Tagged: Biloxi Shuckers

Return to the Road: In the Vicinity of Biloxi

Hello, and welcome to the latest installment of “Return to the Road.” Yesterday’s post detailed a few highlights of my time in New Orleans from July 27-29. On the 29th — a Wednesday, for those keeping score at home — I drove approximately 90 miles northeast to Biloxi. I was in Biloxi for two nights but, unfortunately, spent very little time in the city itself outside of MGM Park and a nearby hotel.

I did poke around the area a little, but let’s back up a bit. During the Shuckers game on the 29th, I met local restaurateur Brad Orrison. He’s the co-owner of The Shed, a barbecue located in nearby Ocean Springs that also has a stand at MGM Park.

Brad Orrison and his little "Shed-Heads."

Brad Orrison and his little “Shed-Heads.”

On the afternoon of July 30, I decided to drive to The Shed. It is a self-consciously ramshackle and very spacious establishment.

IMG_0044A closer look.

IMG_0048Upon entering, you place your order at the counter, and then, take a seat. To pass the time while waiting, you may want to take a dimly-lit photo.

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To my left, there was a live performance area. The Shed is a “Blues and BBQ joint,” and I imagine that it gets pretty lively on nights and especially weekends. Thursday afternoons, not so much.

Here’s a (poorly lit) photo of brisket and baked beans (My fries never arrived, but I decided not to make an issue of it after remembering that I’m too fat as it is).

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I should really keep tasting notes or something, because I’m writing this some seven months later and my memory is hazy regarding how The Shed’s barbecue actually tasted. I recall liking it, but that the meat could have stood to be a little tenderer. In retrospect, I wish I had gotten the ribs, which are the house specialty.

Also during the Shuckers game on the 29th, then-general manager Buck Rogers (now with the Lancaster JetHawks) told me that his favorite barbecue in the area was the burnt ends at Murky Waters. In order to get ’em, though, you had to arrive early. Therefore, on July 31, after checking out of the hotel, I drove back to Ocean Springs.

Murky Waters is in downtown proper, as opposed to The Shed’s more remote Highway 57 location.

IMG_0059I arrived early enough to snag an order of burnt ends. Success!

IMG_0058Burnt ends are the best, in general, and these were particularly good. Soft, fatty. melt-in-your-mouth meat contrasted with a crisp blackened crunch (a description that, metaphorically speaking, could be applied to many of my favorite bands).

Anyhow, Ocean Springs is a picaresque town.

IMG_0060This is the “Tatonut Shop”, specializing in potato flour donuts. I would’ve loved to have tried them, but they were not gluten-free so in lieu of eating I stood forlornly outside and took a picture.

IMG_0061Wandering begot more wandering.

IMG_0062Somewhere in the vicinity of the tree-lined street shown above, I stopped at a local pharmacy to pick up toothpaste and pens (two of my biggest road trip needs). I was quite taken with the store’s selection and decor.

IMG_0072From there, it was just a short drive to some waterfront views.

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IMG_0064My final act in Ocean Springs, as it is in so many of the places that I visit, was to take a picture of a spider in a port-a-potty.

IMG_0067And with that, it was time to bid adieu to coastal Mississippi. Mobile, Alabama, awaited.

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On the Road: Oysters and So Much More in Biloxi

To see all posts from my July 29-30, 2015 visit to the Biloxi Shuckers (this is Part Three) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my July/August 2015 trip through the Deep South, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE!

Before visiting the Biloxi Shuckers home of MGM Park, there was one thing I was certain of:

There will be oysters.

I mean, if this is your logo, then there better be oysters:

shcuksHowever, I was unprepared for just how much else there was, and I think that you will be as well.

MGM Park’s concessions are overseen by Mike Brulatour, general manager of Ovations Food Services for the Shuckers. On this blog, which I aspire to write in a light-hearted and conversational tone, I usually refer to people by their first name. But I will refer to Mike Brulatour as “Brulatour,” because it’s a cool-sounding surname and allows us to imagine him as some sort of all-powerful Minor League food god. The Mighty Brulatour!

