M-Braves open new park to rave reviews|[4/19/05]

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 19, 2005

PEARL – They came from all over Mississippi. They came to support their community, to see the one future star who might make it big, or just to spend a night out.

But mostly, they came for the baseball.

That the Mississippi Braves christened Trustmark Park with an 11-6 loss to Montgomery on Monday night didn’t matter. There would be plenty of time to worry about bad calls or poor play later.

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Big-time baseball was back in Mississippi, and nothing could ruin it.

The Mississippi Braves, the Double-A affiliate of the Atlanta Braves, played their home opener before a packed house of 7,062 cheering fans. From the grassy berm beyond the left field fence to the expensive luxury suites high above home plate, they were just glad to be a part of something special.

“It was very important to us to be here. We’re fans. We feel fortunate to be here because we didn’t realize all the tickets were sold out,” said Vicksburg resident Eleanor Moss, 68, as she sat on a blanket with her husband, Barger, high on the berm. “When the Jackson Generals were here we followed them. This seemed like the right thing to do.”

The Generals, formerly the Jackson Mets, played in Jackson until 1999. The team was bought and moved to Texas, and Mississippi had been without a major league-affiliated team until this season.

The state will have to wait a little longer to see the home team win. Montgomery’s Delmon Young and Chairon Isenia each had three hits – Isenia had two doubles and two RBIs – as the Biscuits pounded out 18 hits and put the game away late.

Shawn Riggans and Brent Butler each had RBI doubles in the eighth – the last of Montgomery’s seven doubles in the game – and the Biscuits scored two more times in the ninth to open an 11-6 lead. The Braves, who led twice early in the game, went quietly in the eighth and ninth.

Scott Thorman was 2-for-4 with a double and two RBIs for the Braves, while Wes Timmons and Jon Schuerholz, the son of the Atlanta Braves general manager, had two hits apiece.

“They just got all of the breaks and hit well, and we’ll come get them tomorrow,” said Braves right fielder Jeff Francoeur, who was 1-for-3 with a double and an RBI. “We showed a lot of positives tonight.”

The positives extended beyond the field – which also got rave reviews, despite showing seams where the sod had not yet taken root – to the rest of $25 million Trustmark Park.

Several hundred fans were lined up at the gate two hours before the first pitch, and were still filtering in as the game got underway around 7:30 p.m.

Children scrambled along the berm, chasing after batting practice homers, while wide-eyed fans wandered the concourses to examine their new baseball palace.

“It’s great. It’s first class,” Clinton resident Ed Allen, 82, said.

Barger Moss, 69, agreed. A lifelong baseball fan, Moss said he has been to more than a dozen minor league ballparks. He rated Trustmark Park right at the top.

“This would probably be in the top three,” he said. “From what I’ve seen, the whole layout of the facility is nice. I was here about two weeks ago, and it’s amazing what they’ve done in such a short time.”

The stadium’s first Tomahawk Chop was chanted a few minutes into the game, following a first-inning double by Francoeur, with fans waving the tiny foam tomahawks that were given out at the gate.

The mood grew more somber as the game dragged on. By the time it ended nearly three hours later, the stands were half-empty and the wait to get out of the parking lot was a fraction of what it was to get in before the game.

Still, both players and fans seemed eager to try again tonight, when the Braves host Montgomery in game two of a four-game series. The first pitch is scheduled for 7:05 p.m.

“It was a lot of fun,” said Braves designated hitter Michael Rosamond, a former Madison Central star and the only Mississippian on the Braves’ roster. He went 0-for-4 on Monday. “This place is going to be a blast all year long.”