A long time coming: Alabama minor league teams thrilled for season start

Minor League Baseball is nigh, and two Alabama teams are ready for May.

Minor league baseball may be delayed until May, but two Alabama teams are excited to get the season rolling.

The Birmingham Barons and Montgomery Biscuits received their respective schedules on Feb. 15. Schedules will be released to the public later this week.

It’s been a long time coming for both teams. The state of Alabama has had a baseball-sized void for nearly 18 months, and the time is nigh for the first swing.

Nevertheless, both teams recall the year prior and all its hardships.

The date was March 7, 2020.

The Biscuits revealed their full season promotional calendar. The Riverwalk Stadium, home of the Biscuits, hosted a Troy University vs. Southern Mississippi baseball game later that night.

But then the livelihood of springtime sports was put on inevitable pause. Ivy League, NBA, SEC and ACC basketball teams all canceled their games in less than a week. A wave of uncertainty would soon hit the Minor League.

“We were in a weird period where we had about a month before our season was set to begin,” General Manager Mike Murphy said. “Originally, all of us assumed our season was just gonna get delayed.”

The feeling was mutual in Birmingham.

Promotions Manager Samantha Beck said she began to feel uncertain in mid-March.

The team had finished a media day luncheon on March 17. Concessions finally laid out the newest food for the press to try as part of the upcoming season. But things began to take a turn.

“I remember reaching out to my coworker and saying, ‘Things are about to get bad,’” she said. “Over the next two days, everyone was quiet in the office. It was just very eerie.

Delays were set for both teams for the month of April.

Murphy and Beck said they did not want the delay to limit their contact with fans. But the teams delivered that interaction much differently. The discussion on whether the season would be cancelled was still left for debate.

Beck said events at Regions Field began as early as May.

“We came up with a Summer Series that included adult league baseball games,” she said. “They would play every Thursday and Friday night. We usually had one to 200 people there.”

Murphy said contact was limited due to city protocols. That spring the team interacted with local students via Zoom and provided boxed lunches for healthcare workers.

The limbo for both teams finally subsided on June 30, when Major League Baseball confirmed the cancelation of the minor league season. Neither team would set foot on the field the entire 2020 season. Players never even reached the airport. 

Safety procedures kept the Biscuits from hosting large non-baseball events in the fall too.

“In Rocket City, they were able to utilize their ballpark and were planning a Fourth of July block party,” Murphy said. “In Birmingham, they were doing some happy hours and in the process of doing movie nights on the outfield grass. Here, we weren’t able to open our gates yet for anything more than about 50 people.”

Still, the pandemic affected all teams and their staff in similar ways. Beck said she was fortunate just to keep her job as a full time employee.

“You hear about teams up in Tennessee and Mississippi,” she said. “You would hear about how their normal staff was running around 15 to 18 full time staff and how they were cut to four. To hear these horror stories, it was like, ‘Oh my gosh we’re keeping our job.’”

Part-time workers were denied their seasonal jobs. Murphy said this was one of the most difficult decisions he had to make.

“We really pride ourselves on giving the opportunity to create about 200 jobs during the season,” he said. “We’ve had folks who have worked with the Biscuits, and who have been here from day one in 2004. It’s extremely difficult to not have those people around.”

And players often went down many different paths. Murphy said some Tampa Bay employees were not invited to last year’s spring training, while others ushered their way to the big league.

“It was really cool to see some of those guys, who at this time last year thought, ‘Hey I’m probably gonna start in Double-A,’ end up Major League ballplayers,” he said.

Murphy said a couple of team members even reached this year’s World Series.

What will 2021 look like?

Spring is approaching, and Major League and Triple-A players began training as early as this week. Double- and Single-A players train in March.

Fans can purchase full season, mini-plan and flex ticket options by calling each team’s front office. Single game tickets will be administered one month before the season begins. And schedules could leave fans surprised.

Beck said the season will extend two weeks past Labor Day to accompany the delayed start time. In addition, there are 10 fewer home games and no Monday games. She said she has no complaints.

“It is kinda nice,” she said. “Monday games are always our lowest attended. We were gonna have eight Monday games throughout the season normally, so you’re really only losing two games.”

After the schedule release, Murphy and Beck look forward to adding non-baseball events to promotional calendars.

“It’s more than just baseball,” Murphy said. “Whenever you come to the ballpark, it’s a great family night out. It’s all about affordable family entertainment.”

Beck said events cancelled will likely make their way into the upcoming schedule like the 100th year anniversary of The Negro Leagues.

The Montgomery Riverwalk Stadium will hold future high school baseball games and even a Topgolf-themed event on the outfield later this year.

For more information on how to purchase tickets or general season information, check the Barons and Biscuits websites.