BY CAROLYN LaWELL
MONTGOMERY, Alabama | Marla Terranova Vickers has been here since the beginning. She did the market research for Professional Sports Marketing when the Montgomery Biscuits were nameless and just an idea. Then, when the team came to fruition in the spring of 2003, she was the first employee. She helped pick the color of Riverwalk Stadium’s seats (green), flip through the entries for the public contest to find a logo (the biscuit), and everything else that goes into building and opening a new ballpark.
Now, she’s the general manager and the only woman to hold that title for a Double-A or Triple-A minor league team.
“I got involved in minor league baseball when I was still in college,” she says. “I had an internship. I wasn’t a baseball fan, which is kind of weird. I just fell in love with the atmosphere, I love sales, I love marketing, I love promotions. And that’s what minor league baseball is.”
Vickers doesn’t usually follow players, the game or the standings. Sure, she likes a close game or a game-winning home run. The way she sees it, she has no control over what happens on the field. She knows how to fill a stadium, and that’s what’s important.
A typical day for a 7 p.m. first pitch starts when Vickers arrives at the ballpark around 8:30 a.m. She receives department updates, usually meets with a couple sponsors and a couple large group events they’re trying to sell, is briefed on current and upcoming projects, and signs off on bills. All the while, she checks the weather. “I have one eye on the radar most days,” she says, “especially here in the South where those rain showers pop up from nowhere.”
That’s the first nine hours. Then the gates open at 5:30. She walks the park looking for eyesores, visits with suite and season ticket holders and puts out fires.
Then, 30 minutes after the game, she’s on her way home to her husband, Tripp, and seven-week old daughter, Alice. “Having Alice, I think I’m working more efficiently now because I have a big reason to get home at the end of the day,” she says.
On Sunday night, Vickers is, of course, at the game, and so is Alice. She walks the stadium, talks on her phone, talks on her walkie-talkie and cradles Alice in her left arm.
This is the atmosphere to which Vickers was originally attracted — family and fun. She has no aspirations for the big leagues. Here, in the minors, in Montgomery with Tripp, Alice and the Biscuits, is where she wants to be.
“I love what I do. I love my job. I love the people I work with. I love the people I work for,” she says. “I like to think that we have a lot of work ahead of us. We still have a lot of things that we should be doing, that we can be doing.”
Time for minor league trivia. The Biscuits moved to Montgomery for the start of the 2004 season. What Florida city did the team move from? (Keep reading for the answer.)
All the Montgomery Biscuits needed was to warm up. After the Pensacola Blue Wahoos jumped out to an early lead with two runs in the first, the Biscuits scored in the sixth, seventh and eighth to beat the Blue Wahoos, 7-3. Rightfielder Henry Wrigley hit doubles in the sixth and the seventh, leading the team with four RBI.
What’s even better than having a biscuit as a logo? Being able to watch baseball while eating a brick of bread laden with more fat and carbs than a whole loaf that is somehow fluffy and just crumbles in your mouth. Yolanda Gray is known as the Biscuit Lady at Riverwalk Stadium. She’s worked for the Biscuits for seven years, the last six at the biscuit stand. A glass case filled with biscuits stands between her and her customers, and they look like they’re glowing. You can buy the biscuits plain, with chicken, with gravy, with strawberries and whipped cream, or with your choice of locally-produced syrups. The biscuits come 60 to a tray and Gray says she sells about four to six trays per game. And if memory serves her correct, she sold about $900 during one Fourth of July sellout. Gray doesn’t like to talk much about herself, but if you get her talking about biscuits, her eyes light up and she starts chatting.
The stadium lights are visible from blocks away and a sign out front gives a hint that professional baseball is played at Riverwalk Stadium. The park blends in with its surroundings in downtown Montgomery. The stadium sits feet from railroad tracks that cross the west side of the city. Standing on the wraparound concourse out in left field, you’re so close to the tracks you can feel a breeze from the trains passing by. In keeping with that railroad theme, the stadium was actually built into the side of an old railroad station. It features exposed wood beams, a white brick exterior and prominent archways. The Biscuits front office has a grand entry with a double staircase and brick interior walls — plus, an old safe door that leads to, well ... who knows? Want some more history? A marker sits outside the stadium noting a Confederate military prison was once located nearby. The prison held about 700 Union soldiers, most of them captured at the Battle of Shiloh, and operated from April to December 1862. The prisoners lived in a filthy, vermin-filled cotton depot. During those nine months, nearly 200 of the 700 soldiers died.
Want the answer? Orlando. The Biscuits’ franchise history dates back to 1973 when the Orlando Twins joined the Southern League. The team had four different names while in Orlando: the Twins, Sun Rays, Cubs and Rays. With attendance waning (can’t imagine why with nothing else to do in Orlando) the team moved to Montgomery, becoming the Biscuits — and the first professional baseball team in the city since 1980.
And in random statistical news, the game started just one minute later than the scheduled time, the first pitch was a ball, the first batter flied out to center and the Biloxi High School choir sang the “The Star-Spangled Banner” in 1 minute, 30.4 seconds. Also, we ate some grilled chicken, mashed potatoes and green beans. (A vegetable! At a ballpark! What a revelation!)
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