Trash Pandas to Reveal Jerseys, Offer an Experience for Fans

MADISON — When it comes to baseball, particularly the Rocket City Trash Pandas, Ralph Nelson believes in going big.

In fact, there’s nothing minor about the baseball team that set all sorts of Minor League Baseball merchandise records and recently passed the $1 million mark in sales.

And the Trash Pandas don’t even play until next April.

In the meantime, the team will unveil its five – yes, five – inaugural season uniforms and offer fans the chance to take the field in official, personalized jerseys.

The uniform reveal will be Thursday night in a big bash at Big Spring Park in downtown Huntsville. It all starts at 6 p.m. and local television personalities will model the full official uniforms, including the Salute to Military Sunday/Holiday uniform, modeled by Redstone Arsenal Garrison Command Sgt. Maj. Billy Counts.

“We are going to tip our hats to the military every Sunday,” said Nelson, the team’s CEO and managing partner. “If we have games on Memorial Day or the Fourth of July, we’ll wear them then, too.”

Replica jerseys will go on sale Friday at 10 a.m. at the Trash Pandas Emporium in the Bridge Street Town Centre, next to the Apple Store.

Also in Thursday’s lineup are food trucks, music, “bouncy houses,” T-shirt giveaways …  and more, as Nelson hits another home run.

Nelson and his staff engineered a ground-breaking ceremony last year that drew hundreds of people, a team name release party that packed a local craft brewery and a logo/team colors celebration-fireworks gala that packed Madison’s Dublin Park.

So, naturally, this isn’t going to be your standard uniform unveiling – if there is such a thing.

“We decided to turn it into an ‘experience,’” he said. “It’s also another chance for us to integrate with the community.”

So, continuing its mission of fan involvement, the team is offering fans a chance to purchase authentic inaugural season jerseys and take part in the Authentic Jersey Experience.

“We are really excited about the Authentic Jersey Experience,” Nelson said. “The fans who take part will get their jerseys (next March) in the team locker room and go out onto the field before the players do.

“If you’re a baseball fan, this is what it’s all about.”

The package includes a Rawlings authentic Trash Pandas jersey and a ballpark/locker room experience featuring the use of a player’s locker, batting practice on the field, and a post-game “spread” in the players’ lounge, all courtesy of the Trash Pandas clubhouse manager. The jerseys will be custom made for each fan, including size, name and number.

The Experience will be available for purchase for $199 Thursday night through June 30. It can be purchased online or at the Trash Pandas Emporium after Thursday’s event. On July 1, the cost goes up to $249 and wraps up at the end of the year.

“Rather than just box up the jerseys (for the fans who bought them), we decided to offer them this experience,” Nelson said.

Yep, imagine that, Nelson thinking outside the box.

Havoc Owner Keith Jeffries Credits Golden Rule for Team’s Success

The man behind the hottest ticket in town last month entered professional minor league sports with no experience in the field and no grand plans on how to make his venture a success.

But Keith Jeffries, owner of the back-to-back and three-time Southern Professional Hockey League champion Huntsville Havoc, also didn’t jump in with eyes closed and without a guiding light.

Havoc owner Keith Jeffries, surrounded by players, addresses the crowd during the presentation of the Southern Professional Hockey League championship President’s Cup outside Propst Arena.

He leaned on a principle that can be found in the name of his former business — Golden Rule Printing.

“It goes back to when I went into business early in life, when I was in my early 20s,’’ Jeffries said. “My dad told me the key has always been good customer service. The name we had was Golden Rule and it came from the idea of how to treat people, whether they were customers or employees, to try to treat people the way you’d want to be treated as a customer or employee.

“We try to do the same thing here. We’re not perfect, but we’re getting better. If I was a fan or season ticket holder — how would I want to be treated? Some things are out of our control, but we still do the best with what we have.’’

That best resulted in four straight seasons where the Havoc set SPHL attendance records. Sellouts are common, and the team defeated the Birmingham Bulls at a packed, raucous VBC Propst Arena on April 27 to add to previous titles in 2010 and 2018.

Winning certainly helps drive attendance. So does cozy relations with the VBC’s Steve Maples and Mike Vojticek. Concession sales have soared at the renovated Propst Arena.

But a major part of the Havoc’s successful formula is Jeffries.

Ashley Balch, the team president, would know. He’s been with the franchise since its inception 15 years ago when the team played for one year as the Channel Cats. And he was there when the Havoc won 11 games in 2014-15, then set its first attendance record the following season.

Havoc President Ashley Balch welcomes fans to celebration.

“(The key) is commitment from ownership, the commitment from Keith and Becky Jeffries,’’ Balch said. “Keith doesn’t own any other business. They’re not doing this just for fun. This has become their life.

“They’ve made my family part of their family. The way they treat their employees makes you want to make them proud. You want to do a good job for them.’’

It certainly doesn’t hurt the Havoc’s bottom line that the city and area has transplants from hockey-crazed regions and an ever-growing population. And the team returns the favor by giving the city yet another reason for the growth.

“Keith does a great show and it’s been a great year for the team,’’ said Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle. “It’s something most people don’t expect when they come here. The interesting thing is people come here and you’ve got to have something to draw people to downtown and keep people downtown.

“It’s just part of your draw for the VBC and the downtown area. It all blends together into something that makes a community.’’

Before the puck dropped on the inaugural 2004-05 season Jeffries did some homework. He talked to Ron Evans, the former VBC director, and others. He listened and heard what worked and what didn’t as minor league professional teams from hockey, basketball and, eventually, indoor football came and went.

“A lot of the business models of the past were maybe — flawed a little?’’ Jeffries said. “The thing that helped us from the very beginning and continues to help us is the partnership we have with the (VBC). How many owners and buildings have a love-hate relationship and compete? By co-promoting this (team) with the building, we both make money when we put people in the building.’’

Jeffries’ game plan for business success has evolved over 15 years. He said he “obviously’’ spends no money on newspaper advertising since there is no daily newspaper in Huntsville and spends “very little’’ on television and radio spots. The Havoc focus is on social media and reaching out to those who already know the team.

“We spend more time interacting with people who come to our games,’’ he said. “We know they like it and might bring somebody with them.’’

It should be noted that in the SPHL, unlike minor league baseball clubs affiliated with Major League teams, coaches and players are not paid by the big league club.

Jeffries said he doesn’t have a lot of money to open his pockets for charity, since the Havoc is a mom-and-pop operation, but is proud the franchise can give back to the community and charities in different ways because of its profile.

“It’s what keeps me going,’’ he said.

Bullet and Barrel Not Your Typical Gun Store

The people behind the counters at Bullet and Barrel in Huntsville are trying to redefine what a shooting-range experience is supposed to be by creating an environment that takes into account aesthetics, services and a personal touch.


Behind the counter, sales manager Alberto Lavizzari looks over some of the firearms the store has in stock with Jeff White, an RSO at the range.

“It’s really designed to be welcoming to people from all walks of life,” Louis Southard, Bullet and Barrel’s general manager, said. “You know, people who aren’t necessarily gun people, people who never bought a gun before, they come in and they don’t get that typical gun store experience.


“They get something much more modernized, much more akin to walking into a Verizon store.”

When you walk into Bullet and Barrel, you don’t see the one thing you’d expect to see at a shooting range – guns. Instead, there are displays of men’s and women’s clothes and accessories, along with a number of other items. They do sell guns and offer gunsmithing services, but the guns are toward the back of the store.

That’s because, according to Southard, new shooters make up one of the biggest segments of their customer base. So, one of the goals was to ease people into the guns with what he called a “soft entrance, which makes it less intimidating for customers to come in and learn about shooting sports.

Beyond the entrance, Bullet and Barrel blends farmhouse-rustic aesthetics with technology.

General Manager Louis Southard

Touchpads are set up to log in new shooters and each lane, designed to be wider than normal, is equipped with a state-of-art target carrier system that allows shooters to set the distance of their targets. The 100-yard tunnels used for sighting rifles are decked out with high-tech feedback, as well, making it quick and easy to calibrate a scope.

“Our goal is to get more and more people into the shooting sports,” Southard said.

That’s why, according to Southard, such an emphasis is placed on customer service such as when a first-time shooter visits the range.

