Riverwalk Stadium, home of the Montgomery Biscuits
If you missed my first episode about the Macon Bacon, let me give you a bit of background. I was diagnosed with terminal cancer in September 2017 and immediately made a bucket list of things I wanted to do. At the very top was visiting a minor-league ballpark, so my wife and I did a road trip of the Deep South, taking in various towns and cities where we could see baseball. Unknown to me, she had contacted all of the baseball clubs to see if I could throw out the ceremonial first pitch.
The team chosen to be my first minor-league ballpark were the Montgomery Biscuits in Alabama, the Double-A affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays, who play in the Southern League. In England, the nearest thing to a biscuit is a savoury scone, minus the currants. In the South of America, biscuits are traditionally eaten at breakfast time or, if you should so fancy, at McDonalds with a burger.
Montgomery is most famous for being the home of Martin Luther King, the preacher shot amid American civil rights protests. We visited both Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, where he was a pastor and key part of the community, and his house, that had been bombed during the bus boycotts.
Dexter Avenue Baptist Church
Apart from Martin Luther King and its place as an administrative centre, very little else exists in the city centre, which is odd for us Brits. It is devoid of a natural downtown – shops, bars, restaurants are very few and far between. Most buildings are occupied by business or governmental offices and there are no noticeable residential districts ‘downtown’. Shopping malls on the outskirts seemed to be where people did their shopping.
However, hours before a Biscuits game, it is a different matter. People began to congregate outside the beautiful Riverwalk Stadium and occupied nearby bars and restaurants nearby. We visited Dreamland BBQ, legendary in the town for its incredible barbecue and local craft beers. The stadium has a varied history – it was once a train shed and a confederate military prison during the Civil War. From outside, it retains the look of an old-fashioned station – brickwork, a low roof and beams.
The Montgomery Biscuits’ ballpark was my very favourite of all the ones we visited on this trip. The South of America is like the North of England – here you will find the friendliest people in the country. Almost everyone you meet greets you with a “How are y’all?”
The staff at the ballpark, every single one of them, is a credit to the baseball club. From people giving out programmes, customer relations, shop staff, bar staff, they all chatted to us and wanted to know how two British women had landed in Montgomery to watch baseball. It’s one of the reasons I love the Biscuits, they go all out to make your fan experience an amazing one. We also met ‘Big Mo’, the Biscuits mascot – a giant elephant/aardvark creature, who kept fans entertained all night.
The Montgomery Biscuits have one of the best logos in all of MiLB as it is an actual biscuit. We stocked up with Biscuits-related goodies at the Biscuit Basket, the team store at the stadium. I sought out the Club Car Bar, who had two pianos duelling before the game. It was great to get a flavour of the local music scene. I took flavoured the local beer too, for Dutch courage for my upcoming star moment and all that.
Montgomery Biscuits logo
The Club Car Bar
The ballpark was a beauty – a fine view of the city skyline in the outfield, bare bricks forming the concession stands and best of all, a train track running along the back of the stadium with the longest trains I had ever seen running by.
Beautiful stand at the Riverwalk Stadium
When I saw one go by during the game, it went on for ten minutes. I ended up wishing I’d paid attention to how many carriages the train had because it must have been hundreds. The steam whistle sounded every minute or so and became the soundtrack of our trip, as we came to dread it if we were coming up to a crossing. Seeing the barriers go down could mean a twenty or thirty-minute delay to your journey.
Freight train running by – minus HR ball in it
People in the crowd told us that the local mayor used to pay $1000 if a Biscuits player got their home run into a train when the stadium first opened in 2004, but it didn’t happen on this night, much as I wished it to! Some internet research led to finding out Courtney Hawkins, of the Birmingham Barons hit a train in 2015. It seems amazing that a ball in a train could travel as far as Detroit, or even Montreal!
It was Independence Day. Americans are extremely patriotic, much more so than we are. The national anthem is played before any sports event and it is an expectation that everyone stands up and removes their caps for this. Anyone not doing this will be called out by those around them. I think I have sung the American national anthem more regularly since 2012 than the British one. I know all the words and join in like an honorary American.
Independence Day National Anthem
Lots of people were wearing stars and stripes for the occasion and I even saw some ‘Make America Great’ t-shirts in attendance. This would be my first encounter with Donald Trump supporters – all other Americans I’d met hated the man. We met a couple before the game wearing ‘MAGA’ t-shirts. It turned out they were nice people, even if I couldn’t agree with their politics. They were crazy Biscuits fans and travelled in from a nearby town to all the games.
When it was my time to go and throw out the ceremonial first pitch, I could hear loud whooping and hollering coming from behind home plate, where the batter stands. It was my ‘MAGA’ friends. This time I got the ball straight into the catcher’s mitt – my first ‘strike’.
Not quite Gerrit Cole yet!
Just relieved to not do ‘a 50 Cent’
Even better, I got to meet Nick Solak, who currently played for the Biscuits, but had been traded from the Yankees the year before. I recognised him and he was astonished to hear British people had even heard of him, let alone knowing the ins and outs of his career. Nick made it as far with the Rays, before being traded to the Texas Rangers last season, where he is expected to make the roster this year.
Nick Solak – current Ranger, ex-Biscuits, ex-Yankees
We sat with the ‘MAGAs’ for the rest of the game and talked baseball – it was fantastic to meet people who loved baseball and accepted our love of the game as equals. I had a pimento cheese biscuit during the game. It was one of the greatest things I have ever put in my mouth. The team even had a biscuit cannon, which fired biscuits into the crowd. Good job they didn’t come anywhere near, I might have trampled those in my vicinity to get my hands on one of those! Better than a t-shirt cannon any day.
The Biscuits were playing the Pensacola Blue Wahoos – another great team name. Their performance, sadly, didn’t match the lovely evening we’d had – a terrible 7-2 loss. A firework display worthy of any I had ever seen followed the game. I was thankful to hear trains had been delayed so it could take place.
Duelling fireworks at the end of the game
If you ever find yourself in Montgomery, you should see the Biscuits and eat the biscuits. Both are an experience to remember!
You can find the Montgomery Biscuits on Twitter as @BiscuitBaseball.
Sarah is covering the New York Yankees during 2020 as part of the growing team of writers at Bat Flips and Nerds. Follow her on Twitter @sarah2572