Brulatour had previously held a similar position with the Memphis Redbirds (whom I visited in 2012), where Barbecue Nachos are king.

“In Memphis, we claimed that we were the only ballpark where hot dogs weren’t number one,” he said.

It should come as no surprise that, under Brulatour’s watchful eye, the Shuckers offer their own take on this Memphis specialty: Shuckers Barbecue Nachos. The cheese sauce is actually made in Memphis, while the pulled pork is local (more on that in a moment).

045For comparison’s here are the “Rendezvous Barbecue Nachos” that were on offer when I visited the Redbirds’ home of AutoZone Park (Brulatour was my tour guide there as well).

memphisnacho

The Shuckers’ iteration is the result of a partnership with The Shed, a barbecue joint in nearby Ocean Springs. Here, The Shed co-owner Brad Orrison poses alongside his ballpark kiosk with his three “Little Shedheads” (check the shirts).

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Alongside me for this food-based juncture of the evening was Cale Merrill, my designated eater (you know, the individual recruited to eat the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits).

Oh, Cale. He was so young then, so innocent, so entirely unaware of the culinary challenges that awaited.

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Cale, an insurance agent who lives in Gulfport, recently returned to the Mississippi after a stint living in Houston. He’s a proud advocate of the Mississippi Gulf Coast region, which he says does not conform to the rural backwoods stereotypes that are often associated with the state. Cale’s also proud of his alma mater, collegiate baseball powerhouse Mississippi State University.

“You’re not gonna find bigger baseball fans than MSU, and don’t let LSU tell you something different,” he said. “You can print that.”

Cale is also a fan of the Shuckers, of course, whom he embraced as soon as they arrived.

“In the South, being outside in the Summer is what it’s all about,” he said.

And as for the Shuckers barbecue nachos?

“The pork is delicious, not just run-of-the-mill,” said Cale. “I like the sweet sauce. I’m not a mustard or vinegar-y kind of person. I’ve always loved [The Shed’s] food.”

Next up: Po’Boys.

049Here’s the Shrimp Po’Boy, with remoulade sauce, which Cale immediately stripped of all vegetable matter. Cale is kind of a picky eater.

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And here’s the team’s Oyster Po’Boy, in its natural state.

051Fortunately, Cale’s college buddy Turner was able to lend a helping hand with this (and many other) concession items. Turner lived in Washington D.C. for the past four years, but returned to the Biloxi area to help manage a casino construction project.

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“What you’re eating was fished out of these waters yesterday,” said Brulatour, just before the above photo was taken. He also noted that the Po’ Boy sandwiches utilize “good to the last crumb” bread from New Orleans-based Ladenheimer Bread Company.

Cale said that he’s “Not a huge Po’Boy fan” and that he “doesn’t do lettuce.” Turner, perhaps more well-versed on the subject, said that “these are as good as you’ll find anywhere.”

Meanwhile, did you know that Barq’s Root Beer was founded in Biloxi?

“The people here drink it like it’s going out of style,” said Brulatour.

Therefore, it was imperative that Barq’s be served at the ballpark.

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Cale, clearing the palate with a Barq’s Root Beer float.

055Next up was a Pimento and Cheese Burger with house-made chips, which Brulatour had procured from the Beacon Grill.

“It’s not frozen,” he said. “We use fresh meat, and you can tell.”

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“With pimento cheese, you can’t go wrong,” said Turner, again ably assisting in concession consumption. “I don’t understand why it’s not used more. I’ve never seen it on a burger, and it’s great.”

Brulatour, meanwhile, was plotting his next move. This is the only photo I have of him.

057His next move, in this case, was the centerpiece of the Shuckers oeuvre. 

Aw, Shucks.

058At Aw Shucks, one can get fresh oysters, fresh off of the grill. The oysters, provided by local Crystal Seas Seafood, are shucked offsite, shrink-wrapped and delivered to the stadium. This makes sense from an operational standpoint — on-site shucking would require additional space and resources — but it was disappointing to find out that no actual shucking goes on during a Shuckers game. I was naive enough to believe that it might.

This Vine appears to have been shot in reverse, I have no idea how that came to be.

