Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Biscuits Are All Smiles

The rumor is that the current homestand is the last one under the original ownership - new owners will be at the helm when the Biscuits return to Riverwalk in May.

Even his mom calls him Squid, you can be sure he has little trouble picking out his bat from the Biscuits dugout bat rack.

Gary Redus has been encouraging Justin Williams to hit the ball back up the middle of the field. Its working, Jay-Dub has seen his average jump from .250 to .315 in the last ten days and is all smiles about it!

Relief pitcher Fernando Baez has been sick with the flu, Brady Williams tells me he should be getting back into games during the current homestand.

The Biscuits were rained out at Jackson last week, the game will be made up at Riverwalk when the Generals show up in a few weeks.  This will give the Biscuits 71 regular season home games for the second year in a row.

Oddly, the same two teams were rained out last year at Jackson and the game was made up here. The Biscuits won the first of the six game set, then lost five in a row to the Generals who went on to win the Southern League.

Goetzman, Gotta, Honeywell, Winkler, Fierro have all packed off to Durham but the Biscuits just refuse to let anything slow them down. New arrivals have taken hold and will force decisions when the wounded return to the ranks at the higher levels. For example, how can you send down Nathan Lukes when he is batting .429?

Joe McCarthy welcomes new reliever Tyler Brashears to the Biscuits

How excited was Brady Williams to add a bona-fide power hitter to his batting order when rehabbing Colby Rasmus was sent to the Biscuits?

In one at bat, Rasmus crushed a pitch to centerfield that didn't come back. Rasmus was sure it was a homer but the umps ruled it a ground rule double when the ball was found stuck between the boards.

Braves pitcher Weigel gave him the stinkeye for running the bases and sitting in the dugout before coming back to second base!

He still scored.

The mayor reportedly checked out the street work at the ballpark and gave crews a deadline to finish the work - expect it to be done by the end of the month. However from the looks of it, they have made a bad spot worse by narrowing the street and threatening two way traffic.


Friday, April 21, 2017

Biscuits Gots Numbers

Its been a Jekyll and Hyde plot in the first month for the Biscuits. Surviving the 8th inning has proved to be more difficult than any other frame, but the Skitz are also likely to post a crooked number during that inning themselves.

Of course the only number that matters is the win column, Montgomery having gotten off to a fast start in that important category over the first three weeks of play.

Oh hey, we get an MLB rehabber. Rasmus will come down for the weekend and resume his rehab. Colby had a setback earlier this month, but CBS sports reports that the Russell county native will appear for the Biscuits in hopes of a return to Tampa at the end of next week.

Someone should be sure to let him know that its a clubhouse tradition for major league guys to buy the minor league guys dinner while he is rehabbing!

Saturdays game will be the annual WSFA broadcast, as well as the usual MiLB.tv viewing. Timed well for Rasmus rehab appearance but badly for possible rain showers, local fans always enjoy seeing the team on local tv and would love to see it happen more than just once a year.

Nick Ciuffo
Nick Ciuffo rode a hit streak to twelve games before the skein was snapped, boosting his average over .300 and ranking him among the top hitters in the Rays organization this month.

His seven doubles lead the Biscuits team. Not bad for a self professed "defense first" guy, as noted by one twitter comment!

Nathan Lukes
Perhaps the hottest hitter on the squad, in the Rays system and maybe this entire hemisphere has been Nathan Lukes over the past week.

In five games for the Biscuits he has nine base hits, including a pair of doubles and sports a white-hot .500 batting average.

Just as important as his hits, Lukes has shown excellent plate discipline, taking four bases on balls in his five appearances. His BaBIP of .636 implies what we already know, its a pace he likely can't maintain but few if any players make such a splash on arrival to Montgomery.

Lukes is a lefty hitter, righty thrower from Portland, Oregon. He was taken by the Indians in the 7th round of 2015 out of Sacramento State. As a walk on player, he went on to lead the team in average and RBI's before signing with Cleveland.

Scouts like his defensive skills and say he is really tough to strike out. He was one of two players the Rays acquired for Brandon Guyer.

Riley Unroe
Swinging a red hot bat is Riley Unroe, who didn't get the memo that the Southern League is known as "pitcher friendly". Opposing hurlers have yet to slow the speedy second sacker, batting around .350 and able to leg out infield hits or take extra bases as needed.

