JACKSON — They may not be claiming victory yet, but the Jackson Senators have certainly surpassed all expectations thus far.
Aside from making it to the playoffs, the Senators have had an average of 1,700 fans at each game, and already they have 52 occupied sponsor signs posted at Smith-Wills Stadium. They are not a million-dollar franchise yet, but, guessed Craig Brasfield, vice president and general manager of the Senators, the team is in the $600,000 to $700,000 range.
The Senators started the baseball season late, in February but everyone has been pleased with the response of the business community and the general public, said Brasfield. The Double-A Jackson Generals left town in 1999, and the independent Jackson Diamond Kats folded in 2000.
“There were some misgivings after the Generals left,” he admitted. “We knew we had some challenges. But we’ve tried to do the right things by operating smart and creating a family affordable atmosphere.”
The Senators have three years remaining in their four-year commitment with the City of Jackson, and Brasfield believes it will only get better. Already fans have caught free Frisbees, T-shirts and other giveaways, and have seen two fireworks displays.
“It’s more than just baseball,” Brasfield said. “Baseball is the main theme, but it’s really about the family, about getting out and enjoying time with your family. Catching a fly ball, getting a giveaway at the front gate, winning a prize just for being here — those things are successful throughout the country and Jackson’s no different.”
Marty Scott, president of Texas Independent Baseball, the group that owns the Senators, said Jackson was a great addition to the other teams owned by Carl Bell’s baseball organization, the Central League’s Fort Worth Cats and the Alexandria, La., Aces.
“The only thing that’s disappointing so far is that we didn’t think of it sooner,” Scott said of having a team in Jackson.
When Scott and other Texas Independent Baseball officials began to look at places for a team, Scott said Smith-Wills and the City of Jackson were the obvious choices. And since moving the Senators there, neither he nor anyone else with Texas Independent Baseball has looked back.
“When you meet and exceed expectations it’s very encouraging,” Scott said. “A full season of sales and marketing and season ticket sales will just continue to add to what was built this year.”
Ramie Ford, director of parks and recreation for the City of Jackson, said the Senators’ fan friendly atmosphere has been wonderful.
“Unfortunately for them they didn’t have a full year to get ready, but with that in mind they’ve done exceptionally well,” Ford said. “We’re looking for bigger and brighter things when they’ve had a full year under their belt. They’re making Smith-Wills a good place to be for nights and weekends. I think they’re here to stay. We’re going to make this a pro-baseball city.”
However, Ford added, to do so will take the efforts of everyone.
“By that I mean not just the government but the people of the metro area,” Ford said. “We can’t continue these things without corporate sponsorship and fan support. It has to be everyone’s effort because the government can’t continue to foot the bill to have all these things.”
Shannon Singletary, supervisor of sports medicine for the University of Mississippi Medical Center, which provides trainers and doctors to the team, said the Senators are nothing but an asset to the City of Jackson.
“It gives you another avenue to take your family out,” Singletary said. “When families go out they spend money and that boosts the City of Jackson’s economy. What scares me is that it’s been such a success that an affiliated team may want to get in here. But I want them to be here for a long time.”
Bobby Gray of Gray-Daniels is not worried about the Senators going anywhere, however. Gray-Daniels is a sponsor of the Senators and, said Gray, they will do anything to support Jackson’s sports teams.
“I think everyone in Jackson wants to support our local teams,” Gray said.
Lewis Slater, a Jackson resident and a fan of the Senators, said he enjoys being able to see a baseball game without fighting major league baseball traffic.
“In a major league game you pay to park, pay an exorbitant amount for tickets and food and fight traffic to get there,” Slater said. “With the Senators, the baseball is high quality, the prices are reasonable, there’s no congestion and the food is good and reasonably priced. I just think it’s a great way to spend an evening every couple of weeks.”
Slater has always been a baseball fan, and before the Senators he watched the short-lived Diamond Kats team. But, he said, the Kats did not seem to have any energy or enthusiasm.
“But the Senators seem to have re-energized the atmosphere,” Slater said. He is looking forward to seeing them in the playoffs.
Brasfield said he is not where he wants to be just yet, but considering this is just the first season, he and the rest of the team are pleased.
“Now what we have to do is take what we’ve done and do better,” Brasfield said.
Contact MBJ staff writer Elizabeth Kirkland at firstname.lastname@example.org or (601) 364-1042.