“Let’s say you’re a new shooter and you decide to come in a shoot with us,” he said. “Ideally, you’ll let us know at the range check-in and we’ll have a RSO there to help you out and kind of keep an eye on things like making sure the gun is pointed in a safe direction, making sure your finger is off the trigger until you ready shoot and making sure the gun is safe to shoot.”

In addition to the attention the staff pays to its guests, Bullet and Barrel offers in-house classes and has partnered with Bishop 30 Solutions – a company that offers defense training courses for civilians, businesses and churches – to expand learning opportunities for their customers at the 30,000 square-foot facility.

Members can relax in the lounge at Bullet and Barrel

“That’s the kind of thing you don’t see at most shooting ranges,” Southard said. “Most shooting ranges, they do everything in-house, but Noell (Bishop, founder of Bishop 30 Solutions) has an impressive background. People learn from him. They love him, and they can take all sorts of different classes from him.”

According to the range’s website, www.bulletandbarrel.com, there are about 20 different classes that can be taken at Bullet and Barrel.

For example, there is a concealed-carry training course by Bishop 30 Solutions, which is a four-hour class that covers everything from a choosing a holster, the right ammunition, a review of basic skills and an overview of Alabama law relating to different scenarios.

Then there is a class on first aid for gunshot wounds, a ladies-only Handgun 101 class and a youth marksmanship class.

Bullet and Barrel offers membership packages and accepts walk-ins. There are also benefits such as a member’s only lounge, lane priority, free guest passes and a litany of other perks.

For nonmembers, fees run from $18 an hour for a lane rental to $18 for a half hour on the 100-yard range.

The range also offers more than 100 different firearms that can be rented starting at $10.

Bullet and Barrel, at 3252 Leeman Ferry Road in Huntsville, is owned by Melanie Hammer Murray and Bill Roberts.  For information, call 256-384-4867 or visit www.bulletandbarrel.com.

Rocket City Trash Pandas Announce Partnership with Pepsi

MADISON – If you want a soft drink while watching the Rocket City Trash Pandas, all you will have to do is say, “Pepsi, please.”

The Trash Pandas and Buffalo Rock Company-Pepsi announced a long- term strategic partnership to include non-alcoholic beverage exclusivity and stadium sponsorships. The Trash Pandas have Pepsi, as the exclusive non-alcoholic provider of beverages for their new stadium opening in April 2020.

“Buffalo Rock-Pepsi is a company that aligns perfectly with our values and approach to deliver a fun, affordable family experience,” said Ralph Nelson, Trash Pandas CEO/managing partner. “We have been so impressed with the entire leadership team at Buffalo Rock-Pepsi and they’ve been with us at every major BallCorps event, long before this partnership was formalized.

“With over 35 years serving North Alabama, Buffalo Rock has consistently demonstrated their commitment to this community, so we are so happy to be their partners.”

As part of the agreement, Buffalo Rock Company-Pepsi has been named a Founding Partner of the Trash Pandas and the new stadium. The Pepsi brand and logo will be prominently featured throughout the stadium, and the main entry gate where over 500,000 annual visitors will enter the venue will be known as Pepsi Gate.

“The community’s excitement as evidence in the Rocket City Trash Panda’s success in branding and merchandise sales, fuels our confidence in this being a great opportunity for both parties” said Matthew Dent, president/COO for Buffalo Rock Company-Pepsi. “Our company is known for keeping families and community its focus. And, by becoming a strategic partner with a team bringing baseball back to North Alabama, we will be able to continue fulfilling our mission in the community for years to come.”

For Trash Pandas season ticket information, visit www.trashpandasbaseball.com.

A Food Hall of Kitchens, Breweries and Food Trucks Coming to Town Madison

MADISON — At his State of the City Address in March, Madison Mayor Paul Finley told the audience to buckle up for some big announcements coming out of the new Town Madison development this spring. Today, the Breland Companies delivered a big one!

Rendering shows layout of Town Madison around the baseball stadium and Food Hall

The latest addition is a sprawling Food Hall of 18 kitchens curated by local and regional chefs, two breweries, and several stationary food trucks in an outdoor dining area. A central bar with indoor/outdoor seating will serve as an anchor, and developers are talking to several local and regional restaurants about joining the unique dining lineup. 