With a base knock on Thursday Riley pushed his hit streak up to eleven games. Which is at least one hit in each game he has played this year.

Yonny Chirinos
Pitching efficiently is Yonny Chirinos specialty, averaging just over 11 pitches per inning, tops among Montgomery moundsmen so far this year. Getting four grounders for every fly ball, Chirinos lets his defenders handle the heavy lifting.

Obviously this means Chirinos success lives and dies by defensive positioning from his coaching staff, who try to read the opposing hitter and determine where to best set up the infielders.

Yonny is really good at getting lefties to ground out to second base when he needs an out.

Rhp Baez
Fernando Baez has only pitched in one game this year.

On April 8th, game three of the opening series, Baez came into a tie game in the 8th inning and returned to pitch the ninth. He walked a man, struck out five but threw a ball away on a pickoff and then gave up a double that was the difference in the ball game.

Baez hasn't toed the rubber in a game since. One wouldn't think a reliever would be in the managers doghouse for so long, but if he is hurt why hasn't he hit the DL after a couple weeks?

Wow, the Biscuits needed this guy.
Pitching at low-A Bowling Green last year the young hurler made only two starts at Charlotte before getting the call to step into the Biscuits rotation. He's just twenty but seems to have handled his first start with ease, pitching into the sixth inning allowing just a pair of runs on 94 offerings.

Ranked 19th among Rays prospects after his stellar 2013 season in rookie ball, Mujica made just two starts in '14 - I'm guessing due to injury. Returning in '15 he posted stats similar to his previous numbers, last year he extended his innings pitched to over 130 for the first time. He won't overpower hitters, but won't walk them either which should provide pitching coach RC Lichtenstein one less headache each week.

And when he makes his Riverwalk debut I will get a photo for us to use!

Could we see fan favorite Willy Adames return to Montgomery?
Willy Adames
 The 21 year old prospect shortstop is batting a paltry .163 through 50 at bats in Durham this season. With twice as many strikeouts as hits and leading all Rays minor leaguers in stranding runners on base, the scuffling Adames will have to figure out triple-A pitchers or risk being sent back to the Biscuits for more seasoning.

Born on April 22nd of 1839, Saturday marks the birthday of Alec Pearsall, the man who brought baseball to Montgomery exactly 150 years ago.

I lobbied the Skitz hard to let me write a story for the magazine based on my research for the Rickwood SABR folks. However it was shot down, in part due to the length it takes to cover the first baseman's story.

From premier ballplayer to Confederate doctor to pioneering the game in southern cities, the former Brooklyn Excelsior Pearsall's life is one of intrigue and wartime espionage. Banned from baseball for supporting the South by saving lives, redeemed through his efforts to spread the game and finally enjoying a serene life as a small town doctor, Pearsall should be recognized for his efforts and I hope more folks learn about how he taught a reconstruction era Montgomery to play ball.

We have been organizing an 1860s era ball club, we will meet alternate wednesdays and occasional saturdays at WeeTop on the Shakespeare Festival Grounds at Blount Park to play the game the way Pearsall first taught it when he arrived in 1867. Feel free to come out and play sometime!

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Brady Ball, NSLM

Much has happened over the past week or so, perhaps the biggest was the promotion of Brent Honeywell to Durham. He had obviously proven himself in double-A but was squeezed by a large contingent of capable arms ahead of him. A couple injuries opened the door for the Biscuits top prospect to move up and its safe to say he won't be back.

That leaves a huge hole in a rotation that was already relying on Mike Franco to carry the ball into the middle innings as a starter. So far he has been excellent but will reach his innings limit mid-season as a starting pitcher.

Rhp Greg Harris
The rotation of Wood, Harris, Chirinos and Franco has also been excellent but needs a fifth name to fill out a series. Brad Schreiber made one spot start, but it is not known if he will continue to start games.

Adding to the Biscuits concerns is the loss of outfielders Cade Gotta and Granden Goetzman to Durham, though one or both may return.

Or they may not, Gotta has been playing often in Durham, getting hits as well as swiping three bags in five games. Goetz has a stolen base and has driven in a few runs in just two game appearances for the Bulls.

But the Biscuits don't worry much about any of that. All they do is win in spite of losing their prospect starting pitcher and both corner outfield starters. Montgomery took the series from the Barons and moved on to first place Jackson with the same results thru the first two contests.

Playing BradyBall the last few years has gotten the Biscuits into consecutive postseasons. This spring the team looks to be a more complete, if untested, unit. It can be easy to point out what the Montgomery team doesn't have, but what it does have is the ability to win games.

Michael Russell
Fewer prospects means the manager can play his guys to win, not just to test out how a player handles adversity for a front office report. Without a big power guy, Brady can flash a steal sign without taking the bat out of the hands of an on-deck hitter.

Bunting, steals, hit and run, run and hit, doing the right things on the base-paths to win ballgames is what Brady has been all about. It really isn't just small ball, but BradyBall for sure.

In Bham last week I was greeted at the game by someone who reads the blog. And he had some awesome Biscuits swag - I saw a pic of his satin jacket with Biscuits logo that he had special-made. So cool, it really popped with color!

I should have asked him to send me a pic and so I am gonna put it out there, if anyone has cool Skitz gear, feel free to send a pic and show it off here!

Ever since our first season Biscuits fans have been outspoken about their fandom, wearing the team colors and sporting Monty the Biscuit has been a source of pride far and near.

Back in April 2004 when the team played its first game this fan, Gabe, had his custom jersey made. I saw him at the Capitol City Classic and grabbed him for a pic of his trend-setting shirt!

I had the pleasure of spending Jackie Robinson Day in Birmingham and got to venture into the Negro Southern League Museum.

It was a busy day there, but it was a very nice experience and they had a ton of great memorabilia and historic commemorative items.

There were guys out front signing giveaway posters, former players of the Bham Industrial League.

The wall of signed baseballs lines the first hallway, giving a look at just a small portion of the players who played the game in the shadow of segregation. Famous names, not famous, new and old, too many to count.

Small enough to be cozy but big enough to not feel cramped, it was a great atmosphere and they took great care in presenting the history of the NSL and Birmingham's baseball heritage.

Some of my fave displays there included old uniforms and equipment, some dating to the 1800s. Obviously some of my favorite things, a worthwhile way to spend an afternoon if you are a fan of antique sports related items, such as this Birmingham Unions jersey.

Several cities were represented from the old NSL, but they are mostly teams in places familiar to area fans. This Huntsville jersey was a classic.

Another, this a Memphis Blue Sox uniform, complete with stirrups and cleats!

Satchel Paige features prominently among the NSLM displays.

The interactive hologram of Satch throwing pitches to you is life size and also real speed. You stand at home plate and choose one of Paige's four offerings, then watch as the hologram winds and throws a ball. A lighted path along the floor shows you how fast the pitch gets to home plate, and kids can spend all day learning to hit the Fadeaway or the Hesitation pitch.

I loved the display of the Satchel Paige All Stars uniform
from his infamous barnstorming days opposing major leaguers like Bob Feller.

Much can be found to enjoy and appreciate at the Negro Southern League Museum, but I did see one omission - Montgomery was not represented.

A design on the floor showed the cities involved in the NSL, but the collection is decidedly Birmingham-centric. Hopefully they branch out to include more of the other cities in the near future!



APRIL 20 1893 
Joe McGinnity is signed to play for the Montgomery Colts by John McCloskey & makes his first start, beating Nashville 10-4 the future Hall of Famer held the opposition to just five hits, literally on the day he stepped off the train in Montgomery.

The man who would later be known as "Iron Man" McGinnity would win his first fifteen professional games in Montgomery, en route to 485 career victories between the majors and minors over twenty-six seasons.

The manager of the 1893 Montgomery club was another Hall of Famer, Fred Clarke, marking the only time Montgomery had two future Hall of Famers on the roster at the same time.

Joe McGinnity was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1946.

APRIL 20 1908 
Nashville and Montgomery battle for 15 innings without a run before darkness ends the contest.

APRIL 20 1920 
"Negro Southern League is Formed - Montgomery Team Will Play Exhibition Game With Crack Indianapolis Club -

The local negro baseball team known as the Grex Sox will open the Negro Southern League season in Montgomery on Friday, April 30, May 1 and 2 with the Birmingham Giants.

