In 2013, the rumors around Minor League Baseball, especially more North Alabama, were that the Huntsville Stars were being sold and the team was being moved to Biloxi, MS. Fast forward a few months, it went from rumors to a quick deal, before being signed off on by Minor League and Major League Baseball in January 2014.
The team, the Double-A affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers, would go from being known as the Huntsville Stars, to the Biloxi Shuckers. The first pitch scheduled to be thrown in the state-of-the-art, beautiful stadium, known as MGM Park, was set for April 20th against the Jacksonville Suns.
Unfortunately, that’s where the good news temporarily stops. The April 20th home opening series now has been shifted to Jacksonville, where the Shuckers will serve as the home team, as MGM Park construction will now not be completed in time for the start of the 2015 season. The original lease back in Huntsville had one more year on it, and at this time, the Shuckers are now looking at playing at least 15 games back in Huntsville, but facing a strong possibility of playing deep into the season back in their old stomping grounds.
According to Mark McCarter of Al.com, the Shuckers will host Mobile in Huntsville beginning April 30th for a four game series, before returning May 16-25 to face Jacksonville and Birmingham. It is also reported that MGM Park will not be able to issued a certificate of occupancy until June, and that would be the earliest the team could begin playing games in Biloxi if construction schedules stay on track.
Another issue the Shuckers face, as it was reported by Mary Perez of the Sun Herald, is the city will have to pay $10,000 for every home game the team cannot play at MGM Park, or pay $ 1 million to get it ready by opening day. City Attorney, Gina Tompkins told the city council at this weeks meeting, “we don’t have $ 1 million dollars.” Tompkins went on to say ” Even if the city manages to come up with the money, the stadium still won’t completely be done in time. The first impression people would have is a construction site.”
Earlier this week I spoke with Chris Harris who is the Director of Media Relations and Broadcasting for the Shuckers. “August 4th 2014” was the start date of construction on MGM Park Harris stated, and “August 4th, 2015” was the scheduled construction completion date.
I asked Mr. Harris: Cosmetically speaking, since it was expected to sit idle this year, is their anything that would need to be done to the stadium to get it ready?
” We kept an employee in Huntsville during the off-season who over-seeded and top-dressed the field, pressure-washed the facility, etc., to make sure that we’re ready to go if we have to play any games in Huntsville. This was the backup plan all along as we held the lease in Huntsville for the 2015 season. If we weren’t going to play any games there, we still had to maintain it as we committed to helping the University of Alabama host a game there vs Mercer College.”
How would the day-to-day operations type jobs be handled in Huntsville during the duration, such as the ticket office, grounds crew, and front office?
” We would take a minimum amount of full-time front office employees up to Huntsville and then utilize our game day staff from previous seasons. We would supplement the staff with employees from a temp agency.”
Finally I asked: Will the Shuckers organization plan to do anything special for the folks in Huntsville by way of special ticket prices or promotions to get folks to attend?
“Reduced ticket prices. Also, we will be working with local non-for-profit organizations to implement fundraisers there to help their cause, e.g., Alzheimer’s Association.”
According to Minor League rules, regardless of how many games the Shuckers play back in Huntsville, they officially belong to Biloxi, and must wear the Shuckers uniform, and on the scoreboard, it will reflect the Shuckers.
When completed, the $36 million, 6,000 seat MGM Park will be a gem on the beautiful Gulf Coast. One of the premier stadiums across all of the Minor Leagues. And for the Shuckers fans, players and organization, I hope the completion date comes much sooner than August 4th, 2015.