The Aw Shucks Grill also features, among other things, Bayou Jambalaya served in a helmet. Cale enjoyed some.

060But those oysters! Though pricey ($15 for 8), these garlic butter bivalves are one of the best things I’ve ever seen (and tasted) at a Minor League Baseball game. They are served “on the fly” (as in “atop a Frisbee”) and accompanied by a hunk of French bread. In deference to my gluten-free reality, we forwent the French bread.

IMG_0036Usually I do a “designated eater checks in” Vine at the beginning of a post. Better late than never.

The Aw Shucks grill also features boudin, a Cajun specialty which is, essentially, a rice-stuffed pork sausage.

063I couldn’t get immediate confirmation that the boudin was gluten-free. Yet, I tried it. Forgive me, gluten, for I have sinned. Boudin is delicious.

069Meanwhile, Cale and Turner had become inundated with Brulatourian offerings.

071Here, Cale chows down on a “Grilled Chicken Sink” sandwich from the “Shuck and Cluck” chicken stand.

068In this case, I believe that “kitchen sink” can be interpreted to mean “provolone, mushrooms, peppers and onions.”

067“You can tell, they’re very proud of their food here,” said Cale. “I’m not a good judge of the peppers, but there’s a lot of chicken in that sandwich.”

This, meanwhile, appears to be the grilled Italian Sausage.

064And this? This appears to be a different sandwich than the one seen above. I think that it’s the “Brewers Beer Brat,” which, like the sausage, is available at the Home Plate Hot Dogs stand.

066“I’m gonna have nightmares about you,” said Cale to Brulatour. He had reached his limit.

073And yet, the Brula-Tour continued. At this point in the evening, maybe 10 minutes after the above photo had been taken, the game was in a rain delay and the tarp was on the field.

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After an impromptu upper-level ballpark tour, Brulatour led us into the Shuckers main kitchen area. This is the domain of head chef Bob Barlow, an old crony of Brulatour from his Memphis days.

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Here, Cale, have a cookie. Brulatour said that it’s called “The Royale” and that “its got everything in it.”

089While in the kitchen, we were also presented with deep-fried cheese curds. These, a suite-only delicacy, do not scream “Mississippi Gulf Coast.” But keep in mind that the Shuckers are a Milwaukee affiliate and general manager Buck Rogers is a Wisconsin guy. So, why not?

090But this isn’t Biloxi’s only instance of commercial cheese curd availability. I know this because Buck’s been on the lookout.

With the weather having cleared up and the game ready to resume, Brulatour led us back to the concourse and promptly handed Cale a BBQ Shrimp Pizza.

092

“Two hours ago, I was sad not to be eating the shrimp pizza,” said Cale. “But now…”

He didn’t even finish his sentence. He looked like he might pass out.

094Brulatour then emerged with a corn dog. Cale had now had all that he could stand. Therefore, he couldn’t stand no more.

“I’m not eating anymore! I’m a small man!” Cale yelled into the unforgiving abyss of night.

He did, however, consent to pose with the corn dog.

093Cale and Turner, both shell-shocked, stood dazedly on the concourse as Brulatour bid them adieu. When I came upon them again, nearly an hour later, they were being regaled by Shuckers GM Buck Rogers with the sort of story that only Buck Rogers can tell. From my notes:

“Buck is talking about drinking beer in Central America to stay hydrated for rabies shots after getting bit by a vampire bat.”

096Despite his fully-stuffed status, Cale was now in good spirits.

“I made a mistake. I ate a bunch of nachos right at the beginning,” he said. “But no regrets. I’d been looking forward to this, and it was first class.”

Cale had survived his brush with the mighty Brulatour, and has the souvenirs to prove it.

074

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On the Road: The Raining Champ in Biloxi

To see all posts from my July 29-30, 2015 visit to the Biloxi Shuckers (this is Part Two) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my July/August 2015 trip through the Deep South, clickHERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE! 

Part one of this Biloxi blog saga gently deposited us at the door step of game time. In this, part two, we’ll quietly open the door and step inside. The date was July 29th, and the Shuckers were taking on the visiting Jackson Generals in an evening contest at MGM Park.