The league is composed of eight clubs, Knoxville, Atlanta, Birmingham, Montgomery, Pensacola, New Orleans, and Jacksonville. The opening dates are Birmingham at Montgomery, New Orleans at Pensacola, Knoxville at Nashville, Jacksonville at Atlanta.

President Staples of the local club has gathered together one of the strongest aggregations of ball tossers in the South, having returned from a scouting trip Wednesday with three new pitchers. He assures the public of clean baseball and is out for the first pennant of the new league. No games will be played in any town when a Southern League team is playing.
1920 Montgomery Grey Sox
 On Tuesday, April 20, the Grey Sox will entertain the strong A.B.C. club of Indianapolis, Indiana, the strongest negro club in the country. The game will give the local fans an opportunity of seeing just what kind of club the Grey Sox will be.

The game will be played in Southside Park on South Holt street, just one half block from the car line. The new park has a special grand stand for white patrons."

Former site of Southside Park, bounded by Holt, Travis and Mill streets

Friday, April 14, 2017

Elite Giants vs Black Yankees at Cramton Bowl, Correct Me

Cade Gotta was promoted to Durham, with Granden Goetzman right behind him. However I suspect one or both may be back as the parent club juggles early lineups at several levels to accommodate the returns of Mallix Smith and Cory Rasmus.


Kyle Winkler wears #8
Last blog I mentioned the unique situation of having multiple pitchers wearing single digit uniform numbers, but I failed to note Kyle Winkler wearing #8. That makes three hurlers with single digit unis, so weird!

I also recently said that the street parking in front of the ballpark wouldn't be slanted, obviously I was wrong about that too. Last time I looked there were holes ready to hold parking meters that would serve slanted parking.

Lines painted for the parking spots also leads me to wonder how they will ever make the street a two-way traffic area. You can't slant the parking spaces against the grain of traffic, so unless they plan on painting new lines we can expect the road to stay one way for a while.

Tallapoosa Street, before the work

The hot dog stand with the specialty dogs didn't return for a third season, the former Franx counter is now just a standard concession stand. The fans decided pretzel buns covered in mac-n-cheese just wasn't something that "worx".

There are a ton of historic contests played in Montgomery around this time of year, in 1948 the Phils trounced the Washington Senators 9-1 at Cramton Bowl, for example.

However, with Jackie Robinson Day upon us, I thought I would mention one of the coolest exhibition games in our cities baseball history.

APRIL16 1944 
NY Black Yankees vs Baltimore Elite Giants in an exhibition game at Montgomery.

The Elite Giants, pronounced "EE-Light", started as the Nashville Giants and were well known to Montgomery fans with a rivalry dating to the 1920s when the Gray Sox would challenge the Giants for pennants in the NSL.

By the time WW2 breaks out the Giants had relocated to Baltimore and enjoyed much success, winning a championship there in 1939.

Much of the Elite Giants success was due to its star catcher, future Hall of Famer Roy Campanella. The Giants are indeed "Ee-light", at the time of the exhibition they are one of the premier teams in baseball - they just happen to be doing it in the Negro Leagues.

Former Montgomery Gray Sox star George Scales was also on the '44 Giants roster, perhaps one reason behind the exhibition. Scales is from the Talladega area and is on the tail end of his 25 year baseball playing career.

The Elite Giants hold their 1944 spring training in Arkansas and had few problems with coming to Montgomery for one in a series of premier matchups against a league rival.

Across the diamond are the New York Black Yankees, who also have an Alabama connection.

New York Black Yankees ca.1942
Yankees infielder Artie Wilson, a future major leaguer, is from Jefferson County and would be sold by the Black Yanks to the Bham Black Barons later in that same summer of 1944.

Artie Wilson
With the Barons Artie becomes an All Star, the best shortstop in the Negro Southern League. He would later mentor a young rookie named Willie Mays and much later would be Billy Martin's roommate in the Pacific Coast League.

The game is held at Cramton Bowl and is well attended by patrons of all ages, races and genders. Baseball games are wildly popular in Montgomery during the war years, since travel is restricted the exhibition offers fans a chance to see a big game between two teams they would otherwise only read about weeks after the event.

Cramton Bowl baseball game, huge crowd!

While I don't have a summary of that game to share (yet!) we get a great idea about the atmosphere during a game at Cramton from an article written just three years previous about a Southeastern League about a regular season game between Montgomery and Anniston.