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The Gulfport-Biloxi Sand Crabs of the Class D Cotton States League played their first, and last, season in 1908. I’m not sure what led to the rapid demise of the Sand Crabs but would guess that it had something to do with their brittle exoskeletons. At any rate, it was 93 years before Minor League Baseball returned to Biloxi in the form of the Shuckers (Double-A affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers).
The Shuckers, like the Sand Crabs, have a name that references Gulf of Mexico marine life. Oysters get shucked, you see, and those that do the shucking are shuckers. I was in Biloxi for the June 20 ballgame, in which the Shuckers took on the Chattanooga Lookouts.
The Shuckers play at MGM Park, which, like the Shuckers themselves, debuted in 2015. I hadn’t been to Biloxi since that inaugural campaign, and when I arrived at the ballpark for my second go-round, I wasn’t feeling too optimistic. It was raining heavily. In fact, it hadn’t stopped raining since I arrived in Biloxi the previous evening following an ominous drive from Pensacola filled with flash flood and tornado warnings.
Arriving at the ballpark was an act of faith, then, a statement to myself that the incessant rain would stop and that baseball would indeed be played. Also, I was pretty bored in the hotel room.
And fortunately, I had things to do anyway. Aided and abetted by Shuckers broadcaster Javik Blake, I interviewed a triumvirate of Biloxi teammates who had previously played together at the University of South Carolina.
From Gamecocks to Shuckers: The Wes Clarke, Noah Campbell and T.J. Shook Story.
I also interviewed pitcher Kaleb Bowman, who’s in his first season in affiliated ball after an international odyssey of fairly epic proportions. An article is forthcoming.
At MGM Park, the most forthcoming usher I met was Mr. Glen Boler. He gave me a tour of his section, peppered with asides related to the history of the team and his relationships with the many people that make up the ballpark ecosystem.
“There’s one thing I don’t do,” said Glen. “I draw the line. I ain’t pullin’ no tarp.”
As you can see from the above photo, the tarp had been pulled and Glen wasn’t one of the ones that done it. The game started a half hour late, but it was smooth sailing from start to finish. The weather gods, those fickle instigators of inclemency, were in a merciful mood on this Tuesday evening.
Let clear skies, and freedom, and Double-A Southern League baseball, reign.
Shortly after the ballgame began, I, following standard operating procedure, met with my Designated Eater. Jimmy Gautier, a Shuckers season ticket holder who hails from nearby Pascagoula, had the honors this evening. He was joined at the game, and in his gastronomic pursuits, by his ebullient daughter, Allison.
In the above picture, Jimmy is holding a helmet full of jambalaya. This is nothing new for him, as he regularly orders it from the Aw Shucks Gulf Grill located on the first-base side of MGM Park.
It seemed to me like a man named Jimmy Gautier from the town of Pascagoula would have strong opinions on jambalaya. And he did.
“It’s a Southern specialty and they fix it as good here as anybody. You’ve got the chicken, the sausage, the rice. And it’s spicy,” said Jimmy, who, when I asked him for a local restaurant recommendation, went with seafood from Bozo’s.
From there the Gautiers and I headed to the Beacon Grill and obtained the Homestand Special: a Conecuh sausage topped with nacho cheese and bacon bits. Conecuh is a much-loved Alabama-based sausage company. Here’s a link, and here’s the link:
Jimmy and Allison closed things out with the Pork BBQ Nachos, available at the Murky Waters BBQ cart located behind home plate (Murky Waters has several locations in the area). Allison, a self-described nachos aficionado, said they were “just amazing.”
After bidding adieu to the Gautiers, I proceeded up a flight of stairs, opened the door to the press box and then strode purposefully to the home broadcast booth. This is the domain of Javik Blake.
Javik, existing on the airwaves at the intersection of eloquent and enthusiastic, graduated from Elon University earlier this year and is now in his first season with the Shuckers. This is the view from the booth.
As you may have noticed already -- and I am insisting you notice it now -- the Beau Rivage hotel and casino looms beyond MGM Park. This is one of its defining features. Javik informed me that the Beau Rivage is the tallest building in all of Mississippi, and I’ve been randomly telling people this ever since.
I cannot say for certain, but MGM Park may also be home to the tallest root beer bottle in the State of Mississippi.
Did you know? Biloxi is the birthplace of Barq’s. You can even visit the house where, in 1898, Edward Barq, Sr. created his original root beer formula.
Like a refreshing ice-cold glass of Barq’s, the Shuckers had effervescence to spare and refused to fizzle out. Biloxi’s boys scored three runs in the ninth inning on the strength of five hits, giving them an 8-7 walk-off win. Tristen Lutz’s two-out single sealed the deal, sending everyone home happy. (Save for any stray Chattanoogans who may have been in attendance.)
Here’s a screenshot of Lutz’s game-winner. No grit, no pearl.
Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MiLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz.