Thursday, May 18, 2017

Lee in Charge, What to Look For, Biscuits Notes



The Biscuits return to Riverwalk having taken two straight series and are keeping pace in the tight North Division where just two games separate the first and fourth place teams (only the lowly Brummie Barons are out of contention). However the Skitz now face a six game set against the rival Jackson Generals, who have simply had their number over the past two seasons.


This year however, the Generals are under a new affiliation. This years Generals are last years BayBears - the Mariners bolted from Jackson in the offseason with the Diamonbacks getting their spot and vacating Mobile.


BIG SIX
Its a six game series due to a rainout in Jackson a couple weeks ago, the Biscuits will be the road team in one game of a doubleheader on Sunday. This will be just the third time the Biscuits have been listed as the visitors in Montgomery.



BISCUITS NOTES
Kean Wong
Returning to Riverwalk is Kean Wong, last years second baseman was sent from Durham this week and has been playing third base for Brady Williams since putting his Biscuits jersey back on.

Not sure if we call batting .266 struggling but Wong had as many strikeouts as hits so perhaps they want him to show a little more plate discipline as well as learning to handle third base.


NICKED UP?
Nick Ciuffo hasn't appeared in a game since the 12th, when he was in the lineup as the Designated Hitter. He hasn't caught a game since the 10th when he was lifted for a pinch runner in the 11th inning. Could he be injured or just getting a rest after taking a beating over the first month and a half?

JAMES PICKS IT UP
Mack James (left) and Michael Russell
Since Ciuffo has been on the shelf, backup backstop Mack James has been on a tear in his stead. Knocking six hits in 17 at bats with a pair of runs and a couple of RBI's, James has made the most of the opportunity and boosted his season average to .250.

RUSSELL CLUTCH
Michael Russell's average has been well below his usual but has been good in the clutch - with runners in scoring position he has 16 RBI's so far this season.

 MUDBUGS A HIT
The recent Crawfish Boil gave the players a chance to sample the promotional offerings. Kyle Bird told me he wouldn't have minded spending the whole evening feasting on crawdads, likewise Houma, Louisiana native Justin Williams enjoyed getting a taste of spicy southern home cookin.

ODD LINE
Fernando Baez stat line for Biscuits so far: 8IP 7h 12BB 18K's



LEE IN CHARGE ATOP LINEUP
Braxton Lee has come to life in his return season with the Biscuits. Batting a tidy .320 is just what is expected from the leadoff hitter, but Brax has an incredible .538 average with a runner on first base!
Groundout? Maybe not! Lee puts his head down and runs all out for every ball in play

Braxton's defensive play in the outfield has been stellar as well, his nightly webgem often earns fan praise but he also makes tough plays look easy through the use of his prodigious speed.

Now Lee has Biscuit fans wondering if Kevin Kiermaier is still the best Montgomery centerfielder or if the Picayune-born Braxton has taken that title.



GENERALS SCOUTING REPORT
The Generals and Biscuits are matched closely on paper - both are first and second in many counting stats like Runs Scored, Hits and Total Bases. The Generals are tied for the league lead in batting average, with the Biscuits of course. Montgomery shares a .268BA with Jackson.

These two teams could be in for a six-game showdown with some very close contests as the rivalry between the two cities builds.

The Gens seem to have a lot more power, leading the circuit in longballs by a wide margin with 47HRs in 39 games. Biscuit pitchers will need to keep the ball in the yard for a chance to win, a feat that has been tough for Brady's staff to accomplish so far. Montgomery gives up more home runs than anyone in the league and Jackson the fewest.



WHAT TO LOOK FOR

Montgomery has the advantage with team speed, third in the league in stolen bases. The Generals are last in the loop in pilfering bags. Look for Brady to put the runners in motion to take advantage of the Biscuit wheels.


Look for the Gens batting order to offer a serious challenge for Montgomery pitchers as the Jackson team is also among the hardest to strike out. RF Victor Reyes, 1B Rudy Flores and 3B David Vidal are among the top five in the league in batting average. The Generals middle infield is equally potent, shortstop Dawel Lugo and 2B Colin Walsh have a combined 12 homers.


Look for future stars on the Generals. Dawel Lugo and catcher Oscar Hernandez are on the Dbacks 40 man roster already and other top ranked prospects include Domingo Leyba ranked #2, Lugo ranked #4, pitcher Taylor Clarke #5, pitcher Brad Keller #7, lefty pitcher Jared Miller #10, lefty pitcher Alex Young #11 and outfielder Victor Reyes #14.


Also on the Generals is lefty reliever Yuhei Nakuashiro, a Japanese hurler with a nasty slider and a history of control issues. The Dbacks took a flyer on his potential and he can be unhittable at times and very hittable at other times. Formerly of the Chiba Lotte Marines, he doesn't throw hard but has swing-and-miss stuff. Be sure to look for the sidearming lefthanded import coming out of the bullpen, the first ex-NPB player to appear at Riverwalk since Kenshin Kawakami in 2011.




Generals starters Taylor Clarke and Brad Keller have each only allowed one home run this year. Biscuit hitters will look to ruin that streak.



THIS DAY IN BASEBALL


MAY 18 1908
Montgomery falls to Memphis 1-0 in 13 innings.

1908 Montgomery Climbers


MAY 18 1920 
"Montgomery Negro Team Tops League - Grey Sox Meet New Orleans Again Today; Jacksonville is Runner Up.

1920 Montgomery Gray Sox
- The Montgomery Gray Sox, now hold first place in the Negro Southern League with Jacksonville, a close second. The Gray Sox, however, have a hard schedule before them for the next ten days, which schedule includes a series of games with Jacksonville and Nashville. The Greys are confident that their ascendency will be maintained, and are counting upon adding even further to their winning average during the present week.

This afternoon, the Grays will meet the New Orleans aggregation at South Side park, leaving this evening for Jacksonville for a series of three games returning here Sunday for a game with Nashville Monday. The Sox will go to Atlanta for another series of three games. Sunday's game will be called promptly at 3 p.m. The seating capacity is being greatly enlarged to accommodate white persons, it is announced."


MacCormack
May 18, 1979 
Southern League/ Frank L. MacCormack of the Montgomery Rebels had 4 wild pitches in the second inning v the Memphis Chicks.



#BullpenLife

Monday, May 15, 2017

Hendu The Great Speaks, 150 Years Ago Today, Biscuit Notes



Recently I wrote about Brian Henderson, the Biscuits all time leader in game appearances and his array of Biscuits hardware.

Brian Henderson pitched for both championship Skitz teams and along the way earned the title Hendu The Great.

Some of the top names in Biscuits history - James Shields, David Price, Wade Davis and many others toed the pitchers plate for Montgomery as Hendersons teammate but none took the ball as often as the Texas lefty.

Chosen in the 7th round of the 2003 draft by the then-Devil Rays, Hendu the Great played in 198 games over five seasons, winning 15 games while losing just 8 and posting a spry 3.10 ERA to provide excellent relief pitching for Montgomery from 2004-2008.

In 2007 Henderson was in 59 games, tying him for Most Appearances in a single season, as well as being the All Time Career Appearances leader for the Biscuits. Brian is also fifth in Career Win-Loss Percentage at .682.

Henderson appeared in some of the Biscuits biggest games, getting the final outs for the Biscuits first Championship in 2006 and was the winning pitcher in the deciding game of the 2007 Championship.

Brian was kind enough to send a couple pics of his championship rings and agreed to answer a few questions for us!


Q1. You came to the Biscuits in July of their first season in Montgomery. The team was pretty bad and needed a lot of help - what were your thoughts about coming to Montgomery and how did the city match up to your expectations?

