Many years ago some area baseball fans engaged in wishful thinking about having a professional baseball team on the Mississippi Coast. It was wishful thinking. Then Mr. Barry Lyons, having retired from professional baseball, began talking around as if the idea could become more than just wishful thinking. Some brushed Barry’s notion off as nothing more than an exuberant phantasm from one very avid baseball fan. I remember one day during a Biloxi High School baseball game in the mid-90s Barry asked me my opinion about bringing minor league baseball to Biloxi. I told him it would be nice but I wasn’t sure there were enough true fans around to really support it and that there were way too many things that would have to happen in order for it to come to fruition, and that the idea seemed to be a near impossibility. At the time, this was also the prevailing sentiment among baseball aficionados. Barry shared that he thought it could be done. But as the years went by nothing substantive ever came of the notion.
Then, like many things throughout history, the stars slowly lined up and the right movers and shakers began to emerge and drift into place and then the bigger things like the local economy, politics, and money began to mix and move in the right direction and the next thing you know we began hearing rumors about looking for a viable site to host a team in the event a minor league team ever decided to move.
Then comes one Mr. Tim Bennett, with a skill set extraordinaire required for this near impossible notion, and with a vision and definitive plan he proceeded to orchestrate and mediate the various personalities, local and state politicians, money-makers, and people in the baseball business and the next thing you know, after almost a decade, we get a site, we get the money, we get an interested team, and voila -- the near impossible becomes a reality in the form of our Biloxi Shuckers.
I’ve shared with friends in years past, baby boomer that I am, that we probably would never see professional baseball in Biloxi during our lifetime. But I had the good fortune the other night to attend my first Shuckers game with my brother Tony and as veteran fans of baseball I must say our experience was beyond our expectations. For all baseball fans who enjoy viewing the game, it is indeed a fan-viewing perfect field. There’s really not a bad seat in the house. We happened to be sitting behind the dugout and for fans sitting in seats along the baselines there’s no annoying net to obstruct one’s view of the game which I find the most appealing feature of this park. Very very nice. We drank a couple of beers, ate some peanuts, and met some nice people sitting nearby. I also tried an oyster poboy and Barq’s root beer, something I‘m almost sure you won‘t find at any other ballpark, maybe even around country. The concourse wrapping above the seating area is so convenient and makes for easy access to concessions without ever missing a play. The experience is really unique.
Notwithstanding the movers and shakers, perhaps none of this would have happened without the combined occurrence five years ago of an environmental disaster (BP oil spill; $15 mill.) and a weakened economy in Huntsville that nudged the previous owner’s decision to sell/move the team to Biloxi (them “Stars” realigning). I suppose though one could point to one of any several individuals as being the most instrumental in bringing the Shuckers to the Coast. But it’s interesting how Fate has a way of shining light on the difference in harboring the notion of “wanting” something with actively achieving or “getting done” what it is you want. There is for sure a threshold across which one, or someone, must cross to bring the idea to reality. But in my opinion Mr. Tim Bennett seems to stand out foremost as one by whom and on whom the entire project progressed. So as a baseball fan of many years who’s waited long and hard for this day, to him specifically, in addition to the others, I send my thanks.
And it’s also to the credit of all the optimists, promoters, movers and shakers that this undertaking rose above all the naysayers, whiners, and complainers who said this project couldn’t be done or shouldn’t be done. Because this has really really turned out to be a beautiful thing.
I don’t know Mr. Bennett personally but in light of Mayor Gilich’s vision now of creating a Beale Street-model tourism destination centered around the new MGM Park, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say Mr. Bennett may go down locally as one of the more influential businessmen to have come to town in many years. The effect the casinos have had on our local economy is difficult to surpass but this professional baseball team, the stadium, and hopefully its outgrowth on Mayor Gilich’s new vision may just rival it.
There’s hardly anything I can think of as a baseball fan that would make the game experience of a Biloxi Shuckers game any better. But if someone pressed me to nitpick it would probably be to get sunflower seeds in the park and to press them poboys. But really -- as it is, it’s the perfect family entertainment, in a perfect ball park, for the perfect sport, for the best community around.
See you at the next game!