BILOXI -- Bids will be opened Wednesday for construction of the minor league baseball stadium in downtown Biloxi and over the next nine months, South Mississippi will be witness to the birth of the stadium and a team.
So much of the site work along U.S. 90 is being done underground that it may not look like much is happening, said Tim Bennett with Overtime Sports, and one of the team owners. The retaining wall for the grass berm is up, the elevation work is done and the water, sewer and fiber lines are being run.
Also under construction is the business structure of the baseball team that must come together long before the first pitch.
Bennett said team management is working on sponsorships and marketing packages for the video board, ticket backs, T-shirts and souvenir cups. More than 400 season tickets have been sold and the sky boxes are now on sale.
"We've had excellent response to that," Bennett said. The cost for a sky box is $35,000 for 16 tickets per game and four suite passes.
Nearly 40,000 votes were cast to name the team and during the next few months, the winner from six finalists must pass review by Major
League and Minor League Baseball and go through the trademark and logo process before it is announced to the public this fall.
The finalists are Beacon, Black Jacks, Mullets, Schooners, Shrimpers and Shuckers.
Anyone who doubts that the team can dream up a suitable mascot and a winning marketing campaign for any of these names hasn't witnessed the creative talent of Buck Rogers, the general manager of the Huntsville Stars, who will serve in the same capacity in Biloxi.
He shares the name of the fictional character synonymous with space exploration and some of his ideas are out of this world. When questioned how he could work with a team named the "Shuckers," Rogers immediately tossed out half a dozen crazy suggestions.
All about the fans
In Huntsville, the team set a world record for most first pitches before a game in 2008, when anyone who wanted to experience that honor was invited onto the field. It went on all night and by the time the game started, they logged 11,689 first pitches.
At the end of every game, kids are invited onto the field to run the bases. When a group of seniors asked if they could walk the bases, he invited them to get in line behind the kids.
"This is minor league baseball. This is what it's all about," he said. "You want everybody to have that experience."
Rogers has been in Biloxi selling season tickets and meeting the fans and is wowed by the reception from the people he meets and total strangers.
"This is Southern hospitality on steroids," he said, and it's unlike any place he's worked. His wife, Babs, is the assistant manager and her parents live in Gulfport.
As eager as South Mississippi is to get a team, the people in Huntsville, Ala., are dismayed to lose the ball club.
The new owners could have decided to finish out the last season without a thought to the fans.
"We didn't," said Rogers. They've given away replicas of Huntsville's Joe W. Davis Stadium as a game promotion and when it came time to nominate a person for the inaugural Southern League Hall of Fame, they could have gone with Mark McGwire or other major leaguers who played for the team. Instead they chose Rosemary Hovatter, who has worked in the team's office for 30 years. She went in on the same inaugural class as baseball greats Reggie Jackson, Bo Jackson and Ryan Sandberg, said Rogers.
"It was the only year or nothing," he said. Next year the team will be in Biloxi.
A hot ticket
Rogers already has great stories from Biloxi, like the call he took from a guy who was just offshore in a shrimping boat but couldn't leave to buy a season ticket because the fishing was good. Rogers texted him the Biloxi stadium's seating chart so he could chose his seats.
There are perks for season ticket holders, Rogers said. Teams in the Southern League vote each year to give season ticket holders free general admission to games at other league stadiums. It doesn't apply in Mobile and Pensacola, where the stadiums are so close. Season-ticket holders also get first chance for tickets to concerts and college events, he said.
Bennett said the stadium is already a hot ticket.
"We've had great interest from college teams that will play in the stadium," he said. The team is working with the governor's office to land Conference USA games long-term and has started working with several casinos on events that would go into the stadium, "including concerts, but not exclusive to concerts."