Worth the wait: Trash Pandas finally make their home debut

This was, what, maybe 30 minor league opening days for me, counting all those times I was traveling with teams and saw two openers a year.

So, for those for asked, and even for those who didn’t ask, here’s what I thought of the milestone evening of May 11, 2021, when professional baseball returned to north Alabama — after apathy from ownership and the city and the fans killed the Huntsville Stars, after years of work to bring the Rocket City Trash Pandas to life, after the year of COVID-19.

If you want to nitpick and immediately declare everything a folly or a disaster off one night that had all its hiccups, I envy all the perfection that your life must be. Perhaps you should continue to devote your summer evenings to Netflix and self-reverence.

For the rest of us, who think a night at a ballpark is a wondrous experience, no matter some of the challenges, I’ll see you back at Toyota Field.

  • Yes, parking and traffic were a major problem. It will be solved. The blame can be shared – on the team for not having another lot entrance open, on fans who were oblivious to the no-cash, buy-your-pass in advance advisories – and simply that it was opening day. Things happen.
  •  It was no worse, frankly, than trying to find a parking space downtown when the Havoc has a sellout, there’s a concert at Mark C. Smith and a prom at North Hall.
  • As for concessions, line were long. The Trash Pandas are suffering from the same woes as every other service industry, whether it’s hotels, restaurants or construction. There is a manpower shortage. The other side of that, the food was good, the menu varied and the beer was cold.
  • The Simba Dance – and I suspect credit goes to Lindsey Knupp for having that as a crowd-involvement promotion – was awesome. Gotta see it for yourself. Lindsey may well be one of brightest people I’ve ever known in baseball.
  • You will see Reid Detmers, the Trash Pandas’ starting pitcher, on TV in the majors by mid-summer 2022. Or probably before. He’s the real deal. Big-league stuff, big-league mound presence.
  • Maybe because my seat was close to rightfield, but I think Izzy Wilson is my favorite Trash Panda. Big home run and a wonderful tumbling, run-saving catch. He reminds me a lot of Jason Heyward when he was coming up with the Braves.
  • It was a good game, but it also was just good fun all-around.
  • I was initially one of the great skeptics this would ever take place, then I certainly partook of the Kool-Aid. I’ve gotten close to this Trash Pandas family, and I’m so glad they’re here. It was a bittersweet night in some ways that Ralph Nelson wasn’t part of the celebration. He broke some eggs along the way, but he’s still the biggest reason pro baseball is back in north Alabama.
  • Kudos to Garrett Farhmann, the team’s VP, for keeping the car on the road these past few weeks. Even months.
  • Paul Finley, the Madison mayor, didn’t get his full due last night in pregame ceremonies. Instead, a campaigning politician grabbed far too much credit, making comments that were equal parts disingenuous and disappointing.
  • Lee Greenwood, take him or leave him. I left him 30 years ago.
  • I liked the way Jay Bell managed the game, gambling on some stolen base attempts and being aggressive.
  • I think I hate the extra-inning, start-with-a-man-on-second rule.
  • No. Wait. I know I hate it.
  • Stadium pet peeve: There should be at least one scoreboard where the score, balls and strikes and outs are visible 100 percent of the time.
  • “I’m still waiting on an autographed copy of the book,” one fan reminded me. Me, too. If you’ve followed this blog, you’ll know I’ve written a book on the Trash Pandas. It was at the printer when Ralph Nelson announced his resignation as CEO of the Trash Pandas. There was a considerable amount of biographical coverage of Ralph in the original manuscript, so much so that the publisher and I agreed it would not be appropriate to print as is. (More to come there in a future blog.)
  • One thing Ralph made sure to do was forge a tie with Huntsville’s baseball past, and he did so by deciding to retire Don Mincher’s number. Don, you should know, was a long-time major leaguer who grew up in Huntsville, became general manager and part-owner of the Stars and was the president of the Southern League. He was also one of my best friends. I still miss him. And I guess I forgot to take allergy medicine Tuesday, because about the time they revealed the No. 5 atop the board in centerfield, my eyes started watering. 
Don Mincher, at Joe Davis Stadium

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