Saturday, June 25, 2016

Day 1: Mississippi Braves. Pearl, MS. Here's to the Braves of Mississippi!

So, a disclaimer before the main post.  We really enjoyed the game.  Miss Braves put on a good show, have a nice park, and there were at least a few unique highlights.  We actually recommend this park if you’re in the area.  But we’re going to be… unkind toward the state that houses them.  Eh, we’re men rapidly approaching the end of their 20s whose hobby includes counting urinals.  Don’t listen to us.

Scrappiness Ho!  To kick off our 5th adventure in minor league baseball, we got up, got dressed, got a stop sign ticket, got breakfast, got on the highway and headed west, young man.  Our end goal being the Mississippi Braves Jacksonville Suns game in Pearl, MS.  To fill up the time, we avoided Birmingham (more on that at the end of the trip) and embraced our pagan side by paying tribute to the Sibyl Temple in Vestavia Hills, AL.  Apparently an old Birmingham mayor was obsessed with Roman architecture and built his estate like a grand Roman temple.  All that remains is this temple to a sibyl, a prophetic priestess, the most famous of whom foolishly wished for immortality, but not eternal youth.
"Sibyl, what do you want?"  "I wish to die."

Zach's best impression of a Vestal Virgin

Our Alabama adventures concluded in Tuscaloosa, where we found what was recommended to be an excellent backwoods rib joint: Dreamland.  There were signed dollar bills all over the place, it was facing a set of mobile homes on one front and a church on the other, and it rather famously sold ribs and not much else, all signs of a winner.  It had great sauce and the sides were tasty, but the ribs themselves were… whelming.  For a place that had so much character, we kinda had better expectations for the food.  Oh well…

We entered Mississippi with a thunk.  Because the road quality from Alabama to Mississippi takes quite a dive, literally.
And they have cities named "Chunky".  No joke needed.

As for our experience in the ironically named Hospitality State, we felt it could be summed up only in 1960’s rebel ballad format.

Here’s to the drivers of Mississippi
You sit still on the highway when we want our speed to surge
Amidst all the construction you never want to merge
You and all your fellows should in one place converge
So all that’s good and beautiful can from your sins be purged

Here’s to the vending machines of Mississippi
Your candy bars should not be melted before they’re in my mouth
You should know air conditioning because you’re in the South
And furthermore your Pepsi makes us want to just drive out(h)
And because this is a baseball blog, I’ll mention Nate McLouth

Here’s to the forests of Mississippi
You advertise a scenic route with vistas, views, and more
Your streets are oddly labeled and make our tires sore
You’re filled up more with farms than with the nature we adore
We gave you half an hour, but you gave us a chore

Here’s to the minigolf of Mississippi
You open in the evening and only have white balls
The holes are all aloft so the putting never falls
And sometimes there are two holes inside the lowered walls
This was so unconventional.  How do you have the gall?

Here’s to the blog you’ve torn out the heart of
Mississippi find yourself another journey to be part of

Measure twice, cut once.  Or in Mississippi, put holes wherever you want. 

It was even hard to get directions around Jackson, because Google always wanted to give us the locations and weather of Jackson, Michigan.  As if it was saying, "You don't really mean Mississippi, do you?"  But enough whining.  After checking into a hotel in Jackson, we did some errands and headed to the game.

Highlights and Lowlights 
1. From the bottom of the first to the end of the game, this game was all Braves.  They led in hits, they scored three runs, they played good defense, holding their opponents scoreless.  They even struck out over 10 hitters, which was important for reasons that will become relevant later.  We got to see Dansby Swanson get a homerun and a single and play solid shortstop.  Joey Menenses, the first basemen, got a stand-up triple.  Mississippi played a really good game for 17/18ths of it.

2. Unfortunately for the Braves (but fortunately for us) the top of the first also counts.  The beginning of the game went like this:  walk, walk, walk, check-swing double, foul popout, wild pitch, walk, pity strikeout, intentional walk, WALK TO THE  PITCHER WITH THE BASES LOADED, pitching change, ground rule double, single, dropped 3rd strike that ended the inning.

3. For those not keeping score, that’s 8 runs on 3 hits, with six walks (and a wild pitch) assisting.  We saw a catcher’s mound visit 5 pitches in, a coach visit 8 pitches in, and the Sun’s pitcher get an RBI before he ever throws a pitch.  Final score was 8-3 Jacksonville, despite the Suns only getting 4 hits, 2 fewer than their opponents.

