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Trash Pandas Hosting Movies, Block Parties, Camps in Lieu of Baseball This Summer

MADISON — Just a couple months ago, Josh Caray planned on calling play-by-play baseball in the first season of the Double-A Rocket City Trash Pandas.

Instead, he’s helping the club Band-Aid what so far has been a lost baseball season across the nation in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“You look forward to a baseball season, covering games and being around players and managers and riding the bus and seeing different cities seeing different ballparks and, you know, getting better at your craft and things like that,’’ Caray said. “And then all of a sudden, one month out (from the season opening), and have that all taken away from you over something you can’t control is frustrating.

“But then you look at what’s going on across the country and across the world and I realize it’s really not that bad. And I also appreciate the fact that, in comparison, we are fortunately in a much better position than a lot of other Minor League Baseball teams.’’

In lieu of baseball, the Trash Pandas hosted their first “Block Party’’ at the sparkling new Toyota Field last weekend. There have been kids’ day camps the past two weeks and the first On-Field Movie Night, presented by Paragon Research Corp., takes place tonight at 7:15; gates open at 6 p.m. Tickets are $10 for adults and $8 for kids. The movie is “Angels in the Outfield” – the Trash Pandas are the Double-A affiliate of the Los Angelse Angels. Folks can sit on the field (blankets only, no chairs) or in the stands. Concession stands and the Junkyard team store will be open.

Upcoming events include a Trash Pandas Instructional Baseball Camp June 15 and 16 and another Block Party on June 19, featuring live entertainment and fireworks.

On July 3, the Fourth of July weekend kicks off with an Independence Eve Block Party. Block Party tickets are on sale now at TrashPandasBaseball.com/Events and the Toyota Field Ticket Office.

A July 4 features a patriotic extravaganza will feature the “biggest fireworks display in the Metro!’’ Tickets go on sale today at 9 a.m.

For each event, Pepsi Gates will open at 5 p.m. and Trash Panda Nation full-season ticket holders will gain early entry at 4:30 p.m.

“There’s nothing like fireworks blasting off in the summer surrounded by friends and family,” said team President and CEO Ralph Nelson. “We can’t wait to deliver our slice of Americana to this great region with our summer lineup that will knock it out of the park.”

Admission to each event is $10. Kids two and under enter for free, and there is no charge for parking.

In accordance with CDC guidelines, the facility will operate at half-capacity for all events.  Fans are encouraged to purchase their tickets in advance

The events are added to a slate of activities the organization has produced since the latest amendments to the state’s Safer at Home Order.

“We’re adjusting and doing the very best we can,” Nelson said. “I mean, we’ve got very, very talented people in our organization who oversee entertainment and promotions and things like that, so we’ve been able to make this into a positive situation and it’s been a very negative situation with regard to baseball.’’

 

Rocket City Trash Pandas: As Much About Fun as Baseball

MADISON — Just weeks away from the Rocket City Trash Pandas throwing their first strike at Toyota Field in Town Madison, the Madison Chamber of Commerce heard from the “Voice of the Trash Pandas,” Josh Caray.

Josh Caray: “It’s about fun, whether you are a baseball fan or not.” (Photo/Kimberly Ballard)

Caray, the team’s Director of Broadcasting and Baseball Information, gave the Chamber a preview of upcoming attractions during its quarterly luncheon at the Best Western Plus on Madison Boulevard.

“Thank you for being the home of the Rocket City Trash Pandas. It’s been wonderful getting to know the community and we look forward to a very long and prosperous relationship,” said Caray. “It’s been a long journey … we are very excited about what we and this community have to offer.

“It’s going to be the talk of the town not just this year, but for the next several decades to come, so we’re excited about it and happy to be a part of it.”

The Trash Pandas make their home debut April 15 in Toyota Field against the Mississippi Braves. They open their inaugural season April 9 in Birmingham against the Barons.

Caray gave an overview of coming attractions for the Trash Pandas and, as odd as it may sound, he said Minor League Baseball is not so much about baseball as it is a carnival atmosphere with a baseball diamond as its crown jewel.