048Shortly after the game begin, I rendezvoused with designated eater Cale Merrill and director of food and beverage Mike Brulatour. My time with these individuals was extensive, and will be documented in the following blog post. It encompassed the first four innings of the game as well as, inevitably, a rain delay.

082Fans took shelter under a concourse overhang, as they are wont to do.

083Ballpark VIPs, such as daredevil clown Bello Nock, waited out the rain delay from the comfort of a private suite.

084Some fans tired of waiting, and headed out into the Mississippi night via the long, winding, gently sloping exit.

085Finally, the tarp was removed and the game picked off just where it had left off. With normalcy restored, I engaged in conversation with Shuckers ticket executive Kevin Trembley.

098

Kevin, a 2013 college graduate, is the son of former Baltimore Orioles manager and current Atlanta Braves director of player development Dave Trembley. Kevin has known Shuckers general manager Buck Rogers since he was a kid, when he was a batboy for the turn-of-the-21st century Daytona Cubs.

In those days, Kevin’s dad was the Daytona manager and Buck was the GM. These days, Kevin works in the ticket department by day and serves as on-field emcee by night. There are, most likely, many chapters in his baseball career yet to be written.

Further wanderings brought me to the berm area, where the view was as pleasing as the grass was wet.

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My wandering also brought me into contact with a fan by the name of Charlie O’Brien, who was wearing this irreverent and self-deprecating Huntsville Stars shirt. (The Stars, of course, are the team that moved to Biloxi and became the Shuckers.)

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This shirt gives an accurate peek into the mindset of Stars fans and front office members during their final years of existence, when they were overseen by an absentee owner and left to languish in a decrepit city-owned facility. Buck Rogers was the general manager there (he moved with the team to Biloxi), and this shirt has “Buck” written all over it.

“This is Huntsville Stars baseball,” the shirt reads. “This ain’t Montgomery and we ain’t perfect. Our ballpark is a train wreck. We have a skunk for a mascot. Out videoboard is shot. But ya’ know what? We don’t care! The drinks are cold and & the ‘dogs are great! Stars fans are my family. And this is my team! 

But wait — there’s more. I’m not gonna transcribe this side, for I am only one man.

103

When I met Charlie, I assumed that he was a die-hard Stars fan who, like a jilted lover stalking an ex, had come to check out the team’s new digs. But, once again, my assumptions proved unverified. He’s a committed ballpark traveler who chronicles his journeys over at charliesballparks.com

“I just roll along,” Charlie told me.

And so do I. More accurately, I roll in slow circles around the perimeter of the ballparks I visit.

IMG_0038This picture was aided and abetted by Instagram.

IMG_0041I spent the waning moments of the ballgame speaking with Shuckers co-owner Tim Bennett, who has an interesting story to tell regarding how he got involved with professional baseball and his future goals in the industry. An article based on this conversation is “in the works,” but most likely won’t appear until sometime in September.

106That did it for my evening at the ballpark, with the Shuckers losing to the visiting Jackson Generals by a score of 3-2.

But wait! There’s more!

As an anti-rainout insurance policy, my itinerary included two nights in Biloxi. Shortly after waking up the following morning, I belatedly issued forth a “groundbreaking and subversive” Vine joke.

Unfortunately, I didn’t spend much time exploring Biloxi on this Thursday afternoon, which was largely dedicated to writing this MiLB.com piece on the MGM Park experience. When I returned to the ballpark that evening, this was the scene: Another day, another tarp on the field. It’s just been that kind of season.

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I hope that this maintenance vehicle made it through the storm unscathed.

My rain-soaked meanderings eventually brought me to the “Shuckers Shop,” which is overseen by retail manager Babs Rogers. 007Babs is the wife of GM Buck Rogers. The couple’s two daughters — Bree and Holly — work retail for the Shuckers and Babs’ father serves as an usher. For the Rogers family, baseball really is a family affair.

“It’s always been that way,” said Babs. “Back to the days of our daughter doing her homework at the fan assistance desk in Daytona.”

Shuckers merchandise has been a hot commodity in Biloxi, ever since the team name was announced this past offseason. Babs said that this shirt — simple, eye-catching, elegant — has been the number one seller.

005With the tarp still on the field and more bad weather still expected, I had to find ways to pass the time.

For a while I engaged in conversation with usher Mike Steer, a resident of nearby Ocean Springs. He said that his town had plenty to recommend on the culinary front, and then went about recommending it: –

Murky Waters Barbecue: “Get there by 12 if you want the burnt ends,” said Mike. “Get there at 12:05, there ain’t no burnt ends.”

— The Tatonut Donut Shop: “Go there for breakfast. It’s donuts, but they use potato flour.”

Aunt Jenny’s Catfish Restaurant: “All you can eat catfish and shrimp.”

McIlroy’s on the Bayou: “Go there for oysters.”

For the record, I went to Murky Waters for the next day in search of burnt ends. This mission was a success. IMG_0059

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I hope to do a series of “Return to the Road” posts in the offseason, chronicling my divers and sundry off-the-field photos and observations. But, for now, let’s get back to this riveting Biloxi Shuckers rain delay.

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The Buena Vista Beer Garden is named after the Buena Vista hotel, which once existed where MGM Park now stands.

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The hotel opened in 1924 and was destroyed by fire in 1991.

Public domain photo taken from Wikipedia.

Public domain photo taken from Wikipedia.

My wanderings eventually brought me to the press box, where I joined Chris Harris for a radio interview. The game was officially postponed just before our interview began, but this did not postpone our chat.

Chris interviewed me, but I also interviewed him as well. The former Jackson Generals broadcaster has had an eventful year, to say the least. After accepting a job with the Shuckers, he set up the team’s broadcast agreements and then, once the season started, embarked on a 54-game road trip. This epic jaunt was necessitated by MGM Park’s construction schedule, as the facility didn’t open until early June.

011Soon after parting ways with Chris, I parted ways with MGM Park. All that was left to do was make one last stab at my nightly groundbreaking and subversive ballpark joke.

I spent two nights in Biloxi, enduring a rain delay on the first and a rainout on the second. Furthermore, two of the three times I visited Huntsville had resulted in a rainout as well. None of this was lost on Buck, who, the next morning, held a brief ceremony naming the MGM Park tarp after me.

What an honor.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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On the Road: The Shucking Begins in Biloxi

To see all posts from my July 29-30, 2015 visit to the Biloxi Shuckers (this is Part One) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my July/August 2015 trip through the Deep South, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE! 

Remember last year when I visited Joe Davis Stadium, so that I could see a Huntsville Stars game during what would be their final season? The game got rained out and the whole visit turned out to be a whole lot of not much, but, still, it was a worthwhile endeavor. I’m glad I got the chance to say goodbye.

After the 2014 season, the Stars relocated to Biloxi, Mississippi and rechristened themselves with the bivalve curious moniker of Shuckers. The Shuckers play at MGM Park, a new ballpark located on land owned by MGM and overshadowed by the gambling conglomerate’s Beau Rivage hotel and casino. This would be where I spent my time on the evenings of July 29 and 30.

The above paragraph oversimplified the circumstances of the Shuckers’ 2015 season, as their relocation from Huntsville was anything but smooth. I’ve written about these circumstances ad nauseum, most recently for a piece that ran late last month on MiLB.com:

During the first half of the 2015 Southern League season, no team posted a better home record than the Biloxi Shuckers‘ mark of 22-13. This was more than a little improbable, given that the Shuckers didn’t play a game in Biloxi until June 6.

Up until that point, the Shuckers, Double-A affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers, had played 55 games in locales other than Biloxi. Their “home” games, such as they were, took place in the visiting teams’ ballparks as well as the franchise’s former abode of Joe Davis Stadium in Huntsville, Alabama.

But on June 6, that all changed, and it changed in a big way. After myriad budgetary negotiations and corresponding construction delays, MGM Park opened its doors to a crowd of just over 5,000 fans. This marked the first time in some 107 years that Biloxi had hosted a Minor League Baseball team, a void that had persisted since the Biloxi-Gulfport Sand Crabs played their one and only season in 1908.

MGM Park, while open for business, is not a finished product. For proof of this assertion, please view this curated collection of short video images.

Only one entrance to the stadium is currently functional, and much of the exterior perimeter is surrounded by dirt, barricades and divers and sundry construction vehicles. (Sorry, I’ve been reading Don Quixote lately and have been looking for an excuse to incorporate “divers and sundry” into a blog post. It’s just an archaic, and therefore pretentious, way to say “various.”)

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This soon-to-be entrance is located directly behind and below the batter’s eye.

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Finally, (the royal) we arrive at the main entrance. The stairs lead up and onto the left field side of the concourse.

007While I was admiring this impressive elevation into a new baseball reality, I ran into former Mobile BayBears assistant general manager Mike Callahan. He was accompanied by his daughter, Brittany, who writes the “Talk Baseball to Me” blog (click HERE to read her interview with Minor League Baseball president Pat O’Conner). Photos were taken, social media was utilized.

I would have loved to join the Callahans for a pre-game daiquiri, as this seemed like a fitting prelude to a ballgame in Biloxi (daiquiri bars are numerous in the city).  But I’m a professional (I kept telling myself), and must forgo tropical drinks until after (or maybe during) the ballgame. Therefore, I entered MGM Park in a state of pristine sobriety and it was in this state that I met the one and only Buck Rogers.

036Buck’s the general manager of the Shuckers, which is the same position he held with the Huntsville Stars. In the above photo he’s wearing his tarp clothes (including a Stars shirt), as it had rained earlier in the afternoon and the forecast was less-than-ideal going forward. Of course, the inclement weather was my fault because it always is. Even the radio guys are piling on now.

Buck expressed optimism that the show would go on.

“There are eight inches of sand underneath, this is the best-draining field I’ve ever had,” he said. “It’s a real-life lifesaver.”

But at the moment in which I met Buck, the skies were clear and drainage an abstract concern. We immediately proceeded on what he dubbed the “nickel tour” of the ballpark, presumably named as such because it appeals to the “five cents-es.” We began in the murky depths of the facility, where the rubberized flooring hasn’t yet been permanently installed.

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It’s all a work in progress.

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A service road wraps around the ballpark, which, of course, is highly beneficial from an operational standpoint. Buck pointed out that the three trailers located at the end of the road are currently used as fireworks transportation devices.

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“We load ’em up, hook ’em together, put ’em on a tractor, bring ’em out to the field and start shooting fireworks right from the field. It just has to work,” said Buck.

And work, it (usually) does.

An unfortunate necessity of ballpark construction was the removal of 19 live oak trees from the property (though many were rotting and diseased). But survivors remain.

016 For a while there, the tour was a blur of corridors and doors. Behind one door I discovered this trio of game ball mud rubbers.

020I was gonna tell you dumbbells the name of this room immediately, but then decided to make you weight for it.

021Sorry about that. I’ll present this picture sands joke.

024

The area seen above is the domain of groundskeeper Jamie Hill, a one-time Stars groundskeeper who Buck persuaded to make the move to Biloxi. Buck called Hill the “Sodfather” as well as “the Duke of Dirt.”

“I’ve got an All-Star staff,” said Buck. “I just stay out of the way.”

Rushed construction sometimes results in interesting bloopers, such as this: A foul pole installed in front of the wall.

026“I don’t think they understood that we wanted the pole behind the wall,” said Buck. “We said, ‘Just leave it, we’ll pad it, and we’ll make the other one the same way.”

But, hey, there are no bloopers to be seen in this direction. Only a beautiful baseball field, enveloped in a grandstand’s warm embrace.

025

We then moved on to the upper level, where netting had to be installed in some places as a means to protect cars driving by on interstate 110. (Or was that 90? The ballpark is flanked by these two major roads.)

“The net wasn’t originally in the plans, but the interstate is right by and so that cost an additional $25,000,” said Buck, before resorting to tautology. “It is what it is.”

029

This building, located across from the stadium, is the horticultural office of the Beau Rivage. Once construction is complete, the denizens of this office will also be responsible for beautifying the perimeter of the stadium.

031There are plans for a lot more development in the area surrounding the stadium, much of which will be overseen by Shuckers co-owner Tim Bennett.

“This is the way back from Katrina, 10 years later,” said Buck. “There are so many kinds of people here — Yugoslavian, Slovenian, Vietnamese — and they’re as hard-working and honest as the day is long. I’m proud to be a part of this community.”

Moving indoors, this is the Mercedes Benz Club. It fits over 100 people and is available to rent on a year-round basis.

032

Benz Biz Blog

Bon Voyage, Benz. Bonjour, Beau Rivage.

033The concourse is wide, clean and monochromatic.

034Game time was approaching, which meant that it was time for me to throw out a ceremonial first pitch. I threw out the first first pitch, more accurately. The headliner was Bello Nock, the world’s greatest daredevil clown and a regular performer at the Beau Rivage.

037My first pitch was kinda forgettable, in that I genuinely can’t remember how it turned out. I probably bounced it, and am now blocking out the memory.

039Of course, Bello’s first pitch was far more theatrical. His appearance on the mound was preceded by a videoboard presentation of one of his most memorable stunts, in which he hangs from a helicopter with only one foot. Bello then hammed it up on the mound for a bit, before throwing a perfect strike.

041It was fitting that a daredevil was in attendance on this evening, as Bello’s presence served as a fortuitous throwback to the first time I visited the Huntsville Stars. The year was 2009, the stadium was Joe Davis, the general manager was Buck Rogers. Following a rainout, sword swallower Dan Meyer still went ahead and performed for a crowd of about a dozen people. This performance was capped by Buck and bullwhip.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Stay tuned for much more from my evening(s) with the Shuckers.

 

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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About Last Night: Biloxi Shuckers, July 30, 2015

This season, when I’m on the road, I’ll be writing an on-the-spot blog post about each Minor League ballpark that I visit. Then, upon my return home, I’ll provide the multifaceted blog coverage that you have come to know and, perhaps, even love. Let’s get to it, lest it get to us!

July 30, 2015: MGM Park, home of the Biloxi Shuckers 

Opponent: Jackson Generals, 7:10 p.m. game time.

This was my second night in Biloxi, so I’m going to vary the “About Last Night” template a bit. Here, then, is a Vine depicting my short walk to MGM Park.

And here was the scene, shortly after I arrived.

IMG_0050Some fans took cover in and around the Shuckers Shop.

007Where, for the record, this shirt is the #1 selling item.

005Meanwhile, it just kept raining.

To pass the time, Shuckers broadcaster Chris Harris interviewed me on the air. This was fun.

But what is life if not a constant succumbing to the inevitable? The game was called — doubleheader Friday, Shuckers fans, the first in MGM Park history — and there was nothing left for me to do but (kinda sorta) make a joke.

For far more from my visit to Biloxi, check out this MiLB.com piece.

Next Up: 

Mobile BayBears: 7/31

Montgomery Biscuits: 8/1

Mississippi Braves: 8/2

Jackson Generals: 8/3

Nashville Sounds: 8/5

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About Last Night: Biloxi Shuckers, July 29, 2015

This season, when I’m on the road, I’ll be writing an on-the-spot blog post about each Minor League ballpark that I visit. Then, upon my return home, I’ll provide the multifaceted blog coverage that you have come to know and, perhaps, even love. Let’s get to it, lest it get to us!

 July 29, 2015: MGM Park, home of the Biloxi Shuckers 

Opponent: Jackson Generals, 7:10 p.m. game time.

MGM Park, from the outside:

007MGM Park, from within: 

025Culinary Creation: Garlic-butter grilled oysters (shucked offsite, but so shuckin’ good).

IMG_0036Ballpark Character: Bello, daredevil clown extraordinaire, hamming it up before tossing a ceremonial first pitch.

041At Random: An interesting approach to foul pole construction.

026Your groundbreaking and subversive ballpark joke of the day: Thus far, I’ve got nothing. Wish me luck, as I’ll be making a return trip to the Shuckers tonight.

