The Mississippi Braves seem to have come of age as a franchise this season. In the Class AA club's third season in Pearl since moving from Greenville, S.C., the M-Braves won the Southern League South Division first-half championship, the team's first title in Mississippi.
On Monday, seven M-Braves players and manager Phillip Wellman will show off their talents to a hometown crowd as they host the Southern League All-Star Game at Trustmark Park in Pearl (7 p.m., CSS/930 AM).
The club is averaging 3,766 fans per game in the regular season, a respectable number that puts Mississippi right in the middle of Southern League attendance figures. That's 50 fans more per game than 2006, but M-Braves general manager Steve DeSalvo is expecting better numbers in the season's second half.
"I said all along that I wanted to see what winning in this market would do," DeSalvo told The Clarion-Ledger after the M-Braves clinched the first-half title. "I really think this will help. Our attendance is up and I expect our attendance to be up even more in the second half."
The All-Star game festivities won't hurt those attendance figures, either.
In addition to the Monday night exhibition, the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame & Museum will host a gala on Sunday from 5-7 p.m. The gala will be followed by a concert at the Ag Museum's Sparkman Auditorium. Tickets for that event are $50.
On Tuesday, an awards luncheon will be held starting at noon at Trustmark Park's restaurant. Tickets are $35.
A home run derby will precede the All-Star Game (tickets are $10 to $25). Fireworks will follow along with a postgame party that will cost attendees $40.
M-Braves manager Phillip Wellman, who leads the South squad, will have plenty of familiar faces in the dugout.
Second baseman Diory Hernandez, who was hitting .309 through Sunday, will be joined by outfielders Matt Esquivel (No. 2 in the SL in homers with 17 and RBIs with 58), Brandon Jones (11 homers, 54 RBIs) and Carl Loadenthal (.296 batting average).
Three M-Braves pitchers are on the team: Jose Ascanio (209), 2.96 ERA, Joey Devine (2-4, 2.12 ERA) and Matt Harrison (5-5, 3.44 ERA). Jo-Jo Reyes was also picked, but he won't play because he was promoted to Class AAA Richmond in June.
Wellman said his strategy for the game is simple.
"Honestly, you're not really there to manage the game," he told MLB.com. "I probably won't even have any signs. You sit there and enjoy it. It's a fun night.
"Let (the players) showcase their skills and abilities. That's why they call it an All-Star Game. Let them be stars."
For the best in sports, visit Doctor S' Amazing Sports Blog.