Life After Katrina in the Southern League

Like communities, teams still recovering from storms

Mobile's Hank Aaron Stadium sustained heavy damage as a result of Hurricane Katrina. (Mobile BayBears )

March 23, 2006 4:22 AM

Over the past couple years, Southern League teams have become all-too familiar with Mother Nature's wrath.

Most recently, the effects of Hurricane Katrina were felt among SL clubs, resulting in canceled games and a new perspective on the business of baseball. In 2004, the championship series between Mobile and Tennessee was canceled due to damage from Hurricane Ivan, resulting in the teams being named co-champions, sharing the Billy Hitchcock Trophy.

Last August, Mobile was forced to cancel its final home series, closing Hank Aaron Stadium early in the hopes it wouldn't be damaged too heavily.

"The entire right-field wall was physically lying on the grass," said Tim Hagerty, BayBears media relations director. "They began fixing things up after the first of the year and are still working on it until Opening Day."

Hagerty recalled being in Raleigh, N.C., for a road series in the days leading up to Katrina. The team was forced to extend its stay in Raleigh while Mobile was evacuated before the storm.

The BayBears, Double-A affiliate of the San Diego Padres, sat in their hotel rooms watching the storm unfold, knowing their home in Mobile, Ala. was only a 90-minute drive from New Orleans.

"With the city being evacuated, we couldn't have gone back in even if we'd wanted to. A lot of guys know people from New Orleans area, so it just became a period where baseball was secondary behind our loved ones," said Hagerty.

In addition to the damage caused to the Mobile franchise, other teams in the region suffered. Playing just three hours inland from the Gulf Coast in Pearl, Miss., the Mississippi Braves also had to make some tough scheduling decisions.

The Braves were in Montgomery when news of Katrina broke. The final game of that series was canceled, and the Braves were sent to Atlanta to wait out the storm. Upon returning home, Mississippi decided to cancel its final seven home games, accounting for 10 percent of its entire schedule at Trustmark Park.

"It was really tough to cancel that final series," said Nicholas Skinner, Braves director of communications. "We wanted to provide an outlet because you see people waiting hours in line for gas or ice. As bad as it was here, it wasn't nearly as bad as it was on the coast, so we just wanted to give those people a reason to come up here."

Despite the desire to provide that outlet through baseball, the conditions of Mississippi's field showed it was in the best interest of everyone to cancel those final games. Part of the outfield backdrop was completely destroyed, and lighting in the parking lot and on the field was broken or destroyed.

Skinner said the week-long power outages and severe gas shortages helped the team decide it would use its energy for helping others rather than playing games.

"So on the one hand, we believe baseball is our life. We live and die this game, it comes before anything else," said Skinner. "On the other hand, things like this show you that it truly is just a game and you can still come together as a team."

Sapna Pathak is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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