With one hand on a cellphone and the other on a tractor lever, Biloxi Shuckers co-owner Tim Bennett has been very hands-on turning MGM Park
into a prime destination for events in Biloxi, Mississippi
. Years in the making, the venue will begin hosting its first full season of class-AA Minor League Baseball on April 7.
Getting to this point has been a trial of patience for Bennett, whose initial plans to bring a team to the city were derailed by Hurricane Katrina. Nearly a decade later, a perfect storm of construction and logistical delays pushed back the facility’s debut to August 2015. Even as it opened, the stadium remained very much a work in progress,
“That was extremely discouraging to come out of the gate late like that and not give fans an experience that was the best,” says Bennett. Playing any games there last year was an uphill battle, he says. “It took a lot of work and a lot of luck.”
Perhaps the only ones to feel the pain of the delays more than Bennett were the Shuckers, an affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers who made national headlines for their record-setting 54-game road trip last year. Remarkably, the 6,000-seat MGM Park hosted the Southern League championship series last September when the resilient Shuckers played the Chattanooga Lookouts for the league title. The teams will play in the regular season opener this week.
A full offseason later, Bennett hopes to provide championship-worthy amenities and services to attendees of baseball games and other events, like MMA and concerts that have already used the facility. His hope is to take advantage of Biloxi’s biggest industry: gaming, which brings in $4 billion
to the state annually.
MGM Park is situated right off Interstate 10 and a stone’s throw away from the 1,740-room Beau Rivage Resort and Casino
. “You can see the stadium lights from the casino towers,” Bennett says. “The location is one of the best I’ve seen in the country.”
Bennett’s hope is to draw visitors that may otherwise go to New Orleans to the smaller city, where he says they will feel more welcomed. College baseball is already popular in the Southern region, making his pitch to use Minor League Baseball as an economic driver a pretty easy sell to local officials.
The decision is already paying off. Conference USA announced
in November it will brings its championship tournament to MGM Park in 2017 and 2018, with an option for 2019 as well.
Among the improvements coming during this Shuckers’ season are the addition of a mascot, new promotions and more food offerings.
“We’ve got to do off the field what our players did on the field last year,” says Bennett.