Biloxi Shuckers

Brewers' visit Saturday will mark historic day of baseball in South Mississippi

Former Moss Point standout Claude Passeau pitched for the Philadelphia Phillies when they held their 1938 spring training in Biloxi.
Former Moss Point standout Claude Passeau pitched for the Philadelphia Phillies when they held their 1938 spring training in Biloxi.

Saturday exhibition won't be the first time active Major League ball players have graced South Mississippi -- but it'll mark the first time in a very long time.

Way before any of the Biloxi Shuckers or Milwaukee Brewers learned to swing a baseball bat or spin a curveball, the Gulf Coast was a hot spot for professional baseball teams to train.

From as early as 1913, stars like Ty Cobb and the Detroit Tigers trained at the Gulfport Fairgrounds. The Washington Senators trained at Biloxi Stadium -- on the site of Keesler Air Force Base -- throughout the early 1930s. Even the Milwaukee Brewers of the American Association trained on the Coast in 1920.

The last spring the "Boys of Summer" spent on the Coast was in 1938. At the time, teams were scattered throughout Louisiana, Texas, Florida and even Arkansas. The Philadelphia Phillies had relocated their home base from Winter Haven, Fla., to Biloxi and hosted a number of other Major League Baseball teams, including Connie Mack's Philadelphia Athletics who were based Lake Charles, La., a New York Giants in Baton Rouge, La., that was led by Mel Ott and Carl Hubbell, and a Cleveland Indians squad -- from New Orleans -- that was anchored by a young Bob Feller.

The Phillies, led by slugger Chuck Klein, had a Coast connection in former Moss Point standout Claude Passeau.

Known for his lively fastball, Passeau, a Waynesboro native who later in life lived -- and is buried -- in Lucedale, was in his third of 13 Major League seasons. The four-time All-Star would go on to post a 162-150 lifetime record with a 3.32 ERA.

That spring on the Gulf Coast, Biloxi was so excited to have its own back that it held a "Claude Passeau Day" that spring.

The teams were all business back then as they will be Saturday.

"The practice this morning included pepper games, tossing the ball around and was tapered off with about one-half hour of footwork

that found the athletes jogging around the spacious ball yard," read a Feb. 28 report in the Biloxi Daily Herald. "Ideal weather greeted the Phillies for their workouts yesterday and today and with the same conditions prevailing for the next few days, the athletes will be going at top speed by the end of the week."

The Athletics were also dealing with a holdout in outfielder Wally Moses, who reportedly wanted $15,000 to sign. How times have changed.

Saturday's exhibition between the Milwaukee Brewers and Double-A affiliate Biloxi Shuckers won't feature any native South Mississippians, but there are several stars who should take the field.

None will be bigger than 2007 National League Rookie of the year and 2011 NL MVP Ryan Braun.

The Brewers will also feature several familiar faces to Shuckers fans in former manager Carlos Subero, now first base and infield coach for the parent club, and infielder Yadiel Rivera, who made Milwaukee out of camp.

MGM Park gates open at 11 a.m. Select Brewers will sign autographs until 11:30 a.m. and will then take batting practice on the field until 12:10 p.m. First pitch is set for 1 p.m.

The Shuckers will open the 2016 season April 7 against the Chattanooga Lookouts.