The Food Hall can be seen to the right in this rendering.

Designed by Smallwood, Reynolds, Stewart, Stewart, an international design firm based in Atlanta, the Food Hall will feature a large outdoor event space and covered stage area for a variety of events including a showcase for songwriters, concerts and big screen showings of various sporting events.

“Town Madison is taking another step toward our goal to provide a new experience in North Alabama living,” said Louis Breland. “We toured some of the finest food halls in the country looking for the right concept. A great food hall becomes a central gathering spot and brings unique energy to a community.

“Along with the (Rocket City) Trash Pandas stadium, the Food Hall and plaza area will become the place to be before a game or any time people want to meet with friends and share new experiences.”

The Food Hall, a partnership between Breland and Fuqua Development of Atlanta, joins the growing roster of tenants at Town Madison including the baseball stadium; several hotels including the avid Hotel, Home2 Suites and Margaritaville Resort Hotel; restaurants; national retailers such as Duluth Trading Co.; luxury apartments and residential communities.

Construction on the Food Hall begins this summer and tenants will be announced by the end of the year.

It is slated to open next spring – in time for the first pitch.

Trash Pandas, Cumulus Announce Broadcast Partnership

MADISON — Against a backdrop of the new ballpark under construction, the Rocket City Trash Pandas and Cumulus Media announced an expansive three-year partnership, which will bring live radio broadcasts of the team’s 140 games on WUMP 103.9 FM/730 AM.

Calling the play-by-play will be Josh Caray, the grandson of legendary Hall of Fame broadcaster Harry Caray and son of the late Atlanta Braves broadcaster Skip Caray. Josh’s brother, Chip, is the current Braves’ play-by-play announcer.

From left, Ralph Nelson, CEO/managing partner of the Trash Pandas; Cumulus Vice President/Market Manager John Lewis; abd play-by-play announcer Josh Caray

“This is a special day for our organization,” said Ralph Nelson, Trash Pandas CEO/managing partner. “To have Josh Caray as our voice is yet another huge win for the amazing Trash Pandas fan base – they’re going to be blown away by his big-league style.”

Caray most recently served as the football and men’s basketball radio play-by-play broadcaster at Stony Brook University on Long Island. He also called baseball games for Yale University and the Hudson Valley Renegades of the New York-Penn League and will finish his duties with the Renegades this season before joining the Trash Pandas.

He grew up in the Atlanta area and also worked for the Braves’ Rome and Gwinnett affiliates. Caray related taking his job with the Trash Pandas to former Alabama Head Football Coach Bear Bryant on his return to Tuscaloosa to coach the Crimson Tide.

“When Mama calls, you’ve got to listen,” Caray said. “Mama called me and I’m coming home.”

At Monday’s press conference, Caray said he was excited about the opportunity to join the team.

“I am beyond surprised at the number of people out today,” he said. “This shows me that what is being built behind me” will be an exciting place.

Nelson said though the team chose Cumulus and Cumulus staff for game broadcasts and gameday activities, the Trash Pandas will be working with the other radio stations across north Alabama.

“Regarding our larger partnership… there are so many great stations in this region, and we intend to continue working with all of them,” he said. “We chose Cumulus because of its extensive reach across a variety of market segments. Cumulus offered us an unprecedented opportunity to share the Trash Pandas experience with the most fans possible.”

Mojo, of WZYP’s “The Mojo Radio Show”, will be gameday master of ceremonies, engaging fans and emceeing between-inning promotions, contests, and more. “Tricky Ricky” Fernandez of WUMP’s “The Bullpen,” will oversee in-stadium music, video and sound effects, and his “Bullpen” co-host Antonio “Tony Mac” MacBeath will be the public address announcer.

“This is a win-win …,” said John Lewis, vice president and market manager for Cumulus. “We are thrilled with this partnership; the Trash Pandas are already a world-class baseball franchise … we have 700,000 listeners to help them fully engage their extensive fan base.

“We’re also excited about the cross-promotional opportunities, so Trash Pandas fans can discover what so many already know – that Cumulus offers top-notch programming with great personalities, across a variety of platforms.”