Hendu: I was excited to come to a brand new ballpark in a new city and get a promotion to the double A level.  I didn't know much about Montgomery except it was the capital city. 

I remember getting picked up by Mike Prochaska during the July 4th night game. So driving up to the stadium, I saw the lights, then heard the crowd. 
 Where I came from, I think there was like 100 people in the stands per night. Montgomery was more like 1,000 to 5,000 people a night that first year.  The stadium was so big and right downtown.  There was a good turnout during that whole homestand around July 4th.  I had a great first impression of Montgomery and my experience with the Biscuits.


 Q2. The Biscuits won a pair of titles while you were with the team and I know you have the rings to show for it! Was there a fave moment during those championship seasons, a high point among the high points?
 Hendu: It would have to be getting to pitch the 9th inning in 2006 to get our first championship at home.  I still can hear my walk out song from that night and remember every pitch.



I had two K's and the last out was an easy groundball to Evan Longoria.  I think the final score was 12-4 (it was indeed). It was my first championship as a professional and we celebrated with champagne and beer in the clubhouse.

Hendu (4th hat from left) & Biscuits celebrate after their first championship
 Lots of people taking pictures, seeing the trophy and banner.  Celebrating with the fans. The fans really wanted that first one.  And to get it in just the franchise's third year.

I just remember having so much fun during the whole year.  The team really came together after a four or five game sweep of Jacksonville on the road.

We were watching the movie 'Hustle and Flow" to get in the right mindset on the way there.  We played it again and sang along with Terrence Howard on the way back.  





2006 Champions
Q3. You were a huge part of the bullpen for the Biscuits first title, pitching in nearly a third of the teams games with five saves and a sparkling 2.34 era. 
How did you celebrate winning the Biscuits first championship in 2006?


Hendu: I just remember throwing my glove in the air and getting in the dog pile.  Being on the field was amazing, seeing the faces of teammates and coaches.  We took the party into the clubhouse.  I have some great pictures from that night.



2007 Champs

Q4. The team wins it all again in '07 and again you had an important role, pitching in nearly sixty games, winning six and posting a great 2.97 era.  

Was the 2007 celebration any different than the previous year? How was that bus ride back from Huntsville?

Hendu: The 2007 celebration was different since it was on the road in Huntsville.  That series both teams were more evenly matched.

 I pitched in the top of the 8th inning in the last game and got credit for the win when we pulled ahead in the bottom of the 8th.  Reid Briganc turned a double play to seal it and I was in the dugout on the first base side, running out to get in the dog pile.

Proud papa with Hendu the Great
My dad was there, and I remember taking off my jersey and giving it to him to keep.  We celebrated a little in Huntsville's cramped clubhouse but we ran out of booze pretty quick.  I took some beers to share with my dad in the stands while the bus was getting packed up to go back to Montgomery.  That was pretty neat, to win it and share the moment with him.

The team bus got a police escort as soon as we hit Prattville.  There were some fans in Montgomery that stayed up and greeted us at Riverwalk stadium.  I think it was like 2 am (Dr.M: I could not miss that and was among those who came to celebrate!).  We celebrated a little more and then everyone hit the road, back home to wherever they were from.
 
Q5. Do you remember the first major league game you attended? Who were your fave players when you were growing up, who impressed you?

Hendu: My first game was in the Astrodome, probably in the 80s.  I remember watching Nolan Ryan, Tony Eusebio, Jeff Bagwell, and then the Astros got Randy Johnson for like a month, and I got to see him pitch against Kevin Brown in the playoffs when he was with the Padres.  I was impressed with the Braves pitching staff for sure in the 90s, and I always liked Terry Mulholland and Billy Wagner.  
I got to be a foul ball kid in the bullpen during one of the Astros home games and stood next to Billy Wagner.  I think I was in the 8th grade and almost was as tall as he was.  I saw Daryl Kile's no hitter with my little league team in the Astrodome.  I have my ticket from that game.
Q6. The minor leagues are known for their funky promotions and weird in-game activities, certainly Montgomery is no exception. What was the strangest on-field event you witnessed, home/road or anywhere, planned or unplanned?

