Roker's TV segment highlights team with global support from military
August 7, 2015
These days, when it comes to Minor League team names, weird is the new normal. But even within a landscape populated by IronPigs, Blue Wahoos, RubberDucks and -- coming soon! -- Yard Goats, the Montgomery Biscuits keep rising.
The Biscuits -- Double-A affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays -- have existed since the 2004 campaign and, as such, predate all of the teams mentioned above. But their moniker still makes a strong impact, on levels local, national and global. Maybe it's just simple human psychology -- there's something about a googly-eyed, butter-tongued Biscuit named Monty that seems to captivate us all.
The Biscuits, a Southern League franchise that had previously existed in the form of the Orlando Rays, received their moniker via a "Name the Team" contest staged by the local Montgomery Advertiser newspaper in 2003.
"As I understood it, the original suggestion was 'Biscuit Eaters,' because, if you're a Yankee and you think of the South, well, they're just a bunch of biscuit eaters, right?" said Biscuits general manager Scott Trible, who has been with the team since 2008. "So they took that idea, made it Biscuits, and the vision of the brand was born with that. There weren't any teams with a yellow primary color; there weren't any teams that were named after food."
The Biscuits were the second team to be owned by the partnership of Sherrie Myers and Tom Dickson. The duo had previously relocated a Midwest League franchise to Lansing, which became known as the Lugnuts. The Lugnuts were an early example of the now de rigueur quirky team name trend, with the Montgomery market proving to be an amenable early-adapter as well.
"Montgomery is smack dab between Auburn and Tuscaloosa, so it's college football 365 [days a year] here," said Trible. "It's no coincidence that a lot of teams are going to quirky eye-catching logos and funny names because, again, it's the whole shift of Minor League Baseball. Most [fans] are not here for the players. The baseball's a great part of it -- the fans love it -- but they're here for our T-shirt cannon or Big Mo or to see Miss Gravy or for the fireworks after the game."
(For the record, Big Mo is the Biscuit's mascot, described as a "big, orange, fuzzy, biscuit-loving beast." Miss Gravy -- full name "Miss Gravy Duchess of Pork" -- is a live pig mascot introduced in 2014 because Big Mo was lonely).
In Montgomery's -- and Minor League Baseball's -- operating reality, the action on the field is a perpetual second fiddle to the overall entertainment package. Therefore, the question then becomes why not name your team the Biscuits? More than a decade later, the profile of Montgomery's lone professional sports team only continues to increase.
The latest uptick in the Biscuits' enduring popularity occurred last month, when the Today Show featured footage of a dramatic lightning strike that knocked out the scoreboard at Pensacola Bayfront Stadium. Al Roker, narrating the segment, was delighted to learn that Pensacola's opponent this evening was, yes, the Biscuits. After looking up -- and displaying -- the Biscuits' logo on his phone, Roker concluded the segment by pounding his desk and saying "We need Biscuits T-shirts!"
"As soon as [Al Roker] made that mention, all of our emails and phones and texts were blowing up," said Biscuits marketing director Staci Wilkenson. "Everyone's like 'You've got to send Al stuff!' We know! We'll get it."
After more than a dozen shot-in-the-dark phone calls to New York City-area bakeries, the Biscuits partnered with Empire Biscuits and had biscuits delivered to the Today Show. In tandem with this early morning treat, the team sent customized Biscuits hats and shirts to all of the show's on-air personalities. Al Roker got the big foam biscuit hat, which he wore on the air while delivering a weather forecast. (Unfortunately, there was no chicken in Roker's Biscuit hat, which would have made him a meatier-ologist.)
"It's as hot as a biscuit out in the South," Roker told his millions of viewers, not-so-subtly incorporating his new favorite team into the broadcast.
Trible said that one of the reasons for the Biscuits' broad reach is that Montgomery is a military town. Maxwell Air Force Base is located a mile and a half away from the team's home of Riverwalk Stadium.
"We get a lot of people from the Air Force who come in for a year or two, come to a game, buy Biscuits gear, and then spread it around," he said. "I mean, we sell merchandise to over 50 countries. Middle East, Europe, Asia, Japan -- people buy merchandise from all over. The military are good ambassadors, and when they go overseas they'll bring a Biscuits hat with them. I'd love to say it's just because we're that popular, but the military does a lot to help us out with that."
The man responsible for shipping Biscuits gear all over the globe is retail manager Steve Keller, who is quite possibly the only native-born German in a Minor League front office.
"I'm from the Black Forest, close to Switzerland, close to France," said Keller. "Far, far away. I came here to play soccer back in the day. My first baseball game that I went to was actually a Biscuits game. So that's where I'm from; that's my history."
Specifically, Keller played soccer for Auburn University. He started with the Biscuits as a sales intern and assumed his current position in the fall of 2012, shortly after graduating.
"I just liked it -- the people were a lot more enjoyable," said Keller of Montgomery. "In Germany everybody's a little bit grumpy. I came here, had a good time -- the weather's fantastic. Just got to stay here, you know?"
In his retail manager capacity, Keller has become accustomed to fulfilling orders from all over the world.
"Most of the time, it's just people who think the logo's really cool," he said, "who think it's a unique logo and team name, and they just want to wear the merchandise. We have supporters around the world: Japan, Australia, Canada, Mexico, Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, Brazil, Italy, Norway are just a few. So, really, all over the place."
It goes without saying, or at least it should go without saying, that the Biscuits serve biscuits at the ballpark. They are available at a concourse cart that reads "Biscuits (of course!)" The Biscuits' biscuits are served with gravy, jelly or Alaga syrup (a cane syrup made in Montgomery), and a chicken option is available as well.
"We take our food pretty seriously. Food is a big deal here -- it's a big deal in the South," said Dave Parker, assistant general manager of food and special events. "Our biscuits are one of the bigger sellers -- I think 275,000 at last count [since 2004]. That cart's open every game, all night. And there are biscuit tosses throughout the night. So, yes, we're the Biscuits, and the actual biscuit is something that we play on."