Next Up: 

Biloxi Shuckers, part II: 7/30

Mobile BayBears: 7/31

Montgomery Biscuits: 8/1

Mississippi Braves: 8/2

Jackson Generals: 8/3

Nashville Sounds: 8/5

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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instagram.com/thebensbiz

Shuckin’ with Buck in Biloxi

On Monday evening, Biloxi’s new Southern League franchise announced that it will go by the name of “Shuckers.” This is nothing to do with an action that is often performed in tandem with jivin’; rather it is an homage to the Mississippi Gulf Coast city’s thriving seafood industry. Oysters, which must be shucked by, yes, shuckers, are a big part of this industry.

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My MiLB.com story on the new name was published on Monday evening, in conjunction with the team’s official announcement. The story includes a cornucopia of quotes from Shuckers general manager Buck Rogers, who held the same position in the team’s previous home of Huntsville, Alabama.

Buck Rogers file photo, circa 2010

Buck Rogers file photo, circa 2010

If you’ve ever spoken with Buck, you know that he’s never at a loss for words. In fact, I would go so far as to dub him “the most loquacious dude in the industry.” This was certainly the case when I spoke with him for my MiLB.com story. In fact, I ended up with a veritable novella’s worth of surplus verbiage. Being a conservationist at heart, I figured that I’d now share some of this surplus with you, the presumably interested and undeniably attractive reader.

On capitalizing on the Shuckers’ name:

Milwaukee, our parent club, has the sausage race. In Huntsville we did a superhero race. Here in Biloxi, we can do a seafood race. The sky’s the limit! (Note: Buck said “the sky’s the limit” a half-dozen times during our conversation.)

Maybe we can call up Smuckers — get a mascot that’s a jar of strawberry jam. The sky’s the limit….I guarantee you, if we take our staff to a beachside bar, get a pizza and some barley sodas and start brainstorming, we’ll come up with a big list of ideas.

I’d love to get Blue Oyster Cult out here to play a post-game concert. They’re my favorite rock band of all time.

On the potential negative of naming the team “Shuckers”:

You can take any name and turn it into something perverse. This is a local name with a local logo, and it’s reflective of the Gulf Coast. We didn’t have Willie-Off-the-Pickleboat design this. It’s professionally done, and we’re really proud of it. This whole thing is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. New team, new name, new stadium. Everything’s brand new. This is Christmas, New Year’s, Mardi Gras and your birthday all rolled into one.

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On the Shuckers’ ownership group, which is headed by Ovations Food Services president Ken Young (whose portfolio also includes the Albuquerque Isotopes and Norfolk Tides):

This isn’t their first rodeo. We’ve had members of the Albuquerque staff out here, and they’ve helped tremendously. It’s been a great team effort. Ken owns Ovations, so you know the food here is going to be first class. We had Ovations when I was working in Brevard County [Buck was GM of the Manatees] and I’m happy to be back in that family. We have to think that the sky’s the limit. I’m not gonna tell them “Serve this, serve that.” They know what they’re doing. I expect shrimp po’ boys, oysters, all that kind of stuff. The concession stands will reflect the flavor of the Gulf Coast.

On keeping the Shuckers name a secret: 

The Albuquerque staff took the lead on ordering the merchandise. Thank God, because we’ve had so much to do. So a lot of the merchandise was shipped there first, because we didn’t want a box showing up here that said “Shuckers” on it. But we worked really hard to keep the name off of any boxes or labels; we needed the whole thing kept under wraps. All you want to do is reward the locals. If you reveal the name, then you took the prize away, you took the present away. It’s like showing a kid his Christmas presents two days early. You took the joy away. We’ve had people from all over trying to find out the name. I just told everyone “I don’t know. I don’t know.” Lie, deny and counter-accuse. It’s the military way. [Buck is a former airborne infantryman, who took part in the 1989 mission to apprehend Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega.]

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On the perks of operating in Biloxi: 

We’re right across from the beach, and the team hotel is 100 steps away. We’ve got night life, gambling, clubs, concerts, shows and everything else. This is a good destination. Teams are going to like coming here. We’re going to have the best home record in the league, because the guys on the visiting team, they’ll all have sunburn and will be tired from having spent the night at the casinos.

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So what do you think of the “Shuckers” name? Your feedback is always welcome, via whichever medium you might choose to deliver it.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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