Hendu: The Charleston River Dogs, my first professional team, had the silent night, the bring your dog night, and the waterpark day.  Those were pretty tame compared to the fans coming onto the field in Caracas, Venezuela, running from the riot police with rubber swords and dogs.  They trotted the police out around the warning track during the 8th inning on the weekend games but it didn't prevent some people.  
One time there was a fight in the stands that broke out and the first baseman was watching it instead of the game.  He got caught out of position on a ball in play.  


Any who, the strangest one at Riverwalk stadium was also one of the coolest.  The Maxwell Air force base sent over a fighter jet for a flyover.  It was a regular national anthem and we had no warning.  You couldn't hear anything coming.  All of a sudden it shows up right above the roof, turns to point straight up above the mound, turns on the afterburner and goes straight up into the sky and disappears in about 30 seconds.
August of 2007 Pregame, Henderson in #17
Opening Day 2017, Brian Hendersons choice!
Q7. The sale of the Biscuits is now finalized. Based on your past experience with Montgomery, what advice would you offer the new owners?

Hendu: More flyovers!  


Q8.  Folks are gonna ask, what are you up to these days, whats keeping you busy?

Hendu: Holding it down in Austin, Texas!

 
Q9. Is there anyone you want to give a shout out to, or anything you want to say on any topic, baseball or otherwise?

Hendu: My wife Kristina @theturquoisechannel on Instagram!  Check it out!

Also, a shout out to .training on Instagram. It's where I teach yoga and work out. Sand bag get ups and atlas stone cleans and triangle poses!

THANKS TO HENDU!
Many thanks to Brian Henderson for answering baseball questions for us!

On researching Hendu the Great I learned he is much more than simply the Biscuits greatest reliever - decorated at the University of Houston for his academics, Hendu was an honor roll student but made the choice to give up deep maths to focus on his athletics.

Since his departure from baseball he has not just sat around drinking beers. He has nurtured his spiritual growth with yoga as well as becoming an expert hand with vegetarian and vegan cooking. He teaches yoga and Natural and Ayurvedic cooking classes, sometimes leading retreats to educate others on inner development.


BISCUITS NOTES
Yoel Espinal

Reliever Yoel "Enigma" Espinal was sent to Durham following the promotion of Stanek to the big leagues. Espinal embodies the old adage "He can throw a grape through a battleship, but sometimes he can't hit the battleship."

Riley Unroe was activated from the DL on the 12th, just in time to appear in a game two days earlier!

Goetzman and Justin Williams are both on the disabled list with sore hamstrings, giving Joe McCarthy a chance to play some outfield. Grant Kay handles first base when Mojo is in left field.


I had my first look at pitcher Tyler Brashears in the recent homestand and I felt his delivery was very reminiscent of Tim Lincecum. Dropping the ball behind his right hip as he takes a loooong stride, Brashears relies on low 90's heat and good location to spot his pitches for strikes.

Pitching help may be on the horizon, though only twenty years old, Stone Crabs starter Genesis Cabrera has been great in eight starts. He has allowed just 27 hits in 40 innings.


THIS DAY IN MONTGOMERY BASEBALL

MAY 15 1867 
A.T. Pearsall
The Memphis Appeal reports that the “Pelham” Base Ball Club was organized at Montgomery “last Thursday.” It is one of the first baseball teams in Alabama.

Andrew Pearsall is the captain and first baseman, bringing the game of base ball to central Alabama for the first time, exactly 150 years ago today.





MAY 15 1976 
Montgomery pitcher Steve Trella throws a No Hitter for Rebels, one of two no-no's thrown by Montgomery that season. Trella beats Jacksonville 1-0 in seven innings at Paterson Field in one of 31 scheduled double headers!

