BIGGER & BUTTER
Montgomery’s beloved baseball team has new owners up at the plate, and they’ve got plans to hit a real homerun here by deepening the bond between the Biscuits and the community.
The news that Montgomery would be home to a new minor league baseball team in 2004 was met with excitement on several fronts. It was the first tangible project in answer to a long-awaited downtown revitalization promise, and it would be the city’s first Major League Baseball-affiliated team since 1980, when the Detroit Tigers affiliate Montgomery Rebels played their final season in the Southern League at Paterson Field.
The new team would be a AA-affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays. Owners Sherrie Myers and Tom Dickson reviewed more than 4,000 entries in a “name the team” contest, and rumors swirled that it would reflect the railroad, as a converted historic train depot was home to the new Riverwalk Stadium. Or, maybe the team would be something to do with aviation, reflecting Montgomery’s location of the Wright Brothers’ early flying school and now Maxwell Air Force Base.
To say fans were stunned by the announcement that their team would be called the “Biscuits” is a major understatement. Emotions ranged from amusement, to bewilderment, to downright outrage. Initial reaction from many was that the name would draw ridicule. But almost immediately, residents began to warm up to the idea. In no time, people were sporting gear proudly emblazoned with the team mascot, Monty, a biscuit sporting cleats, with a butter-pat tongue.
The name – and the subsequent success of the team decked out in signature colors of “butter” and blue – ended up being beloved beyond Montgomery’s borders; it attracted the attention, and affection, of the nation. “Minor league baseball offers an intangible benefit to the community: quality of life,” said Brendan Porter, Chief Operating Officer for the Montgomery Biscuits. “The success of the Biscuits brand nationally creates instant recognition and helps to put Montgomery on the map. Any minor league region or city does bring that notoriety, but the popularity of the Biscuits name and branding drives that a little more. Montgomery gets it – They get sports tourism and see the value in it.”
NEW LINE UP
Porter is part of the team transitioning the Biscuits under new ownership. On May 4, 2017, the team was purchased by a group made up of Lou DiBella of DiBella Entertainment, investor Gary Green and baseball veteran Todd Parnell. They also operate the successful Richmond (Virginia) Flying Squirrels franchise. The group had been looking for a new team for about four or five years when they found the Biscuits.
Parnell, or “Parney” to those who know him, is a veteran in the baseball business with nearly three decades of experience. He was in Birmingham for a meeting in the fall of 2016 when he says DiBella asked him to tack Montgomery onto his trip to check out the team. Tired from a round of travel, he begrudgingly set up a meeting with Meyers and drove down to the capital city. “When I got off the interstate and came into downtown something literally happened to my body. It was like love at first sight,” Parnell said. “It was beautiful. I came in the ballpark into this historic building, and the steps up to office creaked, and I knew we were going to buy the team if Sherrie liked us enough and chose us to be the one. When I got back in the car I called Lou and said ‘we gotta do this.’”
Taking over in May, mid-season, the new owners announced the transition with a bang – literally. The Grand Re-Opening game featured a “human cannonball.” They haven’t slowed down yet, charging full steam ahead into their new role of community supporter, cheerleader and No. 1 booster. They want to take the existing affection for the Biscuits and turn it into year-round excitement and involvement. The plan involves a commitment to top-notch baseball at the core, and a dedication to building lifelong memories at the heart. “We have to respect the nine innings and love the game and respect the game. Because without the nine innings we’re not creating memories. But we’re not in the baseball business, we’re not in the entertainment business; we’re in the memory-making business,” Parnell said. “And that’s 12 months a year, not just during the season. In the park, away from the park, on game days and not on game days.”
Already, the Biscuits hosted a Halloween Candy Walk, a Food Truck Invasion the day after Thanksgiving featuring 17 local and regional food trucks, and the city’s New Year’s Eve celebration. Each event was met with overwhelming support. The 2018 baseball season will feature an enhanced promotion schedule, with more fireworks, celebrity appearances, giveaways and other special events designed to ramp up the excitement – including the return of the “human cannonball.”
The Montgomery Biscuits will be visible throughout the community year-round, as a community and economic development partner. The owners understand that they are in a unique position. There is only one minor league baseball team, which they feel requires them to do a little more, and be a little more. “We have to be at the front of the line for everything,” Parnell said. “Meaning one of the most active businesses in the community. We need to become that community leader and help to positively impact the community and the economy, not only in Montgomery but in the surrounding region.”
Taste of the South
Since opening day, the Biscuits have sold 300,000 hot, flaky biscuits to hungry fans. The Biscuits was the first team in the country to offer the Southern staple as a concession.
In 2017, the Montgomery Biscuits won the Southern League’s Patriot Award, which is given to the organization that shows outstanding support of, and engagement with, the United States Armed Forces and veterans.
In 2006, the Biscuits won the team’s first Southern League championship. In 2007, they did it again!