When it comes to size, scope and longevity, few, if any, sporting bodies can rival Minor League Baseball. With 160 teams in nearly as many markets, there are innumerable nooks and crannies to explore. This marks the fourth installment in a series dedicated to such explorations, providing one unique, weird,
When it comes to size, scope and longevity, few, if any, sporting bodies can rival Minor League Baseball. With 160 teams in nearly as many markets, there are innumerable nooks and crannies to explore. This marks the fourth installment in a series dedicated to such explorations, providing one unique, weird, poignant or otherwise memorable fact about each team or city in each of Minor League Baseball's 14 admission-charging leagues. Remember -- it's about the journey, not the destination. To share your own favorite team or city facts, please reach out via email ([email protected]) or Twitter (@bensbiz). Previous installments: International League, Pacific Coast League, Eastern League.
The Southern League, established in 1964, is the youngest of Minor League Baseball's three Double-A leagues. But, as with almost everything regarding Minor League Baseball history, it's complicated. The first circuit named the Southern League operated sporadically over the final 15 years of the 19th century. This was followed by the Southern Association, which ran from 1901 through 1961 and disbanded, in part, due to its refusal to field racially integrated teams. To fill the void, the South Atlantic League was elevated to Double-A in 1963. In 1964, that Double-A South Atlantic League was rechristened the Southern League. Initially comprised of eight clubs, it expanded to its current 10-team format in 1978. What follows, then, are 10 facts. One for every team in the league.
The Shuckers, previously the Huntsville Stars, played their inaugural season in 2015. Unfortunately, due to construction delays, their home of MGM Park didn't open until June 6 of that year. Thus, the Double-A Milwaukee affiliate began its existence with an epic two-month road trip. During this time, the Shuckers played 15 of their 25 home games at Huntsville's Joe Davis Stadium. They also went on the road, but played as the home team, against the Mississippi Braves and the Jacksonville Suns. The Shuckers were in first place by the time they played their first game in MGM Park, en route to the best record in the Southern League that season.
If you want to win a bar bet on a technicality, go with this fact: Michael Jordan never played a Minor League Baseball game in Birmingham. Yes, the moonlighting dunksmith famously spent the 1994 season as a member of the Barons' outfield corps. But that 1994 season, as with every one between 1988 and 2012, the Double-A Chicago White Sox affiliate played at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium. This facility, as its name makes clear, was located not in Birmingham but in the nearby suburb of Hoover.
The Chattanooga Lookouts were a charter member of today's Southern League, but the Lookouts name goes back further than that. Much further. Chattanooga's first professional baseball team was established in 1885, and they were named the Lookouts (in honor of nearby Lookout Mountain, of course). The only team in all of Minor League Baseball with a more deep-rooted name is the Buffalo Bisons, as that moniker can be traced back to 1877.
After 13 seasons as the Diamond Jaxx, Jackson, Tennessee's Southern League team changed its name to the Generals in 2011. This was an homage to the city's Minor League history, as Jackson fielded a team named the Generals from 1935 through 1953. The Jackson Generals of Tennessee are not to be confused with the Jackson Generals of Mississippi, however. That franchise played in the Texas League from 1991 through 1999 before relocating to Round Rock and becoming the Express. To make things more confusing, the Southern League currently has a Jackson, Mississippi-based team in the form of the Mississippi Braves (who actually operate out of nearby Pearl). The Mississippi Braves periodically honor their region's baseball history by suiting up as the Jackson Generals. Their opponent on these occasions? The Tennessee-based Jackson Generals, of course.
Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp
Prior to the 2016 season, Jacksonville's long-running Southern League franchise changed its name to the Jumbo Shrimp. The name change (which corresponded with a change in ownership) ushered in an era of irreverent and attention-grabbing promotions. Some of the Jumbo Shrimp's most successful endeavors in this regard have involved pillows. After 2017's neck pillow giveaway went viral, the Jumbo Shrimp upped the ante with 2019's Shrimp Ramen Pillow giveaway. This unorthodox sleep aid offering was part of the team's Ramen Noodle Appreciation Night, a celebration of the delicacy's 4000th (give or take) anniversary.
The Mississippi Braves, who are owned by the Atlanta Braves, are the only Southern League team to carry the name of their parent club. There is certainly a precedent for this conservative name choice. Prior to moving to Pearl, Mississippi, the team spent 21 seasons as the Greenville (South Carolina) Braves. This was preceded by 13 seasons as the Savannah Braves. The last time this franchise wasn't an Atlanta affiliate named the Braves was in 1970, its final season as the Cleveland-affiliated Savannah Indians.
From both an architectural and historical perspective, the Biscuits' home of Riverwalk Stadium is one of the most unique in the Minor Leagues. A goodly portion of the stadium's structure, extending down the first-base line, is a refurbished train shed. And before that site had been home to a train shed, it was a cotton depot-turned-Confederate military prison. A commemorative plaque located outside of the ballpark explains that the majority of the 700 Union soldiers housed there were captured at Shiloh. “They were imprisoned in a foul, vermin-abounding cotton depot…without blankets and only the hard earth of wood planks as a bed," the plaque reads in part.
Pensacola Blue Wahoos
Blue Wahoos Ballpark offers excellent views of the Pensacola Bay, as well as an excellent view of a Brobdingnagian cargo ship parked in the Port of Pensacola. This ship belongs to Blue Origin, a company owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. It will be eventually be pressed into service as a landing ship for a New Glenn Rocket launched from Cape Canaveral.
Rocket City Trash Pandas
The Trash Pandas, based in Madison, Alabama, are currently waiting to play their inaugural game. The franchise previously existed as the Mobile BayBears, who had the same batboy for all of their 22-year existence. That bat boy was Wade Vadakin, who was inducted into the Southern League Hall of Fame earlier this year. Vadakin, who has overcome a litany of health problems since birth, was hired by the Pensacola Blue Wahoos following the BayBears' departure to Madison.
Smokies Stadium is located approximately 15 miles north of Dollywood, the amusement park owned by country music superstar Dolly Parton. The biggest crowd in the ballpark's two-decade history was bolstered by a music legend of a different sort, however. The Smokies, a Chicago Cubs affiliate, drew a record 8,164 fans on June 17, 2017. The promotion? Jimmy Buffett Night.
Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MiLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz.