Thursday, December 31, 2015

Last of 15, Biscuit Voice Changes, Willie Mays Night

While no formal announcement has been made, I am confident in saying that one of the most noticeable changes with the Biscuits next year will be heard more than seen. Chris Adams-Wall will take over play by play announcing on the radio from Aaron Vargas.

What basis do I have?
Also that Aaron V's twitter profile no longer has anything related to Biscuits, but he does mention that he is engaged. Also, Aaron no longer appears on the Biscuits website. A sure sign of change.
So, hey, say "Hello!" to the new voice of the Skitz!

Just have a few notes to share before the calendar flips, but first I wanted to thank everyone for a fantastic 2015. It was a great season to watch Biscuit baseball as Montgomery made it back to the postseason for just the third  fourth time in the last 35 years or so. A lot of people helped out with the blog, supported and encouraged, answered questions, made it a lot of fun and didn't even once throw a punch at me. 

Thanks to you all, I know we are looking forward to 2016 being even better!

The Pensacola Wahoos announced their field staff, manager Pat Kelly returns to skipper the 'Cola's. Kelly is currently busy heading the Indios de Mayaguez to the Puerto Rican league playoffs.

Attending the pitching coach duties for P'cola will be Danny Darwin, the former bigleaguer known as "Dr.Death" is back in the SL after five seasons away. Darwin coached for the Suns and Lookouts previously, now he replaces Jeff Fassero who moves to a roving gig with the Reds.

As hitting coach the 'Hoos will employ Alex Pelaez for the third straight campaign.

Every January there is a high school coaches assoc dinner here in Montgomery, this year the keynote speaker will be Fred McGriff. Its a great event held at the RSA Activity Center and I suggest you look into attending!

Former Biscuit Alex Torres signed a minor league deal with the Braves.


Coming in 2016 the blog will introduce a handy new stat to rate Southern League teams at a glance, better coverage of the other TB Rays affiliates, LOTS more history, much deeper Biscuits team info, better quality original photos, rarer historic Montgomery adverts, better road coverage of the Biscuits, guest columns and lots more!

Such as:
Remember that time Willie Mays and Larry Doby played at Paterson Field in an MLB All Star Game?  It was Willie Mays Night at Paterson Field!

Monday, December 21, 2015

Dement Confirmed, Dothan-BayBears Marriage? Coaches Caravan

Some coaching assignments are being announced for other teams in the league, but no "official" word from the Rays about Montgomery's coaches yet.


For a few weeks now there have been rumors flying that former Biscuits player Dan Dement will take over the hitting coaches duties with Ozzie Timmons promoted to Durham.

Sources I have talked with confirm that the rumor is true, Dement will join the Skitz coaching staff, along with RC Lichtenstein, under manager Brady Williams.

Dan Dement attended the University of Alabama and was a member of the inaugural Biscuits squad in 2004. Dan hit .256 in 98 games that summer, swatting eight homers which was good for fourth among Montgomery sluggers that first season. Dement appeared at second base, third base and, more often, in the outfield.

MsBraves new MGR

Over in Mississippi, the Braves have brought Luis Salazar to skipper the team. Pitching coach Dennis Llewallyn returns along with Gary Ingram as hitting coach.

Salazar was hitting coach for the Suns in 2008 and Chattanooga in 2009, so he is no stranger to the Southern League.

Luis lost his left eye in 2011 when he was drilled by a foul ball but obviously has not let that slow him down at all. He most recently managed at Lynchburg for four seasons and will likely pass the 600 wins mark as a manager this year. 


The Smokies announced their new manager would be Mark Johnson, a former big league catcher with the WhiteSox, Cards and others. Johnson is a Georgia native and played in the Southern League as a minor leaguer in the 1990s, so it will be interesting to hear his take on how things have changed since his last look around the league.
Mark L. Johnson, catcher and big league brawler

For the Smokies, Desi Wilson returns as hitting instructor but a new pitching coach arrives in the form of Terry Clark. Clark spent six season in the majors, mostly as a reliever, with teams like Houston, Atlanta, the Orioles and Angels.

While it is likely Brady Williams returns to the helm of the Biscuits, a rematch between the Skitz skipper and Carlos Subero will have to wait. The Shuckers manager has been assigned to first base coaching duties at Milwaukee this summer.

Mobile is considering a new ballpark and a good play-by-play on the situation can be found in an article by Jon Sharp. It includes a ton of links to past articles on the Mobile baseball saga as well as current info, including that the Baybears finally made a $25K payment on their rent, for the first time in years.

2nd half Champion Biscuits celebrate at The Hank in Mobile
The article generated a ton of comments, but if you don't want to wade into the writing here is the jist:

Mobile owns the Hank and doesn't owe any debt on it.
The BayBears are signed at the Hank thru 2022.
The BayBears are signed with the Dbax thru 2016.
The Hank is the oldest park in the league and draws the fewest fans per game.
Mobile needs to put at least $100K into the field drainage now and will need to spend $1 million overall to get the park into shape.
New parks cost $20+ million, but the city will discuss a new park at an upcoming City Council meeting.

Its a bad situation and the city knows it. Without any guarantees past the 2016 season, look for the BayBears to bolt unless Mobile either puts up money to repair the Hank or agree to build a new park.


1951 Dothan Browns, AFL Champs
I made a contact last week that gave me info on the situation in Dothan. The city got good results from their feasibility study and now will look to drum up local support - including a corporate backer to share the cost of the new ballpark.

A Southern League team would "be a good fit" if a team becomes available my source told me. The only stumbling block at this point is getting the community on board with luring baseball to the wiregrass, a plan backed by the Dothan Chamber of Commerce.

From the looks of it, a Dothan-BayBears matchup is building momentum.

On July 16th of this coming year, Bill Plott will be speaking on the Negro Southern League at the Dept of Archives as a part of their "Food for Thought" lunchtime lecture program. Plott is perhaps the most knowledgeable source for Negro Southern League history anywhere.

You can be sure I am looking forward to this lecture, having heard him speak previously at the annual Southern Association history conference. Plott is a noted historian and author, as well as being a distinguished journalist - he was a sports writer for the Montgomery newspaper for much of the Rebels best years and can be found as author of many history related articles used as references in this blog.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Long Time No See, Bortnick in ABL, Skitz New Gigs

Yes, very little has happened.
Well, some things have happened but there have been big spaces between, so it seems that way.

Among the many player moves in recent weeks, the Rule 5 Draft could send Biscuits OF Tyler Goeddel to Cincinatti or elsewhere, where he must play at the major league level for all of 2016 or be sent back to the Rays.

Former Skitz landing jobs in new locations also include Cole Figueroa, Hak Ju Lee, Matt Lollis, Reifenhauser and some guy named David Price.


The Wahoos have rented their park to a football team in the offseason and a by product is that the fences have been moved. After re-naming the ballpark from Pensacola BayFront Stadium to Blue Wahoos Stadium, they named the playing surface separately as Fetterman Field. Now we learn the left field fence have been shoved nearly 20 feet farther from home plate.

At a whopping 342 feet down the left field line, it will put a serious damper on right handed pull hitters ability to send home runs over the wall. Pensacola just became a pitchers park!

The footprint of the league may be in flux over the next couple seasons. Here is a look at the cities who want in (and out) of the league.

Dothan wants MiLB and have begun their study on bringing a team.

New Orleans is rumored to be on the way back to the Southern League.

Macon Ga wants back in baseball and has begun to survey what they can do to lure a team. They have signed checks to do the survey and local fans seem as though they would support a team if the right affiliation was made. They miss their Braves.

Jackson Ms wants a team and has hired the crew who brought Biloxi a team to help them. Somehow the city doesn't think the Ms.Braves are local enough to Jackson? Maybe they know something we dont?

Huntsville has some city leaders who would like a team, but residents are mostly opposed. Efforts to get MiLB back would not pass a vote, yet they have a vocal supporter in newspaper writer Mark McCarter. The media man has been outspoken about the towns need for baseball and at times been downright overbearing about its place in league history. The Rocket City may get another team, but it will not be soon. 

Jacksonville is on the way to triple-A now that the Bragan family isn't there to keep it from happening. The Marlins would probably love to have their triple-A team closer to home.

Jackson Tn barely supports its team and the Mariners would probably not mind moving to new digs. The current agreement between the two was last minute and not cheerfully reached. A marriage of convenience or necessity more than true love.

Mobile is hemmed in by new parks and in need of serious ballpark upgrade. The City and Baybears ownership has feuded in the past and may not be getting along now - for fans its obvious the writing is on the wall for "The Hank". Perhaps a pennant contending team would stave off the move, but fans of the longtime SL club must be waiting for the axe to drop.

With so many teams in the gray area, I was eager as the Southern League tweeted its "Big News Announcement", however it turned out to be just a change in logo. Come on, SL office, a new logo is NOT a big deal. Duh.

I still say "Devil Rays" too

Former Biscuit infielder and blog fave Tyler Bortnick appears on the ABL rosters again this winter. He was with the Jackson Generals in the second half of the 2015 season and made a return to Riverwalk in August.

I had a chance at that time to speak with Tyler about Australia and the baseball experience there.

Like most players who I have talked with about the Australian Baseball league, Borty was all smiles about it. He said the game wasn't as popular there as other sports but that the fans were eager and really got into the game. He told me the parks were smaller, on par with the average college fields here, but that they were well maintained and that the game seemed to be growing in popularity there.

Tyler said he was always interested in international competition, he particuarly enjoyed the chance to experience life in a distant country. Even better was not having to speak another language.

The odd part was not seeing winter, ever. When we spoke in August, he had been having summer for just about 18 months. Now he will bypass most of another winter. However he said that, being from Ohio, not having snow to shovel didn't hurt his feelings at all.

Tyler was intrigued when I told him that there were rules changes that would allow ABL teams to carry more than four foreign players.

Returning players won't be counted against the total, but it may require a third season before kicking in and the now free-agent Bortnick is there for just his second. I believe that means next winter he could play there and be rostered without counting against other Americans, which would be attractive to Australian teams that want a veteran 2b without giving up a roster spot to a younger affiliated prospect.

In 2015 the Gens relied on the power of prayer
I am glad to see Bortnick back in a good situation - his tenure with the Generals seemed an odd mix. The Gens were so bad last summer, even their own manager quit the team midseason. By the time Borty arrived the club was playing out the string, a very long string.

In that series, Tyler Bortnick appeared to us to be the only guy on the Generals showing up at gametime, he had such a great series at Riverwalk he won Southern League Player of the Week. The next day he was handed his release.

It was obvious he was making the other guys look bad.

Former BayBears skipper Andy Green was hired to manage the Dbax. So not only players are prospects, you could be seeing the next manager of your fave MLB team!

Teams are announcing their coaching assignments, though the Rays always wait until ten minutes before spring camp starts to let us know who they will send here.

Chattanooga will retain its manager, Doug Mientkiewicz but get new coaches in Tommy Watkins (hitting) and Ivan Arteaga (pitching).
Watkins is a former bigleaguer with the Twins and, more recently, the subject of the "Tom Watkins Bobble-Butt" giveaway in 2003. Yes, I would not make that up, even though I have suggested BobbleButts for Biscuit SGAs in the past.

In Jackson Tn the Generals have a new field commander as Daren Brown takes the helm. He will try to make it thru the entire season, last year the Gens made a midseason switch when hitting coach Roy Howell took over the team around the allstar break.

Howell will return to his duties as hitting coach and pitching instruction will be handled by Andrew Lorraine. Lorraine played for seven MLB teams including the Cubs and Sox, also spending a season pitching in Taiwan.