To casual observers, sports are simply physical exertions between individuals competing against each other. In the South, though, it is much more than that.
It is not just about the players. It is about the fans.
Sports are a reason to gather to cheer or jeer at weddings and funerals; to gather around a barbecue grill or at a sports bar to share the thrill of a victory or the agony of a defeat with long-time friends or total strangers; or a chance to just hide out in a private spot so that no one knows how much you care about the outcome. Whether it is football, basketball or even golf, someone’s devotion to athletics can often surpass what “normal” society would condone as, well, “normal.”
But when your team is winning, that is all that matters. And when they don’t, well, we will just leave you alone in your pain.
I have experienced both sides of this equation. As a professional sports writer for almost 20 years, I have observed the highs and lows felt by fanatics – or fans as they are sometimes called – who follow a particular team. Screaming to anyone within hearing distance as to why they know much more about winning than the highly paid coaches who seemingly are unable to direct their teams to victory.
Now that I have joined the couch potato league, I admittedly have screamed at my own television and asked why the winds of misfortune have blown over my alma mater (I apologize to my bride at this point). I have been there and done that, so I do understand.
So this column is hopefully for you, the fans who know that sports are what make the world spin, keep the sun coming up each morning and help each day be a little bit more bearable. Because no matter what your team did yesterday, there is always another game tomorrow.
OR IS THERE?
This may not be the case for our Mobile BayBears. Despite coming so close to winning a third consecutive Southern League championship this last season, media reports have suggested the squad is among those possibly being targeted to move into the friendly confines of a new ballpark in Biloxi.
City officials in Mississippi has just passed a $21 million bond issue to build a minor league stadium at U.S. 90 and Interstate 110, near the beach and across the street from the Beau Rivage casino. Another $15 million has been set aside for the project, thanks to an oil spill settlement from BP that was contributed by state officials.
Media reports list among the likely candidates to be moved for the 2015 season are the Stars of Huntsville, the Generals of Jackson, Tenn. and our own BayBears. The main reason these teams are mentioned is that they had the lowest attendance last year among all Southern League teams. The group behind bringing a team to Biloxi has experience with this, having gotten the Atlanta Braves to move their Class AA team from Greenville, S.C, to Jackson, Miss., in 2004.
Officials with the BayBears, however, say there is nothing for their fans to worry about. When contacted by Lagniappe about the rumors, team president Bill Shanahan infactedly said, “The BayBears are firmly planted in Mobile.”
The BayBears, who reportedly pay about $100,000 a year in rent at Hank Aaron Stadium, just got a major financial lift in September when the Mobile City Council voted to give the squad $160,000, along with waiving $50,000 in next year’s rent. The money is earmarked toward improvements at the stadium the club’s major league affiliate, the Arizona Diamondbacks, have requested.
These negotiations follow previous financial problems for the team, as Lagniappe reported in 2010 that the BayBears owed the city $820,000 in rent. A deal was worked out with Mobile officials, contingent on the BayBears making repairs to the stadium costing approximately $900,000 by 2017. The squad has an existing lease at The Hank through 2022.
Hopefully, these recent actions by the Mobile City Council will help lock in the BayBears for a long run in Mobile. If you have not been to a game at The Hank, I would highly recommend it. The facility, which opened in 1997, is a great place to watch a game (especially the hill behind the left field fence), and you may even have a Costco to visit in the future should the proposed shopping center come about near Interstate 65 and U.S. 90.
SO CLOSE, SO CLOSE
While most college football fans are caught up with the adventures of the defending national champion Crimson Tide and the surprising Auburn Tigers, we should not forget about the achievements of our own South Alabama Jaguars.
In just their first year of eligibility for Sun Belt Conference honors, the Jags have kept fans in their seats until the final moments. Although just 2-3, the team could realistically be undefeated at this point. Both Southern Utah and Troy escaped with last-second victories, while a late drive against Tennessee came up yards short of forcing overtime.
Despite the disappointing setbacks, the Jaguars remain in the hunt for a Sun Belt title along with a possible berth in either the New Orleans Bowl or the hometown GoDaddy.Com Bowl. After taking off a week, USA continues its drive toward a winning season by hosting Kent State for homecoming on Saturday, Oct. 19, at 2 p.m. The Golden Flashes, who have already been routed this year by LSU and Penn State, will be making their second recent trip to Ladd-Peebles Stadium, having lost 17-13 to Arkansas State in January’s GoDaddy.Com Bowl.
Homecoming activities will continue all week, including a parade and pep rally on the west Mobile campus on Friday night, Oct. 18. If you have not had a chance to make it out and see the fine product that head coach Joey Jones has fielded, this would be the perfect chance to put on your favorite red-white-and-blue outfits and cheer for the hometown heroes.
FOR YOUR INFORMATION
This column will hopefully focus on all the excellent sports that take place along the Alabama Gulf Coast. In order to do this, though, we will need your help.
Do you have suggestions for a story, or do you want to promote a local athletic event? Please let the Lagniappe staff know. Send all your suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Not sure what would be news? An example would be that the annual Polo At The Point event has moved from its usual Sunday schedule this year, with the 25th annual fundraiser now taking place on Saturday, Oct. 26, at the field located at U.S. 98 and County Road 32 on the Sonny Hill-Clearwater Polo Complex in Point Clear. The contest has raised millions of dollars to benefit cancer research, and is always a guaranteed good time.
So whether you are a face-painter, a discrete fan who keeps to themselves or someone who looks like they bought all of their clothes at the college book store, remember it does not matter who wins or losses – as long as it is the other team with the least points at the end of the day.