Barons thrill young fans with big comeback at Regions Field


Wyatt's class got to witness a bit of history on Monday when they took a field trip to see the Birmingham Barons take on the Biloxi Shuckers. 

It was a beautiful day for baseball, though the game got off to a brutal start for the home team.

Barons pitcher Ian Clark got shellacked in the top of the first. He gave up two walks, a double, several singles and a grand slam. 

However, the 23-year-old kept his cool and followed up that nightmare start with four shut-out innings. 

The Barons hitters battled back, and the good guys took the lead in the bottom of the fourth.

The final score ended up being 11-7. According to the team's website, it was the Barons' biggest comeback at Regions Field since the stadium opened in 2013.

Outfielder Eloy Jimenez, the top prospect in the White Sox organization, wasn't much of a factor in the game. I took lots of pictures of him anyway that will be fun to look back on when he makes it to the majors.

Zac is especially interested in this young man because his beloved Cubs traded Jimenez away last year in order to acquire pitcher Jose Quintana.

In spring training, Jimenez hit a home run against the Cubs in Mesa, Arizona, leading one sports writer to opine that Jimenez "is looking more and more like the one that got away for the Cubs."

On Monday, a headline in the Chicago Sun-Times read "White Sox begin May with eyes — OK, our eyes — on Michael Kopech, Eloy Jimenez."

"He’s only at Class AA, but who wouldn’t enjoy seeing him facing major-league pitching before 2018 is done?" sports columnist Steve Greenberg wrote.

Also this week, a Cubs fan site ran an article that attempted to provide some perspective on the Quintana trade that noted "Before we know it, Eloy Jimenez will be the talk of the South Side, as he continues to impressively make the climb to the bigs."

By the way, Kopech, the other Sox prospect mentioned in the Sun-Times article, was with the Barons last season and was named the team's Pitcher of the Year before being promoted to the Charlotte Knights in Class AAA.

In June, Birmingham will host more future major leaguers when the Southern League All-Star Game comes to town. 

Besides the Barons, the Southern League also includes the Shuckers (an affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers), the Chattanooga Lookouts (Minnesota Twins), the Jackson Generals (Arizona Diamondbacks), Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp (Miami Marlins), Mississippi Braves (Atlanta Braves), Mobile BayBears (Anaheim Angels), Montgomery Biscuits (Tampa Bay Rays), Pensacola Blue Wahoos (Cincinnati Reds) and Tennessee Smokies (Chicago Cubs).

The Shuckers (gotta love those minor league team names) have only been in Biloxi since 2015. Before that, the team was known as the Huntsville Stars.

Zac, Wyatt and I went to see them play at Joe W. Davis Stadium in Huntsville. It was the only bad experience we've ever had at a minor league game.

Not only was the heat unbearable, but the condition of the stadium also made it clear that Rocket City was not a baseball town.

A description of the stadium in a recent article — "a facility with virtually no fan amenities beyond a seat to watch baseball, a barebones concession stand and bathrooms" — sums up my memories of the place.

I was interested to learn from that same article that baseball is coming back to Huntsville. The Madison City Council recently approved building a new $46 million stadium that is expected to be occupied by the Mobile BayBears in 2020.

It seems that officials in Madison want their own version of Regions Field — an attractive park where families spend a fun afternoon or evening and, as Madison Mayor Paul Finley pointed out to, sometimes leave without knowing the score of the game.

While that last part is certainly true, I've realized from our own experiences in recent years that baseball is a more beautiful game when played in the minors than in the majors. 

When we see the Cubs play, I keep my camera focused on superstars. When we see the Barons or the Biscuits play, I come home with pictures of umpires sweeping off home plate between innings, players standing with their cap over their heart while the national anthem plays and scrappy young guys with big league dreams kicking up dirt as they round third and head for home.

In the  words of the ever-quotable Yogi Berra, "Love is the most important thing in the world, but baseball is pretty good too."