The West Tenn Diamond Jaxx baseball franchise opened play for the first time in 1998 as the AA affiliate of the Chicago Cubs. Since 2007, the Jaxx have been the affiliate of the Seattle Mariners and were purchased last year by a group led by David Freeman, owner of the National Hockey League’s Nashville Predators.
The Jaxx, like many other minor league baseball organizations, focus on providing a product that will entertain fans and non-fans of baseball in a low-cost and safe environment.
“We think we provide a clean, safe, affordable environment that’s very family-friendly,” Jaxx general manager Tom Hanson said. “The economy, as bad as it’s been, has hurt us on pre-season sponsorships and season ticket sales, but it’s helped our attendance because it’s cost-effective, you can bring the whole family here and it’s not just for big baseball fans.”
Hanson said Jaxx representatives have been meeting with mayors, Chambers of Commerce, media as well as working with youth programs and schools in surrounding areas to get the word out about the team and what the franchise offers.
“As we look at how to market the franchise and how to get more people here, we look at the surrounding areas,” Hanson said. “We’re getting through the transition of a new staff and starting to get out into the surrounding communities. We focus on Jackson and Madison County (Tenn.), but we know how important it is for us to get visitors from other areas, as well. Our market as we see it is from here to Memphis, here to Nashville and here to western Kentucky and southeast Missouri.”
The Jaxx offer special promotions throughout the season – some baseball-related, some not. Last week, the team hosted an autograph session with former Atlanta Braves star Dale Murphy. The afternoon before, the Jackson Fire Department was on hand with a pair of firefighters stationed on each side of the stadium, armed with a fire hose to douse youth groups in the stands between innings.
“We are trying to do things within the park that are entertaining during the game,” Hanson said. “That’s what minor league baseball is all about.”
Like other minor league teams, Jaxx front office staff never know how long they’ll have certain players on the roster. Despite that, Hanson said the organization is able to market its players to a degree.
“We talk more about coming to the park to see future stars,” Hanson said. “Our parent club has Ichiro and Ken Griffey, Jr., and they can focus on those guys. Here, we’re talking more in general statements. Whether it’s our players or guys on the other team, you’re seeing players that you’ll be seeing in Major League Baseball in a year or two.”
The organization has been able to highlight specific players with interesting situations, like one player who defected from Cuba. Another player, who played in the Southern League All-Star Game while with the Jaxx, is completely deaf.
“Locally, we’re able to talk about the players and relay some really neat stories about them,” Hanson said.
Pringles Park will begin a three-year stint as host of the Ohio Valley Conference Baseball Tournament beginning in 2010, and will also host the 2011 Southern League All-Star Game.
The park is also integrated into a new $13 million complex that includes 17 youth baseball and softball fields which host nearly 40 tournaments a year.
“We can hold 100 teams on any given weekend,” Hanson said.
The complex will soon feature an expansive retail development, as well.
“We have one of the most unique developments in the United States right here at Exit 85 on Interstate 40,” Hanson said. “We couldn’t find any other place in the country that’s got what we have for baseball and softball enthusiasts.”
Hanson sand the Jaxx organization prides itself on providing a product that can be enjoyed by everyone.
“Double-A baseball is as good as it gets,” Hanson said. “It’s affordable and it’s family-friendly. We’ve got a special event every night to make it more affordable for those travling into town. For something to do that’s within driving distance, we think we’ve got that going for us.”
The team: During its stint as a Cubs affiliate, West Tenn was a rehab location for players like Sammy Sosa and Nomar Garciaparra and an early-career launching pad for current stars like Carlos Zambrano, Geovany Soto and Ryan Theriot.
After finishing last in the Southern League’s North Division during the season’s first half, the Jaxx currently lead the division by two games early in the second half.
The game: The Diamond Jaxx and the Mississippi Braves were never more than one run apart last Wednesday in a game that featured five lead changes and three ties. The Braves scored twice in the top of the ninth for a 6-5 win.
Anthony Vavaro took the mound for the Jaxx in the ninth with a save opportunity, but he walked the bases loaded and blew the save after a sacrifice fly and a single.
Attendance was announced at 1,662.