For information, visit trashpandasbaseball.com, umpsports.com and cumulusmedia.com.

Million-Dollar Mark: Trash Pandas Do Minor League in a Big League Way

MADISON — When the Rocket City Trash Pandas announced their team name, several hundred people packed a local microbrewery.

When the team held a logo unveiling with fireworks and a band, Madison’s Dublin Park was jammed.

So, why should it surprise anyone that the team – which will not play a game for another 11 months – is setting all sorts of records?

What kind of records? Sales of merchandise.

Shirts, caps, hoodies, sweatshirts bearing one or all of the team’s logos have been seen and photographed around the world.

The team shattered Minor League Baseball records for online and overall merchandise sales and now are about to hit another milestone: $1 million in sales. The Trash Pandas have a store in Bridge Street Town Centre, next to the Apple store, and also sell online at trashpandasbaseball.com.

“I don’t know of any team that has sold $1 million of merchandise 10 months before the first pitch,” Ralph Nelson, the team’s CEO and managing partner, said Tuesday.

Nelson and the team had another big league move Tuesday when they announced that Josh Caray would be the team’s play-by-play broadcaster.

Yes, Caray. As in Chip, Skip and, of course, Harry.

“He has got a lineage radio announcers dream of,” said Nelson. “He’s as talented as I have heard …”

So, what’s next?

Well, the Trash Pandas’ next big play will be in June when they unveil the team uniforms in a big ceremony in Big Spring Park.

Rain Delays Opening Multi-Sports Venue at Site of Former Becky Peirce Golf Course

Huntsvillians hoping to check out the new multi-sports complex at the old Becky Peirce Municipal Golf Course before summer turns to fall might need to do a reverse rain dance.

Ongoing rain that left the city soaked for much of last fall and this past spring has delayed progress at the venue. While some contractors have reported they still plan to meet target dates, the massive amount of dirt being moved at the old course at the corner of Airport Road and South Memorial Parkway has left a quagmire of sorts that has substantially slowed development.

“If we didn’t have any rain, we’d be through,’’ said Steve Ivey, director of the City of Huntsville Parks and Recreation. “As it is, we’re about six weeks behind, and that’s being kind to the contractors. If we got out there with heavy trucks, we’d tear things up and have to start over.’’

Ivey said a target opening date is somewhere in the middle of summer.

“If you can promise me it won’t rain, I could give you a date,’’ he said.

The landmark rocket stands guard over the work at the new multisports complex

Plans are for the complex to feature a cross-country course, paved walking trail, dirt bike trail, disc golf courses, sand volleyball courts, golf driving range and a dog park.

For now, William Bell, the facility project coordinator, said the focus is on getting the grass-covered cross-country course and the walking trail ready for use. Next on his priority list is the dirt bike circuit, which is still in designing stages.

He said the cross-country course and walking trails are 75 to 80 percent complete.

“The biggest thing right now is getting a retaining wall around pond No. 1, and we’ve got three ponds,” he said. “The Lord has taken care of us pretty well up to this point. It could have been worse. We’re doing all we can.”

The cross-country course sod was placed late last month.

The Huntsville Sports Commission is charged with bringing events to the city.

“We’re going to schedule a lot of things there,’’ said Commission Director Ralph Stone. “Our role will be to identify and recruit events to pay for the thing.’’

A main attraction the sports commission will focus on right away is the cross-country course, which Stone said will be “world class.’’

“There will be opportunities for several sports there once it gets rolling,’’ he said.

First avid Hotel in Alabama Breaks Ground at Town Madison

MADISON — Shovels in hand, the Breland Companies, Madison County Commission Chairman Dale Strong, and Madison Mayor Paul Finley joined the leadership team for avid Hotels to break ground on their first hotel in Alabama.

“We are excited about this great location in the City of Madison and to be a part of Town Madison’s success,” said Pritesh Patel of Jalasai Hospitality. “This new and thrilling brand will bring a tremendous new option for both business and leisure guests.”