Monday, May 8, 2017

Biscuits Ballyhoo and To-Do List



Biloxi Team Photo
The Biscuits dropped the series in Biloxi and return home with all the look of a .500 team, which would be good for second in the South Division. However the North Division boasts much better records and the Skitz have stumbled to fourth place.

Still, their return to Riverwalk will be met with optimism by fans who are wondering what to expect from their next visit to the park.


NEW CHAPTER BEGINS
Lou DiBella, Gary Green and others in the new ownership group have taken the reins and instantly we see changes. Last Thursday the Biscuits tweeted a call for local musicians, by the weekend they announced musical acts after each game for the upcoming homestand. The first act of the new administration was to set up a party atmosphere and announce a grand re-opening to start the second half of the season.


I was asked what to expect when the new brass says "all the bells and whistles", but I can't even venture to guess. I will be working hard not to just hug their necks and thank them for pointing the Biscuits in a new direction!


On Sunday DiBella said on twitter that he "would like to have Day in Montgomery to honor the legend" so maybe we have some wrestling tie-ins coming.


Like everyone else, I am looking forward to finding out just what can be done to help make the park more fun. I am excited about what it can be, having always thought the Biscuits could be one of the premier team in minor league baseball, certainly in the southern league.

 Also like everyone else, I have suggestions for the new stewards to consider. The opinions were canvassed in an informal survey of blog readers.



SOME THINGS TO LOOK AT CHANGING
in no particular order
1. Less waiting. Ticket office and concessions wait times can be immense, long lines make grumpy patrons and keep them from coming back. This is one of the most often heard complaints. The concourse gets sooo crowded due to long lines, making it less fun for everyone.


2. Team store needs attention, it used to be the best in the league but now seems spartan. Fans miss having new items in the store often and have trouble getting off work to get there before the 4pm closing time.


3. Cooling The Oven/Throw Shade - it gets hot out there, folks literally can't take the heat! Find a way to shade the first base stands or outfield bleachers and offer some form of cooling. Places with lower average temps offer cooling stations for fans. One day at game time my own seat registered a butt-scorching 145 degrees!


Brady was fired up in his Marty McFly jersey
4. Special Events/Uniforms. Get rid of the ridiculous ban against American Flags on Biscuit uniforms and have a 4th of July jersey/hat or a throwback uniform.  
The upcoming Stranger Things jersey will be just the second time the Biscuits have donned unique tops in 14 years!



5. More Food/Drink Options. Bring local food and breweries to the ballpark. Fans want more options for beer and food than just budweiser and hot dogs.
Soon Dreamland will be able to offer Railyard Beer, the Biscuits have in the past had a deal with them so perhaps go back to serving Dreamland bbq again? And bring their brew!


6. Affordability, the Biscuits are always way over the MiLB average costs for a trip to the park.
There is no larger factor in attendance than the financials. Montgomery folks turned out to watch the Biscuits when it is a good value, plain and simple.
 

David Price
7. Recognize former Montgomery players and teams somewhere inside the park. Lots of great Biscuits and Rebels played here, many fans are surprised to learn who has worn the uniform.  
A walk of fame along the left field fence would be an ideal way to list every player Montgomery has sent to the major leagues.


A happy biscuit
8. Use all of the ballpark. Areas like the first base concourse and right field grass sit empty while the 3rd base side is overcrowded due to the long concession lines.  Many fans never even make the trip around to centerfield to enjoy the view. The bar should not sit idle or close during games.


 9. Game Access - Even die-hard fans have a tough time getting info on the games, much work is needed in this aspect.

The litany of concerns in this heading include:
The current radio broadcast on AM cant be received in the park at night. Can't we get on an FM station? 
How about hearing the game on the concourse while waiting at the concession stand? 
Digital radio picks up the game fine, but is about two pitches behind. 
How come the box score isnt available in the newspaper? 
Why don't local news stations run Biscuit highlights every night?
Why isn't there isn't a program available for fans at the ballpark?



