Thursday, March 16, 2017

Calm Before The Storm



This is the season people start thinking about Biscuits yet there isn't all that much news to go around. Spring camp has just begun for minor leaguers but very little has been sorted out as far as player assignments. Speculation is easy, but few facts are known so its tough to form a picture of what the team will look like - but only for a few short weeks.



Hero interview for Jake Bauers
The Rays made their first cuts, among the seven players reassigned to minor league camp were six former Biscuits. Jake Bauers was not among them, Willy Adames was.


MOJO
Hey, when I predicted the Skitz back in January I neglected to list Joe McCarthy, an oversight on my part as he is likely ticketed to double-A, if not opening day soon after. Dude is awesome, a 5th rounder in 2015, he has moved up quickly since signing. Swatting at a .282 clip at three levels over two seasons, Mojo_JoeJoe should be fun to watch at first base or in the outfield.



TOPPED IN BLUE
We saw the Biscuits tweet a picture of their new blue alternate jerseys.

Hopefully the team saves a few dollars on the rarely-worn blue tops, it would be foolish to spend a lot of money on a jersey they generally only wear for game two of a doubleheader on the road.


Overall, fans seem really happy with the Biscuits uniforms and their classic look. Some fans obviously prefer the old vest style, but the logo and colors have remained the same since the first season.

Its not known if the new new owners would want to make any changes to the Skitz raiment, but I wouldn't expect them to fix something that isn't really broken.

If they do choose to update the look, it might be a cool idea to have a different Friday home jersey and still wear the classic jerseys the rest of the time. Lots of teams are doing it. It could ease fans into the concept instead of a sudden change.




OPENING DAY
The opening day festivities have been announced, they include a chance to meet and greet the Thunderbirds flight team as well as the French precision flying team PAF. This includes a pre-game ceremony with the flyers on the field and an autograph session afterwards.
The bonus here should be an impressive flyover!

Also, the Lo-Fi Loungers will perform before and after the game.





SPOKEN WORD SATURDAY
I had a great time at the 14th Annual Southern Association Baseball Conference in Bham the first weekend of March. Held at historic Rickwood Field in Bham, its a yearly gathering of historians, authors and baseball researchers. I was humbled to be asked to attend a few years ago and this year it was my privilege to be a speaker.

The first half of the day focused on Montgomery baseball origins, with an overview of the cities ball teams by author Clarence Watkins and my presentation on Dr. Pearsall, the founder of Montgomery's first baseball team.

TED
Ted Brazell, former Rebels player
The guest of honor was the lunch speaker, former Rebels catcher Ted Brazell and his fantastic array of stories and baseball trophies.

Telling tales from his days at Paterson Field playing for managers Les Moss and Jim Leyland ("Leyland didn't do very well, it was the only year we didn't win the pennant" he joked) as well as stories of teammates like Mark Fidrych and Lance Parrish.

Ted Brazell and Mark Fidrych helping the Rebels grounds crew shovel turf!



I asked Ted about his thoughts on the old ballpark, what his impression of Paterson Field was when he got to the team - "its a dump" was the honest assessment, noting the low attendance even during the championship years.



I also asked for his take on former Rebels GM Woodford Parks. "He scared me to death!" though he didn't have a reason why, adding that "he was tight with the books but ran the team well".

The Rebel Roost
Mr. Brazell confirmed the old story of the "Rebel Roost", a house a couple blocks from the ballpark on Madison Ave that was rented by a group of players, who raised more than a little hell at the location.


Southern League Trophy
I also asked about how he felt about his son, Craig, and his success in Japan. Ted said he thought his father, Craigs grandfather, was "probably turning over in his grave - he was on a ship that was torpedoed by a Japanese sub in WW2!" but laughed it off and is obviously proud of Craigs baseball career.

Ted felt that teams in Japan stopped pitching to Craig when the younger Braz had a chance of breaking the single-season Homerun mark set by Saddaharu Oh.


 The Rebels won five titles in six years and Ted Brazell has the trophies, the story says they were saved from the dumpster when the team was sold and moved to Bham after the 1980 season. Ted donated one of the trophies to the Rickwood for preservation and was visibly choked up from the attention lauded him during the event.




 In the afternoon we heard from others on Selma baseball history, the demise of the Southern Association and the 1894 Savannah Modocs team. Displayed at the event was a fantastic assortment of memorabilia pertaining to the subjects discussed as well as other rare Alabama-centric baseball stuff.
I brought my old Rebels stuff

It was a very fun and informative event, one I would encourage anyone interested in local baseball history to check out!


On a side note, Selma has a serious need for a baseball historian. The city has a long and fascinating history with the game, some excellent teams and interesting players as well as being a site of Major League teams spring training.

Selma has also hosted Major League exhibition games and other curious sporting events. Much of Selma's team history has been neglected so long, it is a challenge to research, but is also a mostly untapped area of exploration.

Hopefully, someone with a connection to the area takes it upon themselves to safeguard those valuable stories of the game in the Queen City.




Friday, February 24, 2017

Biscuits Get New Owner and Protective Nets



In a surprise move, the sale of the Montgomery team was announced Thursday, owner Sherry Meyers is in the process of handing over the franchise to a group headed by boxing promoter Lou DiBella. The sale is likely to be concluded in April.

April 1904 team sold
Asked for my opinion by several folks, I am hopeful the change in ownership will turn the team around.

Attendance has declined in recent years, 2017 was the worst season for seats in butts since the team arrived. To be sure there will be a period of adjustment, but we can expect to see many changes in and around the ballpark over the next season or two.

August 1938 team sold again
Surely the new brass will be looking out for the fans and doing everything it can to make Biscuit baseball the best brand in the market. And that is basically what fans want, so its likely that the change is a breath of fresh air for Skitz fans.


Teams change hands often, the Biscuits are pretty well entrenched in Montgomery and with the Rays, so it will interesting to see how the new owners try to bring fans back to the ballpark.


While I have not always been a huge fan of Sherry as an owner, I had warmed up a little to her running of the team in recent years if only because we knew what to expect.


1950 team bought by StL.
There have been things the Biscuits have been reluctant to do under the Sherry Meyers ownership that might be on the table now. Much more outfield signage, changes in concessions, even the naming rights for the ballpark are possible.

Sponsorship could be sold for foul balls or pitching changes, a practice seen in other minor league parks but looked down on by Biscuits front offices in the past.

Only one thing is for sure, the new owners will do what they can to bring fans in and make their own mark on the team.

April 1977 Rebels purchased


NEW NETS INSTALLED
The new protective nets have been installed, I took a quick pic when I was at the park this week. They look pretty good to me, not too obstructive to the view. There was fresh paint in several locations and it looks like the benches in the dugouts got a nice fresh stain job too, looking great for the new season!

Monday, February 20, 2017

Interview with Taylor Guerrieri, 150 Yrs of Baseball in Montgomery




In the spring 1867 Dr. A.T. Pearsall came to town and hung his shingle in front of a Court Square doctors office. A few short weeks later Montgomery had its first baseball team, with Doc Pearsall at first base.


And it is no coincidence, Pearsall brings a baseball pedigree rarely found on teams in the south. Although born in Florence, Alabama, our first baseman has grown up in New York state and is exposed to the early game of base ball.

During his college years was among the best players in the young game while with the Brooklyn Excelsiors of 1857-61. Serving for the Confederacy as a surgeon got him banned in Brooklyn but after the war he helped organize teams in Richmond before bringing the game of baseball to Montgomery.

That was exactly 150 years ago this May.

To honor this sesquicentennial, I am humbled to have been asked to offer a presentation on the fascinating Dr. Pearsall at the 14th Annual Southern Association Baseball Conference on March 4th, at historic Rickwood Field in Birmingham.


I am thrilled to help raise awareness about the start of the game in our area, few places are as fortunate as to be able to put a date and face to the genesis of baseball in their city. But that wasn't the only thing I wanted to do to mark the 150th year of baseball in Montgomery and the efforts Dr. Pearsall put forth to get the game going.


JACKRABBIT
Last summer I met a gentleman who inquired if I would have interest in an old style 19th century base ball club. You can guess my response!

He identified himself as Jackrabbit Panhorst, a vintage baseballist with previous game experience and a desire to extend his base ball resume'. I received his card and in January we reconvened to explore the concept further. We agreed it would be terrific fun to have a chance to play old style baseball. Even better that it was 150 years since Dr. Pearsall played first base for the first team in Montgomery.


About a fortnight ago I had the pleasure of sitting with Jackrabbit, Ryan the Needler and RavenChris to formally organize the Montgomery Base Ball Club. (nicknames are a requirement in old time base ball!) A more knowledgeable and capable group could not have been assembled for the task.


 The rules are simple in 1850-70's style, no gloves and a catch on one bound is an out. No sliding, no stealing, no swearing. Defenders play within two steps of their bases and pitchers throw underhanded.
It is base ball, much as it was in 1870 when Dr.Pearsall arrived in Montgomery. The pace of the game seems a little slower in some ways, as the individual players weave themselves into the tapestry of the unfolding scene.

The deliberate pace is not lacking in drama though, at any moment a well struck ball will rip across the field with the ensuing scramble bringing the etchings of the past into vivid motion.

Most of all, it is great fun. Its base ball just as it was intended it to be.


If you have an interest in playing, or even just watching, the team meets every other Wednesday at the WeeTop in Blount Park around 5pm.

We are accepting to all ages, races, genders and levels of ability. Our next meeting is on March 1st. Simply bring a love of old time base ball!


WHAT TO EXPECT
Women BaseBallists welcome
It stings the hands a little, when the ball strikes the bat. But its the comforting sting of the joyful past time, rewarded by the familiar glance to view the orb arcing across a clear sky. And then the most pleasant of efforts, running free across grassy fields in the sunlight.

Afield, grasping the sphere and hurling it as far as one can is a natural desire, a fulfillment found in the simple action much more than the result.

We are putting together uniforms, simple to make and designed in the style of the era. Each regular team member will wear a uniform at matches but not required for practices.

WHAT WE LEARNED
We have met twice so far and already we picked up a few things that the early teams and their organizers learned - it can be tough finding a place to play that allows beer.

It isnt likely we can use the field on Sundays.

Also, until we have multiple teams in the area, finding an opponent can be a challenge.
      
REBELS BERRY PASSED
Neil Berry
Former Montgomery Mgr Neil Berry died last August, he skippered the Rebels in 1958 in the Alabama/Florida League.

The Kalamazoo native was a MLB infielder for seven seasons and led the Rebels to a 65-61 record in the summer of 1958.




INTERVIEW WITH TAYLOR GUERRIERI


When I caught up with Taylor last week, he had already thrown three bullpen sessions and was feeling great about his progress in spring camp.

Taylor was very aware of the many pitchers vying for rotation spots in Tampa and Durham and felt there was a good chance he would start the season in Montgomery. He was kind enough to answer a few questions for me!

DrM: When you came to the Biscuits mid-season 2015, who told you that you were going to be a Biscuit and what was your reaction?
Taylor G: The high A manager. I was excited to move one step closer to the ultimate goal.

DrM: What were your impressions of the city before you got here and was Montgomery what you expected it to be?
Taylor G: Montgomery is a cool city. I've always enjoyed playing in the middle of downtown.

DrM: In your opinion, what is the biggest adjustment for a player coming from High-A Port Charlotte to Double-A Montgomery?
Taylor G: The consistency at the AA level is probably the biggest adjustment.

DrM: It looked to me like you were getting more ground balls last summer than in 2015, inducing weak contact for a career high in GIDP but also wild pitches. Was that by design or just how it turned out?
Taylor G: 2016 was a year of bad mechanics for me. Which ultimately lead to bad execution on my part on the mound.

DrM: I know you are a music fan, what are you listening to lately?
Taylor G: Currently listening to Washed Out radio on pandora. Indie rock vibes

DrM: You told me you shot an 82 at Chambers Bay in Washington, what other highlights did your offseason have?
Taylor G: The whole offseason seems like a blur sometimes, but spending time with my mom & dad was definitely the biggest highlight for me. Being so close to home, I know they really appreciate it, as do I.


DrM: Last year you threw almost 150 innings for the first time so far in your pro career. Did you do anything differently in your offseason program this winter after the extra work during the season?
Taylor G: Same training I've been doing now for the past 3 years. A lot of my success goes to Eric Cressey & Brian Kaplan at CSP, where I train.

DrM: Do you remember the first MLB game you attended? Also, who were your fave players when you were growing up?
Taylor G: Of course! Atlanta Braves @ Turner Field. I honestly never really had a favorite player.

DrM: Thanks so much Taylor, I really appreciate it and wish you absolutely the best this season!  


Wednesday, February 1, 2017

January Out, February In




NETS SOON
The rumors have been building for some while, now it appears the new nets will be added to Riverwalk in February, in plenty of time to protect fans behind the dugouts for the Capitol City Classic. They will likely extend across the length of both home and visitors dugouts.

OVER THE LINE
For more than a dozen years the Biscuits outfield went without the yellow line that marks the field of play across the outfield wall. It is a marking that is standard in just about every ballpark at every level, but Riverwalks lack of this line was finally addressed in 2016.
Outfield wall with railings but no yellow line, early April 2016
 The yellow line appeared to give umpires a better view to determine home run, but since the outfield wall is topped by railings that allow a ball to pass through, umpires still got it wrong at times.

Same section of fence visible, now with Yellow Line above railings by late April 2016
As strange as it may seem, agreeing on whether a ball went over the railings for a homer or through the railings for a ground-rule double has been a constant issue. Every season, multiple times. 

Every time it happens, or even appears to maybe could have happened, a manager comes onto the field to dispute the call.

Of course, this results in an umpire conference.



Umpire conferences always end up in an angry manager from one side or the other, often this leads to him venting his displeasure and of course, his subsequent ejection for such.

Its great entertainment but a dreadful delay during five or six games every summer.


 NEW NETTING IN OUTFIELD
The bigger news is that there will be other netting installed - across the outfield railings.

Hopefully by adding a row of chicken wire below the yellow line will keep balls in play inside the ballpark, making it easier for everyone to know what a home run looks like.



FORMER BISCUITS ON THE MOVE
Former Biscuit Todd Glaesmann signed with the Cubs. Still just 26 years old, the G-Man split time between double-A Mobile and triple-A Reno last summer. A former 3rd round choice by the Rays, Glaesmann appeared in 132 games for Montgomery in 2013.

Todd Glaesmann

Machi with SFG
Another ex-Skit, reliever Jean Machi signed with the Mariners after his tenure with the SF Giants was up. Machi was with the Biscuits back in 2005-06, logging 16 saves and a 2.64era.

Machi has gone on to carve out a successful MLB career after working his way through the Biscuits bullpen, earning a pair of World Series rings with the Gigantes. Hard work pays off, Jean Machi was 30 years old before he made his major league debut!


And then there is Richie Shaffer, former Biscuits corner infielder. He has made so many offseason stops he should trade in his cleats for roller skates. Where he ends up noone knows, but he has a great attitude about it!

UMP SHOW!
Ever wondered how much an umpire gets paid for his work at Biscuits games? Sure, we all have, some of these guys have major league potential while others seem to be straight outta the beer leagues. The best are the ones that don't get noticed!

A new agreement between baseball and the minor league umpires union sheds light on the situation of pay. With the new raise Single-A umps get a two thousand dollar monthly paycheck to start. At Double-A umpires get $2500 a month and Triple-A umpires receive $2900.

For an ump returning to the same level as last year, a raise of about a hundred bucks is standard but maxes out around five seasons. Each level offers a per diem, about $50 a day to eat on.

The new agreement no longer offers to supply uniforms for the officials, they will now be repaid for buying their own. As always the umpires are expect to start with perfection and get better as the game progresses!