Play Ball!

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Published: April 16,2007

There is heightened anticipation at the Mississippi Braves headquarters at Trustmark Park in Pearl as the Atlanta Braves-affiliated AA team enters its third year. General manager Steve DeSalvo and his crew, which includes 20 full-time and as many as 400 part-time workers on game day, are looking forward to reaping the benefits from the lessons learned and the hard work from the first two years’ operations.

“The first year, we rushed to get the park ready for opening day, and then Katrina wiped out seven home games at the end of the year,” said DeSalvo, a nearly 30-year veteran of professional baseball. “Last year, we tweaked and improved our systems. So, this year, we’re excited to have everything in place, and, barring something unforeseen, a smooth year of operation.”

The front office

Outside the diamond, the M-Braves are focusing on touting Trustmark Park to baseball fans and the general community as a whole. In 2005, the M-Braves drew approximately 242,000 fans. That number grew to 247,000 in 2006, though the average number per game decreased. DeSalvo has a goal of drawing 300,000 fans, and feels that that is entirely feasible.

To do that, the organization is ramping up its marketing to try and draw more people from outside the metro Jackson area as well as out of state, and is also offering more promotional opportunities and getting out the word about its meeting facilities.

Trustmark Park offers three areas for group events, parties and picnics. They are: the Corporate Picnic Pavilion, a two-tiered corporate pavilion on the left field side of the park that can handle up to 325 guests; the 3rd Base Suite Party Terrace that can accommodate up to 50 guests; and, the 1st Base Suite Party Terrace, which can also accommodate 50 individuals. Catering is available.

The M-Braves are also looking to grow their promotional and special night events. A good example is Bass Pro Shops Night. when M-Braves players will wear special camouflaged gear.

The M-Braves and Bass Pro Shop serve as anchors of the Bloomfield Development near “The Stack.” DeSalvo’s goal of attracting more folks from outside the metro area got a shot in the arm recently when Spectrum Capital, LLC, of Jackson announced the beginning of phase II at Bloomfield, a 300,000-plus-square-foot open-air factory outlet center. A new hotel is underway, and DeSalvo said the M-Braves are thrilled to see all the new development.

On the field

The M-Braves are also excited about developments on the field. The organization has a new manager, Phil Wellman, and the team’s young players have much more experience. All of this adds up to winning expectations.

Wellman managed the team during its final season in South Carolina, its home until relocating to Mississippi. The last two years, he has been the Braves’ AA hitting instructor.

Interestingly, the M-Braves’ talent has, in a way, hurt the team’s record. The M-Braves posted losing seasons each of its first two years. DeSalvo said some of that can be attributed to an usually high number of M-Braves being called up, some all the way to the Majors. Perhaps the most noteworthy is Jeff Francoeur, who went straight to the Majors and is one of the league’s fastest-rising stars.

“Usually, you just don’t see players moved up from AA all the way to the Majors,” DeSalvo said. He added that minor league team’s primary responsibility is to develop talent for their Major League Baseball organizations. Thus, won-loss records are not the truest measure of whether a minor league team is a success or not. But, he said he was excited to hear Wellman say that part of a player’s development is learning how to win, something he expects the M-Braves to do early and often.

DeSalvo returned again and again to the theme of community involvement and charitable giving. He was quick to say that means more than just writing a check. The M-Braves have hosted numerous fundraising events both during the season and off-season, and the organization has contributed both time and money to numerous causes.

“I want us to be a professional organization, to be the best, strive for perfection” he said. “I also want us to be good community citizens. I want us to be good role models. Because we’re affiliated with the Atlanta Braves, we have great exposure. And, I want us to use to improve the community.”

Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at northway@msbusiness.com.

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