(HUNTSVILLE) - The stage opens today for major league baseball's minor league talent in baseball parks from Syracuse to Vera Cruz and California's High Desert to Connecticut, and of course, the Southern League is no exception.
Some cities are welcoming back fans with whole new looks.
At Smokies Park east of Knoxville, Tennessee, fans will have one of the first HD-X video displays in all of Minor League Baseball. The new screen will be among the largest LED video displays in the minors, and have three times the viewing area of their current screen -- large enough to watch highlights or movies during rain delays.
In Birmingham, the Barons have unveiled a new logo and new uniforms, adding a splash of color to their old, familiar monochromatic look. Red is very prominent in the new logo, which has "Barons" written in red script superimposed over a white baseball in a black circle that reads "Birmingham" on top and "Est. 1885" on the bottom. The change is the first since 1988.
And in Huntsville, fans will see the most radical change in their history.
Players' caps and uniforms conform to a logo change that was unveiled last October 31 -- a more prominent emphasis on Huntsville's tie-in with their rocket history.
Additionally, the Stars are led by a new general manager, Buck Rogers, who promises to bring a different, more lively atmosphere to a ballpark that has been criticized as feeling like "a mausoleum" or "a prison yard".
Rogers has vowed to take promotions out of the conservative side and bring it into the new century and have at least one promotion for every day of the season, starting with a T-shirt and schedule giveaway on Day One.
A full slate of games is scheduled in the league today, including the Stars' opener at 7:05 this evening at Joe Davis Stadium:
- Carolina at Mobile
- Tennessee at Birmingham
- West Tennessee at Jacksonville
- Chattanooga at Montgomery
- Mississippi at Huntsville
Thirteen players, a couple of whom appeared only in the off-season, return to the Stars this year, including three members of the starting rotation -- Steve Hammond, Sam Narron, and Derek Miller.
One member of the pitching staff, Rusty Tucker, was a Southern League All-Star with Mobile and league leader in saves.
Five of the Milwaukee Brewers' top ten minor league prospects are here in Huntsville -- outfielder Matt LaPorta (#1), shortstop Alcides Escobar (#3), outfielder Cole Gillespie (#5), 3rd baseman Mat Gamel (#6), and catcher Angel Salome (#8).
Also returning is manager Don Money, who has led Huntsville to Northern Division Championships the past two years.
Money, this year, will become the winningest manager in Stars history, passing Brad Fischer, their first manager, when Huntsville wins its 29th game.
The starting pitchers for tonight's game against the Braves has not been announced. This Braves assigned their top minor league prospect, outfielder Jordan Schafer to Mississippi. The Braves also have two former Stars on their roster -- pitcher Jerome Gamble and catcher J.C. Boscan.
The Stars' 140-game season ends September 1 at Chattanooga.