“The great part about Minor League Baseball is that fans will see the best of what the Minor League system has to offer not only in the Trash Pandas, but in the talent on opposing, visiting teams,” he said. “Double-A baseball is a must-stop if you are a big-time prospect.

“At some point, whether a player starts in rookie ball, Single-A, or High-A, they must stop at Double-A at some point [on their way to the Major League] because it’s such an important point of development.

“One day in two or three years, you will flip on the television and see them playing in the Majors, perhaps play in or win the World Series and say, ‘I remember when I saw him hit a ball out of left field in my ballpark’ or ‘I have an autographed picture of me with him’. It’s fun to watch how they are succeeding in their professional careers.”

Fans of the former Huntsville Stars saw that very scenario play out in Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire.

The other things to understand, he said is that Minor League Baseball is about the experience.

“It’s about fun, whether you are a baseball fan or not,” he said. “You want the Trash Pandas to win, but if they don’t, it’s all right. We want you to watch the game, but we also want you to get up and walk around.

“Baseball is a long game, three hours in most cases and you won’t be able to keep the kids still that long, so walk them over to the (Kids Zone) playground; visit the Team Store and buy some merchandise; go up to the Rock Porch and have drinks with friends; visit the stadium restaurant. And if, at the end of the game you forgot who won or what the score was, so be it.”

Toyota Field will be open year-round and host concerts, weddings, parties, business meetings and the like.

One of the unique aspects of Toyota Field is that it will be open year-round. Caray said there will be concerts and festivals in the ballpark and there will be a hospitality area for weddings and wedding receptions, bachelor parties, company outings, holiday parties and a place for team-building sessions.

The Trash Pandas just hired Executive Chef Ryan Curry, recently named one of the best chefs in Minor League Baseball and there will be a wide variety of great food at the stadium. Panera Bread Company, Outback Steakhouse and The Hub will all be within walking distance of the stadium.

Caray said the field has a 360-degree open concourse so if you have seats behind home plate, you can still get up and walk around the entire complex and still see the game.

“Go sit out on the berm and get a suntan; go watch from the outfield or the (Inline Electric) Rock Porch next to the video gameboard ….,” he said. “When it’s hot, there is an air-conditioned suite area with an outdoor patio, so you have the best of both.”

The stadium holds 7,500, including fixed seats and standing-room. There is a party area beyond the bullpen along the left field wall; hospitality suites that seat 75 to 90 people, perfect for group meetings and parties; and a picnic area for large groups of up to 400.

There are also six single-game suites seating up to 25; and the SportsMed Stadium Club along the first-base line that can be booked as well for non-game day events.

Next season, the Hotel Margaritaville should be up and running and the ballpark will be integrated with it, a lazy river, and a swimming pool.

“We are building a year-round revenue-generator with the baseball park as its crown jewel and fun built up all around it with apartments, homes, high-rises, brewhouses, restaurants, and retail outlets,” Caray said.

“I swear we will have a parking lot!” he said to laughter. “If it stops raining, we will have a parking lot with room for about 2,000 cars; plenty of lighting and a live sound system.”

Caray said single-game tickets go on sale March 14 and will range from $8 to $20. There are still some season tickets available and sponsorship and business opportunities available to get involved with the team.

Since the Trash Pandas’ store opened at Bridge Street Town Centre in November 2018, they are closing in on $3 million in merchandise sales (at the store and online) with customers from as far away as Bora Bora, Paris, Ireland and Alaska.

Furthermore, the Trash Pandas have more than 10,000 Twitter followers and they haven’t thrown a single pitch!

For Caray, broadcasting baseball is a family tradition as he comes from a long line of famous baseball broadcasters.

Josh’s grandfather was Harry Caray, a 53-year Hall of Fame baseball broadcaster best known as the voice of the Chicago Cubs during the 1980s and 1990s when the Cubs aired nationwide on Superstation WGN.

He is the son of the late Skip Caray, the longtime Atlanta Braves broadcaster. His brother, Chip Caray is a TV broadcaster for the Atlanta Braves and Fox Sports.

“My dad was behind the mic when Sid Bream slid across home plate to win the 1992 National League Championship Series on Frank Cabrera’s big hit, and when Marquis Grissom made that winning catch in the 1995 World Series,” said Caray.

All Trash Panda games will be carried live on WUMP 730 AM and 103.9 FM. They will also be streamed online using the TuneIn app, and all home games will air via video streaming on MiLB.com (https://www.milb.com/live-stream-games/subscribe).

“First pitch will be at 6:35 p.m. giving people time to get off work, go home, pick up the kids, and go to the game,” said Caray.

Friday games will begin at 7:05 p.m. Saturdays are Fireworks Night beginning at 6:05 p.m. Sunday games will begin at 2:05 p.m. from April through June and move to 5:05 p.m. July through September to help with the heat. For information, visit trashpandasbaseball.com.

 

 

Trash Pandas Manager Brings Big-game, Championship Experience to First-year Club

MADISON — Jay Bell knows something about big moments in a baseball playing and coaching career spanning more than two decades, none more so than when he scored the winning run in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series as the Arizona Diamondbacks rallied to defeat the New York Yankees.

Jay Bell is the first manager of the Rocket City Trash Pandas (Photo/Rocket City Trash Pandas)

Over an 18-season Major League career, he won a Gold Glove, Silver Slugger and was twice an All-Star.

In three seasons as a manager in the Yankees minor league system, his teams made the playoffs each season including in 2019 when the Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes Barre RailRiders won the International League Northern Division.

He’s seen the other side of the sport as well.

He was at shortstop for Pittsburgh when Francisco Cabrera rolled a grounder just past a diving Bell to score Sid Bream from second base to lift Atlanta past the Pirates in a Game 7 win that clinched the National League pennant in a moment that lives in Braves’ lore.

Now comes his newest challenge: leading the Rocket City Trash Pandas into their first season as a member of the Los Angeles Angels’ Double-A affiliate in the Southern League.

“It is a thrill to be part of this inaugural season,’’ Bell said during an introductory press conference at Toyota Field, which is expected to open for the team’s first homestand beginning April 15 against the Mississipi Braves.

“To grow up in Pensacola, to have the opportunity to come to the Southern League and be a part of a brand new franchise, a state-of-the-art field, to be associated with Rocket City — Madison and the Greater Huntsville area — is tremendous.’’

Growing up in the Florida Panhandle, Bell said being back in the South and Alabama “feels like home.’’

He drove around the area in a rental car prior to the press conference and came away “really impressed with what is going on in this city. To be part of baseball coming back to this area is something special.’’

Bell is reuniting with Trash Pandas President and CEO Ralph Nelson. Nelson was working in the front office of the Arizona Diamondbacks when the club launched in 1998. Bell was a member of the team’s original roster.

“When I was a young baseball executive I worked for a guy named Al Rosen,’’ Nelson said. “He told me a little trick, which was to go down to the clubhouse and see who were the first players that showed up. He said ‘Ralph, those will be your managers.’

“In San Francisco, those guys were Dusty Baker, Doug Melvyn and Matt Williams. I went to Arizona and the first guys in every night were Craig Counsell, Matt Williams and Jay Bell. I knew Jay Bell would be a manager. I just didn’t know how fortunate we’d be to have him as ours.’’

Josh Caray, the Trash Pandas radio voice, echoed a theme the club has repeated since arriving.

“We are Double-A in name but a major league operation,’’ he said. “One of the things the Los Angeles Angels have done for us is they have provided us with a big-league manager.’’

Bell’s coaching staff will include Tim Norton (pitching), Matt Spring (hitting), Derek Florko (defense), Matt Morrell (trainer), and Jon Hill (strength and conditioning).

Bell and wife Laura have a daughter, two sons and two grandchildren. Sons Brantley and Brock play professionally for the Reds and Red Sox, respectively.

The Trash Pandas open the season April 9 with a five-game series at the Birmingham Barons and make their Toyota Field debut April 15 against the Mississippi Braves.

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.