Take Me Out to the Ball Game: Minor League baseball is back in Huntsville

The Rocket City was without baseball for seven years. Now, with new vaccination breakthroughs, the sport might make a return.

Minor League Baseball is coming back to Alabama, and one team could start its very first season to date. 

The Rocket City Trash Pandas, located at Toyota Field in Madison, is mere days from releasing its first ever game schedule. 

Broadcaster Josh Caray said he hopes the team will have its first pitch in early May. He said the team has had positive reception and is eager to deliver some entertainment to local residents.

“I mean they haven’t had professional baseball in seven years,” he said. “It’s left a void in North Alabama, and I know they are excited to have an outlet for the summers.” 

Baseball in Huntsville has had quite a number of setbacks, beginning in the mid-2010s. It first began in 2014. 

The Huntsville Stars played its final games before migrating to Biloxi, Mississippi, to become The Biloxi Shuckers. The minor league team ended the season with 77 wins and 63 losses. 

This would be the last baseball season in the city for seven years. 

In 2019, Mobile suffered a similar loss.

The Mobile BayBears had played at Hank Aaron Stadium since 1997. Owners Michael Savit and HWS Group closed the team’s sale in 2017. This loss proved instrumental in the resurgence of the sport in Huntsville. 

BallCorps, L.L.C. bought the team under the authority of Ralph Nelson, and the team relocated to Madison two years later – just minutes from Huntsville city limits. 

The Rocket City finally had baseball again. But of course, The BayBears needed a face lift. 

“They had a complete overhaul of the team: its staff, its colors and its name,” broadcaster Josh Caray said.

About the name: In June 2018, North Alabama residents began pitching ideas to BallCorps until the final five were left standing. From there, residents voted for their favorite. In September, the name was revealed at a local brewery: The Trash Pandas.

The name, coined by Lacey’s Spring native Matthew Higley, was due to the team’s close proximity to the space capital, Higley said. The ‘trash panda’ is simply an informal expression for raccoons, which Higley said are very determinant animals. 

The future for the team was gleaming; it would play its first season in 2020. The stadium was finished in March. An in-state game against The Birmingham Barons was set for April 9. The first home game was just a week later. 

Then came the pandemic. 

Games were continually postponed throughout the months of April, May and June. Ultimately, officials permanently postponed games on June 30. The team had to wait an entire year to play its first season.

Now without a season to compete in, the team needed ways to fuel revenue and keep fanfare alive.

“So what we did was we became an events and entertainment company,” Caray said. “And what we did was we held a lot of not-baseball events.”

These events included movie nights, block parties, a Christmas show, a Fourth of July event and multiple concerts all at Toyota Field. Caray said this lasted from May to December 2020. He said this year they are now “getting back in the swing,” of baseball-related events. 

Additionally, the team started posting podcast episodes to its website in early 2021. 

“The Josh Caray Show” is uploaded on Tuesdays, and Caray speaks with staff involved with the team including the front office, general manager, social media manager and in-game entertainer. “It’s Ricky” is uploaded on Thursdays and features in-game entertainer “Tricky” Ricky Fernandez. Fernandez speaks on topics related to the Minor League and Trash Panda team.

At last there is hope for Alabamians to go back to the ball game. The number of Pfizer and Moderna coronavirus vaccines nearly top out at 500,000, with almost 1 million doses delivered to the state.

And in Huntsville there are eight vaccine providers.

The Trash Pandas will be Alabama’s third minor league team for the 2021 season. Competing against them are The Birmingham Barons and Montgomery Biscuits.

The team is part of The Southern League, with teams extending in Chattanooga, Knoxville, Jackson and Pensacola, among others. The league tops out at 18 teams.

To purchase tickets for the 2021 season, visit The Trash Panda website or ask for the ticketing office at (256) 325-1403. Ticket offers include season tickets, mini-game plans and single-game tickets.