10 (my personal) Back in 1910 Birmingham built a brand new ballpark. Montgomery was their first opponent. Now that ballpark is the oldest in America and the Barons host a throwback game there annually called the Rickwood Classic. Get Montgomery into that contest at the historic ballpark in throwback uniforms against the rival Barons.
Fact check! Misdated as 1906, this photo from 1910 is the first game at Rickwood, not a championship.



SOME THINGS BISCUIT FANS LOVE AS THEY ARE
slightly in order of importance
1. The affiliation with Tampa Rays.
We all have a ton of Rays gear and have supported their guys all the way to the big leagues for almost fifteen years. We love not being big market affiliates, the underdogs are our favorites.

And DJ Kitty. He's a favorite too.


2. Those mid-inning biscuits tosses to the crowd, fans love it!

3. PA Announcer Rick Hendrick.

4. Thirsty Thursdays/Theme Nights/Pub Crawls. We don't need an excuse to have a good time, but sometimes we like to have one just the same. The special events have been rather low key the past few years. I am guessing we are going to be seeing a lot more reasons to celebrate!

5. Fireworks. Lots of fireworks.

6. Annual bobblehead giveaway. Maybe even add more, there are some folks who are serious about em! Even the less attended giveaway nights become the most memorable and iconic Biscuit images.

7. Military Wednesday with Color Guard.

8. The Capitol City Classic. Auburn vs Alabama at our home park is a great way to start off our baseball season and fans love it as a preview of the new food and drink offerings.

9. uhhhh.....

10. There arent ten things that make this list. We need help!


BOTTOM LINE
The biggest factor in revitalizing the Montgomery Biscuits will be to dispel the concept that the Skitz games are expensive to attend.

There have been fewer and fewer giveaways and more and more price increases. Locals would like to come more often but "it takes all my money" to see just one game, as I was told by an old friend who rarely attends - even though he is one of the biggest baseball fans I know.


That has to change.
It will change and people will come back to the park. I look forward to seeing it happen!



BISCUITS HOST SERIES VS LOOKOUTS

Oh hey, there is going to be a series of baseball games too. And it could be a doozy!

On the batting side, Montgomery holds an advantage with more speed and power to the gaps. The pitching is evenly matched but the Biscuits tend to allow home runs much more frequently.

The Lookouts bring a top prospect in Nick Gordon, brother of Marlins 2b Dee Gordon. Nick is a hit machine, among the league leaders.
Switch hitting Engelb Vielma is a tough out in the middle of the lineup, batting .263 on the road. Biscuit pitchers will need to figure him out quickly, expect him to face lefty relief late in games.

The Noogas are just a couple games ahead of the Biscuits in the standings and if Montgomery doesn't want to get buried they will need to take care of business in this series.

Starting pitchers for the Lookouts pitchers not officially listed yet, these are possible starters.

MONDAY
Hunter Wood vs TBA Paul Clemens

TUESDAY
KIDS GAME 10:35am
Greg Harris vs TBA Fernando Romero

WEDNESDAY
CRAWFISH FEST
Mike Franco vs TBA Felix Jorge

THURSDAY
MARDI GRAS NIGHT
 Jose Mujica vs TBA Matt Tracy

FRIDAY NIGHT
FAMILY FAITH NIGHT
TBA vs TBA Kole Stewart


MONTGOMERY GETS BASEBALL AND BALLYHOO
 NOT TECHNICALLY THIS DAY...






Historically, there are some similarities to a previous sale of Montgomery's ball club.

When Joe Engel, the original "Barnum of Baseball" bought the Montgomery team back in the 1930s he promised plenty of ballyhoo, even though the season was already underway.




When the first game rolled around, there was actually a little less "ballyhoo" and the doubleheader was played after a short ceremony.