The Southern League’s boys of summer have returned to Alabama, and the sound of Double A baseball can be heard all the way from the Gulf Coast to the Tennessee Valley.
Down in Mobile, the BayBears have come out of hibernation. They’re sopping up their Biscuits in Montgomery. The Barons are ruling over their new stadium in Birmingham, and baseball fans in Huntsville are reaching for the Stars … Shuckers?
That’s right. I recently had to explain to my Little Leaguer that even though the nearest oyster bed is hundreds of miles away, we were going to watch the Biloxi Shuckers play baseball as the home team in Huntsville.
“What’s a Biloxi?” he asked.
Good question. I told him that it’s the town whose leaders lured the Stars away with promises of a new stadium, larger crowds and, of course, more money. Before the club moves out completely, though, they’ll play a few final games at their former home, Joe W. Davis Stadium in Huntsville.
A baseball team relocating isn’t new, of course. The Boston Braves became the Milwaukee Braves before finally settling down to become the Atlanta Braves, and the Oakland Athletics were once the Kansas City Athletics, who were once the Philadelphia Athletics. What’s important to note, however, is that all of those jilted cities landed another club. Huntsville shouldn’t be an exception.
Huntsville’s growing economy, dynamic industrial base, and vibrant community have made it one of the best places to live in the entire South. In recent years CNN/Money.com has ranked it as the best midsized metro area for small business startups and it’s been in Forbes’ top ten best places for business and careers.
Every few weeks this area lands atop another great list and it’s known for being a baseball town as far as youth sports goes. So one would think it could easily support a minor league baseball team, but attendance wasn’t great. Colleagues often told me how shocked they were to see so few fans at Stars games. While there were many reasons, one was surely due to the old adage about property — “location, location, location.”
Joe W. Davis Stadium is nice enough, but it’s located on the slower-growing side of town, off of the main road, and practically invisible to passersby. Many residents never actually see the stadium. Maybe it’s like what they say: “Out of sight, out of mind.” As the area’s population spread westward to Madison, Athens and Decatur, the Stars became a dim light in the metro area’s eastern sky.
Now that the Stars are officially gone, there’s renewed hope among fans of bringing baseball back to the Rocket City. There has long been talk of building a new stadium in downtown Huntsville and revising the team’s former name, but maybe our baseball overlords can consider a couple of modest proposals before moving forward.
First, maybe they should consider building the stadium adjacent to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center. It’s perhaps the area’s best-known tourist attraction and the stadium would easily be seen by the thousands who use Interstate-565 and Research Parkway daily. Its location would also be easily accessible to the thousands who work on Redstone Arsenal and Cummings Research Park.
But most of all, it’d help unite the team with the engine of any successful sports franchise — families. The possibilities to cross market between the ballpark and the Rocket Center are endless, and the package would certainly provide a great attraction for parents and kids.
Besides, baseball and rocket science have a great deal in common anyway — they’re both fundamentally about defying gravity and involve a great deal of geometry.
Second, they should consider changing the name to the Tennessee Valley Stars. This would better reflect the fans who’d come from Huntsville, Madison, Athens, Decatur and even those in Southern Tennessee who work on the arsenal.
If we build it, will they come? Whatever the answer, as we watch the Biloxi Shuckers take the field this summer, we can certainly dream of watching the first baseman of the Tennessee Valley Stars hammer a home-run into an outfield dominated by the image of the Saturn V rocket. I’d certainly buy a ticket to see that.