4. Oh yeah, pitchers hit.  Double-A games between two National League affiliates play real baseball.  We got to see the aforementioned walk to a pitcher, but one of the Braves pitchers actually achieved a sacrifice fly.  So this is almost certainly the first minor league game we’ve seen where 2 RBI got credited to pitchers.

5. And all the walks weren’t even close.  The first 11 pitches were balls, and over the course of that first inning we threatened to eat 4 separate families.  “3-0 count!  Swing at this pitch and I’ma eat your family!”

6. Ok, one more first inning fact.  Due to batting around and the pitching change, Yefri Perez got to hit from both sides of the plate in the same inning.

7. Of course we rooted for the Jacksonville Suns.  Zach even let Ben borrow a Jaguars t-shirt from his stash.  We got a fair amount of questions around the park about being visiting fans, but when he explained the Atlanta Braves’ move to the suburbs, everyone seemed sympathetic and supported our rooting interests.

8. That was to be expected at the game.  It was NOT expected at the Auto Zone we visited first.  The guy took one look at our Jacksonville gear, and proceeded to ring up our wiper fluid 6 times.  “That’ll be $18.67,” he deadpanned to our puzzled faces.  He eventually cracked and we joked about it, but we are seriously impressed that someone not at the game knew who the visiting team was for Double-A game and was willing to give visiting fans shit for it.  Fan of the game, right there.

9. Several entrances to the park made for easy entry and egress.  Ours was in left field, right next to the smoker (cooker, not cigarette) and the special concession stand for season ticket holders.

10. Our seats were as low as we’ve ever been, almost exactly field level.  We sat between two sets of season ticket holders, whose names were on the seats, and could hear their conversations.  We got a free scorecard from one gentleman and heard him giving restaurant recommendations to the visiting team.

We didn't have to move to get this picture.  And that's the mascot, not the umpire.

11. The food was solid.  Ben’s brisket sandwich was particularly good and the fact that they had Dippin’ Dots on a hot day was a welcome relief.  In fact, the food was good enough that we felt a little dismayed at the number of families we came so close to eating.

12. Since we were so close to the field, we got to hear the prep for the on-field promotions and see them up close.  For the Dizzy Bats race and the Balloon Pop contest, we told the contestants which of us had bet on them.  One kid even asked if he would get a cut of the winnings.  The Balloon Pop wound up being extremely close, with Zach’s pick coming from behind to win the “sit on the balloon” part of the game.

13. One game that fell a little flat was a trivia game where a contestant answers the question on the tron.  Normally this is a player’s favorite song, or some trivia about the nightly promotion.  In this case, they asked a 7-year old about the price of a house.  Kid’s gotta grow up sometime, right?

14. In addition to the solid on-field promotions, the PA guy was top notch.  He gave us such gems as “They’re trying to kick me out” when someone started the music too early during his recap, "You know it's Thirsty Thursday" in a tone that suggests that was the sole reason for some of the patronage, and “Thanks to the Suns for keeping the Braves healthy with a short walk,” after a 4 pitch base on balls.

15. A bit of a lowlight in the price structure.  Our tickets were only 9 bucks, but the price for one section over was 6 dollars more.  Such a steep price spike overvalues the seats behind the plate far too much.

16. Especially because the net was barely there!  The nets only reached the inner corners of the dugouts.  We love that imminent fan danger has become an unofficial measurement of park quality.

17. Speaking of kwality, the engraved sign on the front of the seats forgot to use correct capitalization.  “fans should look out For batted balls.”

18. The park as a whole looked like a little Turner field.  The dugouts had tunnels, the tron was in the same spot, and the color scheme was very reminiscent of the Braves’ soon-to-be-erstwhile home.

19. The mascots were large and fuzzy.  Neither was recognizably any particular animal.  The blue thing’s name was Jackson, while the red character was ‘Trusty”.  Jackson makes sense, but after Ben heckled him into sitting down next to us, he confirmed via head shake that Trusty was anything but.

I don't want to sound racist, but I just don't trust red people with yellow hair.  Also, I couldn't think of a good "horny mascot" joke.

20. Zach fulfilled a lifelong dream of walking out of the bathroom and having the world handed to him.  Through no accomplishment of his own, Zach had a foul ball bounce right by him as he left the can and picked up his first gameday ball after 30 years of ballgames.  Now he won’t shut up about it.

