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 Southern League, both new and old.
New looks for Birmingham and Huntsville
The Barons didn't go through a lot of changes, but did add more than a splash of color to what had previously been a black, silver and white motif. Red is very prominent in the new logo, which has "Barons" written in red script superimposed over a white baseball surrounded by a black circle that reads "Birmingham" on the top and "Est. 1885" in white letters on the bottom. The change is the first adjustment to the club's primary logo since 1988.
The Stars new logo has the team's nickname in large red letters with an actual star in place of the letter A. A baseball is shown orbiting the star and a rocket ship -- with yellow and red flames shooting from the bottom -- is soaring through the blue circular orbit of the baseball.
The electric bill is going up in Tennessee
The Tennessee Smokies are getting one of the first HD-X video displays in Minor League Baseball at Smokies Park. The new screen will be among the largest LED video displays in the Minor Leagues at 36 feet wide and 17 feet high. It will be installed before the start of the 2008 season and will have three times the viewing area of the current outfield video screen. We're guessing the "X" stands for "Xtra big." Fans might start hoping for rain delays so they can watch highlights or movies on the big screen.
Stars flocking to Carolina
The Carolina Mudcats will host the 2008 Southern League All-Star Game, marking the first time the league's midsummer classic will be in North Carolina since 1997. Given that there are 10 teams in the league and the Mudcats are the only squad located in North Carolina, that seems fair.
Subero takes over on Barons' bench
Former Bakersfield Blaze manager Carlos Subero was named the new Birmingham Barons manager in Jan. This will be Subero's first season in the White Sox organization. He spent the last two seasons as the manager of the Blaze and compiled an overall record of 381-431 (.469) during seven seasons in the Texas Rangers system. Subero, 35, was a Minor League infielder for four seasons before embarking on a coaching career. He started as a coach in the Gulf Coast League in 1999 and became the manager the following season. He skippered the Class A Clinton LumberKings for three seasons before moving up to Class A Advanced Bakersfield.
New faces in new places
Buddy Bailey is the new manager in Tennessee, replacing Pat Listach, who replaced Bailey with the Triple-A Iowa Cubs. Also Buck Rogers has beamed down as the new general manager for Huntsville. Rogers previously had a successful seven-year stint in the Florida State League.
Rickwood Classic enters its 13th year
The Rickwood Classic is back for the 13th year, with the Birmingham Barons facing the Jacksonville Suns. The game will be played on May 28 at Birmingham's historic Rickwood Field. Built in 1910, Rickwood Field has the distinction of being the oldest ballpark in the country. The Barons will wear gray uniforms celebrating the 1951-52 era. Outfielder Jimmy Piersall, who played for the Barons at that time, is expected to be in attendance.
Phillip Wellman is back
You may not remember the name of the Mississippi Braves manager, but do a search for him on YouTube and you will instantly recall his infamous meltdown in Chattanooga last season. Wellman raced out of the dugout to argue a called strike and was ejected before he even reached the umpire. Wellman fired his hat to the ground, meticulously covered every inch of home plate with dirt and drew a new, larger plate in the dirt with his finger to illustrate his point. He then removed third base from the ground and tossed into the outfield, before crawling to the pitcher's mound on his belly like a soldier in battle and lobbing the rosin bag like a grenade toward home plate. On his way off the field, Wellman yanked second base out of the ground and tossed it to the grass in right field. Just before he exited through the right-field fence, he turned and blew a kiss to the fans. Derek Botelho and Franklin Stubbs are also back, giving the Braves the same coaching staff they had last season for the first time in team history.
These Suns aren't setting
The Bragan family enters its 24th season as the owners of the Jacksonville Suns, the longest tenure in the Southern League. Peter D. Bragan purchased the franchise in the mid-1980s and has been the principal owner ever since. His son, Peter "Pedro" Bragan Jr., has been with the club since the purchase and serves as the president and general manager.
Barons set to continue attendance streak
Birmingham has one of the more impressive attendance streaks in all of the Minor Leagues, having drawn more than 250,000 fans in each of the last 20 seasons at Regions Park. The six millionth fan in the stadium's history is expected to take a seat in mid-April.
One of the reasons for the success at the gate is Senior Director of Tickets Joe Drake, who will be entering his 55th season with the franchise. Drake certainly is a strong candidate to be the longest tenured active employee in the Minor Leagues. A joke going around Birmingham is that Drake arrived right after the tickets went from stone tablets to paper.
Still on the Lookout
Larry Ward is both the Director of Broadcasting and the travel secretary for the Chattanooga Lookouts. He's entering his 21st season with the franchise, making him their longest-tenured staff member as well as the Southern League's longest-tenured broadcaster. Ward can remember when he had to work a deal just to get some videotape movies for a bus trip, as opposed to players bringing their own DVD collections on the road as they do today. The internet has replaced ticker-tape printouts for reporting out-of-town scores. "But the greatest non-change is, it's still baseball," Ward said. "Throw it, hit it, catch it. America's pastime, gotta love it."