Birmingham Barons Baseball
By Nikki Sepsas
It was attracting crowds in Birmingham before Alabama and Auburn were clashing on the football field. It was a local attraction before Vulcan was drawing Magic City visitors to his perch atop Red Mountain. It was born at almost the same time as the City of Birmingham itself and has shared an equally storied history.
That "It" is Birmingham Barons baseball, and the team has taken the field again at the Hoover Met, eager to carry on the 121-year tradition of professional baseball in our area.
Over the years, the Barons have written a colorful chapter in the city's sports history. Born as the Coal Barons in 1885, the club was drawing close to 300,000 fans in a season in the late 1920s to Rickwood Field which operated on a schedule of all daytime games. An astounding crowd of 20,074 turned out in 1931 to watch their Barons win the Dixie Series over Houston and its 20-year-old pitching sensation, Dizzy Dean. During the 1940s and 1950s, the boys in the Birmingham pinstripes continued etching the club's history with a total of 12 league championships and five former players inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
The franchise received a major shot in the arm in 1967 when Charles Finley brought the city a newly organized team, a league championship and Hall of Famers Reggie Jackson and Rollie Fingers. By the 1980s, however, the Barons home was showing signs of its age. Rickwood Field had become America's oldest baseball park, and the grand dame was in serious need of major reconstructive surgery. In 1988, owner Art Clarkson moved the team into a new stadium and a new era. More than 13,000 fans saw the Barons' first game at the Hoover Metropolitan Stadium in April ofthat year.
It was during the Clarkson era that the Birmingham Barons became The Double-A affiliate of the Chicago White Sox, an association that has been hugely successful for both clubs. The White Sox have received a great deal of their roster talent from players developed through their Minor League club in Birmingham. During their association, a number of White Sox prospects, including Gold Glover Robin Ventura, American League MVP Frank Thomas, Cy Young winner Jack McDowell and multi-sport hero Bo Jackson, have worn Barons uniforms.
Probably the most recognized name ever stitched on the back of a Barons jersey is that of NBA superstar Michael Jordan. In 1994, Jordan made the switch from the hardwood to the diamond, and Barons' attendance records were shattered. More than 467,000 fans cheered Jordan at the Met and almost a million saw him play at home and on the road during his year with the team. While Jordan was on the roster, the Barons were televised three times on nationally and once on regionaly. The club was covered by 500 journalists from throughout the United States and eight foreign countries.
A new era in the Barons' history began with the purchase of the team by the Logan family following the 2005 season. Don Logan and his sons, Jeff and Stan, bring a wealth of experience, enthusiasm and a commitment to continue to build on the legacy of excellence that has made the Barons one of the most successful franchises inthe Minor League system.
In addition, Don Logan brings exceptional credentials to the club. The Hoover resident formerly headed the Southern Progress Corporation, and after he then went on to serve as Chairman of Time Warner's Media and Communications Group where he guided the company to forty-one consecutive quarters of year-on-year profits growth. Also under his watch at the publishing giant's helm, the number of Time, Inc. titles grew from around 20 to 140.
"In this, our first season with the Barons, our primary goal is to maintain the same high quality, affordable and family-oriented entertainment that baseball fans in the Birmingham area have come to expect for more than a century," Logan states. "To achieve this goal, we will continue to work closely with the City of Hoover, our many friends in the community, Minor League Baseball and the Chicago White Sox."
Guiding the day-to-day operations of the club is Jonathan Nelson, the Barons' General Manager. The Fairhope native has been around Major and Minor League baseball and ball parks since graduating from the University of Montevallo in 1993. Nelson shares Logan's excitement for promoting the Barons to fans in the Birmingham area.
"We're putting a quality product on the field and we're making it family affordable," Nelson notes. "People can come out here and see the stars of tomorrow today. In the 2005 World Series, six former Barons helped the White Sox capture their first world championship in 88 years. And Bobby Jenks, who began the season in Birmingham, notched saves in both the opening and closing games of the World Series.
Nelson and his staff are making an evening at the Hoover Met an exciting and enjoyable experience even if a fan doesn't know the difference between a third strike and third base. A variety of special events and promotions, including specially priced food and drinks, fireworks and give-aways for the kids ensure a good time for the entire family.
A visit to the Met is becoming an attraction in itself. The park has earned such distinctions as "Diamond of the Year", or the park displaying the highest degree of excellence and professionalism in professional baseball diamonds. In addition to showcasing the Barons 60-plus home games, the Met is home to the SEC Baseball Tournament and the home football games of Hoover High School. Radio station WZZK chose the site to host its concerts with Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson, and the Pro Beach Volleyball circuit featured competition at the Met this summer.
Since 1988, the Barons have been recognized as the top franchise in the Southern League and among the best in all of Minor League baseball. The club continuously ranks among the leaders in highest overall attendance in the league and holds the distinction of having drawn more than a quarter million people to its games each season for 19 consecutive years.
"The Birmingham Barons is one of the oldest Minor League franchises in the country and one that our family is proud to be associated with," Logan notes. "Our goal is to continue the rich tradition of the Barons by providing affordable family entertainment as well as a quality baseball experience. We hope to attract even more fans from the surrounding areas to the Hoover Met."
It appears that the Logan family and their talented team of professionals both on and off the field are poised to continue exciting us as we watch our very own hometown "boysof summer" live the dream of countless youngsters across America.