It was fun while it lasted. Metro Jackson had two professional baseball teams in 2005, the Jackson Senators and the Mississippi Braves. Only the M-Braves are back this season. Sure, it was a triumph of Time Warner over a group of local owners. It was also the inevitable victory of a better brand of baseball played at a shiny new suburban park.
The M-Braves brought Class AA baseball back to Mississippi after a five-year absence. The team drew an average of 3,847 per game to the T-P in Pearl. The M-Braves might have topped 4,000 if Hurricane Katrina hadn't wiped out their final home stand of the season.
The novelty factor of a new team in a new park wasn't the only thing the M-Braves had going for them. The Atlanta Braves are Mississippi's favorite MLB team. Just as important, several players jumped straight from Pearl to the big club in Atlanta. Three—outfielder John Francoeur, catcher Brian McCann and pitcher Blaine Boyer—played major roles in the Braves' drive to a 14th consecutive division title.
The M-Braves open this season with a 10-game home stand, starting with Huntsville on Thursday at 7 p.m. The games will again be broadcast on 930 AM.
The M-Braves will be managed by Jeff Blauser, a former All-Star shortstop for Atlanta. It will be his first managerial job.
Twelve of the 24 players on the roster played in Pearl in 2005. The team will be led by two of the Braves' top prospects, catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia and shortstop Yunel Escobar. Also returning is Mike Rosamond, a Madison Central High and Ole Miss player.
One To Watch
Third baseman Van Pope, The Clarion-Ledger's Mr. Baseball in 2002, could be making a homecoming before the season is over. Pope, a Terry native, spent much of spring training with the M-Braves, but he's going to start the season with the high Class A team in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
Pope told The Clarion-Ledger that his goal is to "be in Jackson (actually, Pearl) by June or July. My goal is Atlanta, but Jackson would sure be a nice stop."
A Familiar Name
Veteran catcher Eddie Perez is going to start his season in Pearl. Perez, who had surgery on his right shoulder in October, is going to play catcher and first base for a month, then decide whether he'll continue.
"One more month, it's that simple," Perez told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "In one month, if I feel good, I'm going to play. If I don't, I'm going to coach."
Atlanta has already told Perez that there's a coaching job waiting for him.
Meanwhile, Perez, 37, is going to do a little coaching while he's in Pearl. Perez and Blauser were teammates with the Braves in the 1990s.
"They have a lot of Spanish-speaking kids (on the M-Braves)," said Perez, who's a native of Venezuela and bilingual.
See the full Braves schedule on the SportsBlog at http://www.jacksonfreepress.com
Wouldn't have been nice to have the Trustmark Park in the middle of downtown like the minor league park in Memphis? Is it true that Mayor Johnson blew this deal?
A downtown park would have been a good enticement for further development. I don't know the details of the situation, so I can't answer your question.
I recently asked somebody from Bloomfield about this and the person said they wanted to be downtown but the city didn't cooperate. Pearl jumped on it and landed it.
I don't know any specifics about it, but MHJ was all about downtown development and it's hard to believe he'd turn a deaf ear to these people without reason. I think I read that the association with Tim Bennett, owner of the disastrous Diamondkats, had something to do with the administration's skepticism of this.
Whatever the reason for it, the ball was in Jackson's court and they blew it. It would've been great to have it downtown, but downtown is certainly flourishing even without it.
It is a pity that Jackson didn't have the vision to put together a new downtown park like the one that opened in Memphis is 1999, AutoZone Park. That was (and might still be) ranked as the No. 1 park in the minor leagues. And it's credited with helping boost downtown Memphis' economy. Harvey Johnson wasn't the first mayor who blew it where baseball in Jackson is concerned. If the city had overhauled Smith-Wills 20 years ago, the Mets might still be here.
- Dr. S
For the record, I don't think that this development was shunned by MHJ and Co. because of a lack of vision. I think it was a lack of trust in one of the major players. Yes, they blew it. But, I don't think they thought that the project was legit.
True enough about the Mets, etc., though. The City Council was responsible for not passing the renovations, if I remember correctly.
I do think that landing a Braves farm team was about as big of a coup as could be expected. Especially after the loss of two minor league teams in 10 years. The Braves are immensely popular in this area, and the south in general. The Mets? Besides the nostalgic JaxMets fans, there probabaly isn't much comparison.