission was a success. IMG_0059

IMG_0058

I hope to do a series of “Return to the Road” posts in the offseason, chronicling my divers and sundry off-the-field photos and observations. But, for now, let’s get back to this riveting Biloxi Shuckers rain delay.

008

The Buena Vista Beer Garden is named after the Buena Vista hotel, which once existed where MGM Park now stands.

009

The hotel opened in 1924 and was destroyed by fire in 1991.

Public domain photo taken from Wikipedia.

Public domain photo taken from Wikipedia.

My wanderings eventually brought me to the press box, where I joined Chris Harris for a radio interview. The game was officially postponed just before our interview began, but this did not postpone our chat.

Chris interviewed me, but I also interviewed him as well. The former Jackson Generals broadcaster has had an eventful year, to say the least. After accepting a job with the Shuckers, he set up the team’s broadcast agreements and then, once the season started, embarked on a 54-game road trip. This epic jaunt was necessitated by MGM Park’s construction schedule, as the facility didn’t open until early June.

011Soon after parting ways with Chris, I parted ways with MGM Park. All that was left to do was make one last stab at my nightly groundbreaking and subversive ballpark joke.

I spent two nights in Biloxi, enduring a rain delay on the first and a rainout on the second. Furthermore, two of the three times I visited Huntsville had resulted in a rainout as well. None of this was lost on Buck, who, the next morning, held a brief ceremony naming the MGM Park tarp after me.

What an honor.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz

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