Old meets new in the South Atlantic League03/19/2008 10:00 PM ET
By Michael Echan / Special to MLB.com
Minor League Baseball provides an interesting mix of constant change and long-standing history. As the 2008 season approaches, MiLB.com takes a look at what you can expect in the South Atlantic League, both new and old.
Changing of the guard
For the first time since 1959, someone other than John Henry Moss has the title of South Atlantic League president. Eric Krupa, formerly Minor League Baseball's director of business and finance, took over for Moss following the end of the 2007 season. Krupa is taking over for the league's only president in its history, a fact that was not lost on him when the announcement was made. "It was pointed out this morning that there's only been one president of the South Atlantic League," Krupa said back in June. "Obviously, John Moss has a lot of wisdom I hope to benefit from." Moss started his term back when the SAL was called the Western Carolinas League.
The league will honor Moss, now the circuit's President Emeritus, throughout the 2008 season. The league's board of directors voted to retire the No. 50 throughout the South Atlantic League in honor of his 50 years at the helm. Each club will host a pregame ceremony at some point during the season and a cast bronze plaque will be installed in each stadium to honor the contributions that John has made to the South Atlantic League.
Meet the new boss
Minor League teams change managers about as often as umpires change balls during a game. Seven SAL teams now employ a different manager than they had in 2007: Augusta, Columbus, Greenville, Hagerstown, Lake County, Savannah and West Virginia.
Two of the new managers are filling the shoes of predecessors who've gone on to big-league gigs. Andy Skeels will try to hone the skills of the GreenJackets following the departure of Roberto Kelly to San Francisco. A hundred miles to the north in Greenville, S.C., 32-year-old Kevin Boles will lead the Drive after the incumbent Gabe Kapler left Greenville for one more shot as a Major League player with the Milwaukee Brewers.
People in Greensboro, N.C. or Greenville, S.C. may remember how to get to First Horizon Park or West End Field, but they can't get to those ballparks anymore. The stadiums are still right where they were when the 2007 season ended, but are now bearing different monikers. The Greensboro Grasshoppers saw the largest park in the league go from First Horizon Park to NewBridge Bank Park after NewBridge Bancorp bought the naming rights to the field on Nov. 9, 2007. Meanwhile, the home field for the Greenville Drive took on a Camden Yards-esque feel to its name as it was re-christened Fluor Field at the West End on Feb. 26, 2008
McCormick Field entering 84th season
Teams everywhere are either playing in stadiums that were recently built or are waiting for new homes. That is not the case in Asheville, N.C., where McCormick Field is entering its 84th season. McCormick Field, home of the Tourists, has been renovated several times -- the most recent coming prior to last season -- but still retains the same look it had back when the movie "Bull Durham" filmed scenes there in the late 1980s.
Keep packin' them in!
The fans keep on coming in Lakewood, N.J. as the BlueClaws show there's more to the Jersey Shore than beaches and boardwalks. The BlueClaws led the league in attendance for the sixth year in a row as they sold 442,256 seats in 2007. Lakewood's highest overall ranking among all Minor League teams was 18 in 2002, when they drew 466,474 fans.
Run, Forrest, Run
The Charleston RiverDogs are running their fifth-annual "Run, Forrest, Run" 5K race at Joseph Riley Park on Saturday, April 26 with Coburg Dairy, Pivotal Fitness and, naturally, the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company. The race has been held every year to benefit the MUSC Storm Eye Institute, which researches serious eye diseases. Prior to that night's game against Columbus, the race begins in front of "The Joe" at 5:15 p.m. and finishes at home plate.
Fans at Appalachian Power Park are a crusty bunch, especially if the West Virginia pitcher is racking up strikeout after strikeout. Power superfan Rod "Toast Man" Blackstone yells the chant "You are toast!" following every Power strikeout, then flings freshly made toast into the crowd. He's really hard to miss too because he has a table set up in front of him which holds a toaster with piles of freshly made burnt toast (he deliberately burns it so no one will eat it). Blackstone has been passing his burnt bread around the visitor's dugout side of home plate since Appalachian Power Park opened in 2005.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.