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.