Complete with artisanal smudging.

21. The strikeout counter was a game.  Each strikeout by a Braves pitcher turned over another letter in “Jaco’s Tacos”, a local purveyor of… tacos, we presume.  If all the letters get turned over, every ticket is worth a free serving of queso.  The formatting and spacing of the letters, though, gave us a wall of “JACOSTAC” for a few innings.

22. In the top of the 8th we needed but one strikeout to win the dip.  We stood up and clapped at every two strike pitch, shouting “Queso!  Queso!”  Some of the people around us, mostly kids, got into it, too and the park was small and empty enough that we feel like people all around knew what we were doing.  It wound up being Chris Curley who did God’s work by striking out and winning us all a cup of queso.  That we will never collect.

23.  A foul ball that Zach did not catch flew up to the fancy box seats for rich people.  Normally you'd hear a thud or something as it collides with seat or plexiglass.  But the lack of sound and the commotion we witnessed from below told us that it actually went into the fancy part through the open door.  Gotta pay attention, no matter how much money you have.

A new feature we’re trying out this year is picking a player to actually track and follow.  So many players we’ve followed have made it to the bigs, like Xander Bogaerts, Socrates Brito, Evan Gattis, Cheslor Cuthbert, and presumably others.  It’s fun to say “We saw him before it was cool” so we want to do this on purpose now.  Our player of the future for this game is none other than Dansby Swanson.  He is a top prospect in the Braves organization and the shortstop of the future for the organization.  Unfortunately for him, he plays for the Braves, so when they have losing seasons 5 of their first 6 years in the new ballpark, he will be traded away for a different Shortstop of the Future™, after which he will bounce around to different teams, producing Alan Trammell-like numbers before getting voted into the Hall of Fame with a blank cap.  Still won’t make up for the fact that his parents named him Dansby.

Regularly Scheduled Metrics

Price of Beer:  8/10 points.  Thirsty Thursday!  $2 for 16 oz.  We'll take it!

Most Caloric Concession Item:  2/10 points Nothing grabbed our eye as either being concentrated fat or of comically voluminous proportions.  The full plate at the barbecue stand had 2 meats and 2 sides.

Minor League Personalities:  4/10 points.  The season ticket holders were keeping score, so we'll call them diehards, Some folks talking about how Dansby Swanson was the future of the Braves.  Lot's of families.  Judging by the amount of people getting Thirsty Thursday wristbands, we're going to assume a drunk or two was there.

Willingness to Give Bloggers Free Seats: 0/10 points.  BOOOOOOOOOOO!

Tailgating:  0/10 points.  We saw nothing, but admittedly entered at the back of the stadium and didn't even see the main parking lot.

Funniest Name:  4/10 points.  Dansby Swanson has to be the winner, but honorable mention to Joey Menenses, Joe Odom (Jodom), and Yefri Perez.

Promotion Quality: 4/10 points. We've seen Thirsty Thursday many many places, but it never feels less special.  The on-field stuff was entertaining and they had contests for both kids and adults.  Plus now that little girl knows just how depressing the housing market is.

Crowd: 6/10 points.  It was a little thin, and since the game effectively ended after the top of the first, there wasn't much for them to get excited about.  But they stayed for the bulk of the game, even with it being so lopsided, and there are clearly a small core of people who make a point to stop by and say hello to each other at each game.  Bonus points for Zach meeting a Jaguars fan, several people noticing our "visitors" gear and still being sympathetic to our disdain for all things Braves.

Men's Room:  1/10 points.  9 urinals

Bonus Points:  +1 for Auto Zone griefing, +2 for the first inning, +2 for pitchers hitting, +1 for mississippi Capitalization, +2 for Zach's foul ball, +1 for confusing mascots, +1 for giving those rich box seat holders something to think about, +3 for winning the queso and rallying up the crowd for it, +1 for free scorecard and dinner recommendations, +1 or pitcher RsBI, +2 for PA guy, -1 for steep price grade, +1 for seats right at ground level, +2 for season ticket holder appreciation, +1 for free cookies, +1 for the Oedipal "JACOSTA",

50 points on our totally arbitrary scale.  To be honest we weren't expecting much from the Mississippi Braves, but they were far and away the best part of the whole state.  While not quite the sleeper hit that Pawtucket was last year, this was a fun stop at a professional ballpark with supportive fans.  And the game just happened to be hilarious.  7.5/10

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