Entering the 2015 season, observers would believe the Biloxi Shuckers would wear down in the midst of a 60-day road trip, after MGM Park in downtown Biloxi faced construction delays.
Based on the first 28 games, the players never got the memo, and continue to take their “Road Warrior” status in stride.
Shuckers’ general manager Buck Rogers prepared his players prior to the season, arriving to Arizona a week before opening day, to inform them.
Rogers expects MGM Park to be ready by June 6 when the Shuckers face the Mobile BayBears.
The 6,000 seat MGM Park, which began construction late last year, faced a lengthy process of relocating the team from Huntsville to Biloxi.
Huntsville Stars owner Miles Prentice sold the Stars to Ken Young for $14 million, according to the Huntsville Times, and was later approved by the Southern League.
“This is a collective effort between the players, coaches, staff and clubhouse managers,” Rogers said. “The guys are doing an excellent job of staying ahead of the game.”
Rogers received assistance from the Penske Corporation, who is providing a moving truck for the team as they move from city to city.
Shuckers’ outfielder Michael Reed is fortunate for the truck, indicating that “we got quite a bit of stuff to carry around.”
Outfielder Kyle Wren, who was acquired in an off-season trade with Atlanta, said it all boils down to team chemistry.
“It really has not been as bad people presume it would be, we got a good group of guys that come together, and we are about halfway there,” Wren said. “While we are having fun on the road, we are not using it as an excuse, we will continue to play hard.”
Wren, the Brewers’ 17th ranked prospect on MLB.com, is third in stolen bases with nine thus far and produced a six-game hitting streak early in the season, batting 7 for 25 with a two doubles, two stolen bases and four runs scored.
“I have been treated very well, and the Brewers have been very good to me,” Wren said. “I love the coaching staff and I can’t be any happier.”
“I think it is just the team makeup, I have been on teams before where things did not mesh,” Wren said. “But this team has great chemistry and if you don’t have team chemistry, you won’t win many games.”
Reed, who was selected in the fifth round of the 2011 draft from Leander High School in Texas, has drastically improved, compared to his 2014 season with High A Brevard County of the Florida State League.
The 22-year-old fleet footed outfielder is batting .316 with a .394 OBP in the first 26 games of the season for the Shuckers. He hit .255 with a .396 OBP for the Manatees last year.
Reed acknowledged that this “is a new experience” but cites team chemistry as the driving force behind the early success of the team.
While he enjoys the camaraderie of his teammates, he admits he looks up to two teammates with Major League experience, Taylor Green and Jaye Chapman.
“(Taylor) has been in the big leagues, so I pick his brain a lot, and also Jaye Chapman,” Reed said.
In addition to both outfielders, the Shuckers have two of only three unbeaten pitchers in the Southern League, Hall and Wagner.
Hall, who boasts a 4-0 record and is third with a 1.32 ERA, noted team chemistry has made the trip easier.
“If we didn’t get along like we do it would be tough on the road. But our team is well balanced and everyone has a great time everyday,” said Hall, who was named the Brewers’ Minor League Pitcher of the Month.
Wagner, who has the same record, and is fourth behind Hall with a 1.50 ERA, believes the road trip has led to a more firm bond between teammates.
“It’s been going well, the trip is something to embrace because we are getting to know each other a lot better,” Wagner said.
Wagner relies heavily on the defense behind him for his string of six strong performances on the mound.
The 24-year-old picked by the Brewers in the fourth round of the 2012 draft was the Southern League’s first four-game winner. Wagner has amassed 36 innings with 28 strikeouts and issued just 11 walks. He has held opponents to six earned runs on 27 hits.
“It is about not trying to do too much, and keep my pitch counts low, get some ground balls, and let my defense do the work,” said Wagner, who helped his own cause, belting his first career home run April 27 against Pensacola.
In addition to on-field performances by the players, which includes shortstop and top ranked Brewers prospect Orlando Arcia, Rogers has been impressed with second-year manager Carlos Subero, along with Sandy Guerrero and Chris Hook.
“Our coaching staff is doing a real nice job of keeping things together,” Rogers said.
Arcia, 20, is in the top five in four statistical categories in the Southern League, batting average (3, .358), runs (T1, 18), hits (T2, 34) and On Base Percentage (5, .417).
While the team continues their road trip, the players continue to stress the importance of having fun, relaxing when needed and grasping the moment.
“We just relax and have fun, not take the game so seriously, we play cards or go to the movies on the road to take our mind off the game for awhile,” Wren said.
Rogers jokingly said the team has incurred one roadblock, when they were not allowed to watch the welterweight championship bout between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao at their former home in Huntsville.
However, according to Reed, the team managed to find ways around obstacle, hitting up downtown bars following the game.
“Given our address (at Joe Davis), the provider would not allow it,” Reed said. “We tried to get it at the stadium, but they would have charged us a ton, but we were able to catch it some place. We all found a way to watch it.”
However, Reed and the rest of the Shuckers acknowledge there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and paid a visit to MGM Park on April 14.
“It was their day off, and they could have stayed in bed if they wanted to, but they wanted to take a stadium tour in the rain,” Rogers said.
Players were able to talk with construction workers about the nooks and crannies of their eventual home and were floored, Rogers said.
“I think it is going to be an awesome stadium, and it looks great, we are all excited,” said Reed, who personally monitors the progress on the Shuckers’ team website.
“It’s in a great location and it is going to look awesome. They are just placing sod on the field either today or tomorrow, and we are about halfway there,” Wren said.
“It should be a great stadium and the atmosphere should be great, and look forward to being there,” Wagner said.