Located at the western end of Town Madison off I-565 at Wall Triana Highway, the four-story, 87-room midscale avid Hotel is the first of its kind in the Southeast. It is also the newest addition to the 563-acre Town Madison development., which is home to the new Madison baseball stadium and dozens of retail stores, restaurants, residences, and Pro Player Park.

“Another hotel here is desperately needed,” said Finley. “Minor league baseball (Rocket City Trash Pandas) will be here in less than a year, housed in our multi-use venue at Town Madison. The way we fund that multi-use venue is a deal with Ballcorps LLC who owns the Trash Pandas, to rent it from us, but also through lodging tax.

“Town Madison has always been a regional destination location,” said Louis Breland, founder of Breland Cos. who is building the hotel and working to bring more businesses to the multi-use venue. “We are in negotiations with many retailers, many restaurants, and numerous other hotels about coming to Town Madison, so today’s groundbreaking will be the first of many businesses coming this spring and summer.”

The newest mainstream brand from IHG, avid hotels was designed for travelers and meets their expectations for the type of hospitality they value most: the basics done exceptionally well at a fair price. The location at Town Madison will feature modern, comfortable design, guest rooms designed for a sound-sleep, a focused, high-quality breakfast consisting of name-brand options, and will deliver the latest technology for a seamless guest experience

“So this is one more thing that makes a difference in our Master Plan of bringing something of quality to this area that helps the overall Tennessee Valley and makes a major difference in the City of Madison,” Finley said.

He went on to explain that the 12 baseball fields that make up Pro Player Park, located between the Madison baseball stadium and the new Avid Hotel, is a huge draw for travel baseball. 

“What do they need? They need places to stay,” said Finley. “So, they will be right here close by, and the restaurants will follow.”

“As our newest partner, avid provides not only Town Madison residents a new way to connect, relax and work, but our constantly-expanding business community yet another option to show out-of-town clients, customers, and employees everything we have to offer in Madison County,” said Madison County Commission Chairman Dale Strong.

Trash Pandas Merchandise Setting Records; Stadium on Schedule

MADISON — As apparel flies off the shelves inside the team’s store at Bridge Street, dirt and mud moves for the plain eye to see from the vantage point of I-565 toward the area near Zierdt Road where the Rocket City Trash Pandas’ future home will be.

But is the ground moving fast enough to meet deadlines for opening day in 2020 when the current Mobile BayBears, the Double-A minor league affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels, move north to a new home and take on a new name?

The answer is a resounding yes, according to Trash Pandas owner Ralph Nelson.

“These guys are incredible,” he said. “They’re working between raindrops. Somehow, someway they’ve found a way to stay on schedule.”

That schedule calls for the Trash Pandas to move into offices in the stadium well before the 2020 season opener. The venue, named Madison Stadium and part of the ambitious Town Madison project, will have a capacity of 7,000 for baseball.

“It’s coming along extremely well and, I understand, under budget and on schedule to move into the stadium three or four months before we play ball,” Nelson said.

Heavy, consistent rains in the Tennessee Valley since last fall have plagued developers and construction sites. And while the weather hasn’t slowed plans for the Trash Pandas to move into their new digs next spring, it has caused some changes in plans as gravel has replaced dirt for backfilling in certain areas.

“We’re very pleased where the situation is,” Nelson said. “The only thing that has concerned people is the rain. Some of the dirt is just too wet.”

Baseball’s impending return has created a stir. While the Huntsville Stars’ arrival in 1985 was also well-received and highly celebrated, the franchise limped out of town with attendance at all-time lows.

The local community, however, apparently missed professional baseball. The Trash Pandas’ apparel store has been doing brisk business for a long time and sales haven’t slowed. A unique team name hasn’t hurt.

Minor league baseball has also began sending licensed Trash Pandas merchandise to local stores. The team receives a percentage of those sales.

“Our store never slows down,” Nelson said. “Every day, every weekend we’re selling merchandise. We’re outselling all of baseball online. We’re selling stuff all over the country.

“We’re always having to buy merchandise just to keep the stocked.”

The Angels and Trash Pandas will continue their player development contract after the team relocates from Mobile. Los Angeles currently has the 10th best minor league system regarding position players and the ninth best for pitchers as ranked by milb.com.