E.A. Sports Today

‘The Monsters are here’

Oxford City Council approves lease agreement for summer collegiate baseball team in Choccolocco Park

Ignite Sports president Scott Brand addresses the crowd during Tuesday’s Oxford City Council meeting that introduced the Choccolocco Monsters to the community. On the cover, Brand, Sunbelt Baseball League commissioner Todd Pratt (C) and Choccolocco Park’s Billy Thompson await the formal vote. (Photos by B.J. Franklin)

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

OXFORD – Scott Brand knew Oxford would be a good place for a summertime baseball team when he first came through town, even if he was a little mistaken on the field that ignited his idea.

Brand and several other officials representing the Sunbelt Baseball League and its teams were on hand at Choccolocco Park Tuesday night as the Oxford City Council approved a lease agreement for an SBL expansion team to play on the park’s Signature Field beginning in June 2022.

The team will be called the Choccolocco Monsters and join eight other teams from Georgia in a 32-game collegiate summer wooden-bat league that’s partially funded by Major League Baseball. The teams are comprised of eligible college players largely from within 60 miles of their team’s home plate.

“Through all the work and all the effort I can finally say that the Monsters are here,” said Brand, the president of Ignite Sports and GM of the league’s Columbus Chatt-a-Hoots.

“This is a big moment for our city,” Oxford Mayor Alton Craft said.

The team plans to set up local offices in the Friendship Community Center within the next 30-45 days, but it already has a phone line and website set up for advance season ticket sales. It hopes to have a field manager in place by the start of the new year.

Under the terms of the agreement, the team will pay a yearly $50,000 lease to the City of Oxford and draw revenue from merchandise, advertising and alcoholic beverage sales. The city also will get parking and concessions from approximately 16 home games. 

Part of the lease fee will go towards building shower facilities in the locker rooms and 300 additional seats down the lines, expanding the capacity of the Signature Field to 1,500. Future plans call for the addition of suites.

Officials are hoping the team will draw at least 800 fans per game. Brand said his team in Columbus typically drew 2,000 on regularly scheduled dates and 1,000 when the schedule is altered.

“What we’ve gotten from the community has been incredible to this point,” Brand said. “This is one of the most beautiful facilities I’ve been involved with; you all just have a tremendous, tremendous home.

“We’re excited to be in Oxford, but as important we’re excited to be in baseball country. The first time I came here and watched the high school team play I could tell you know baseball here and this is for sure baseball country. We thought we were in baseball country down there (in Columbus), but when I came up here, wow, this is really a sports community … We knew coming here was going to be a home run.”

Depending on the story one choses to believe, the team’s nickname is an homage to either the homemade creature who jumped in front of traffic and gained local legend status in the 1960s or the local farmer’s runaway brahman bull in the fog. Whichever version is accepted, Brand said the idea behind the name was management’s desire to have something “we could have fun with the whole region.”

SBL commissioner Todd Pratt. (Photo by B.J. Franklin)

The Monsters and Columbus Chatt-a-Hoots, which play in historic Golden Park, will be the league’s outliers. The rest of their teams are all based in metro Atlanta – the Brookhaven Bucks (playing at Oglethorpe University), Alpharetta Aviators (Veterans Field), Atlanta Crackers (Kennesaw State), Gainesville Braves (Ivey Watson Field), Gwinnett Astros (Peachtree Ridge HS), Marietta Patriots (Georgia State complex) and Waleska Wild Things (Reinhardt University).

The Aviators beat the Chatt-a-Hoots two games to none for the league championship this past weekend.

“We’re always looking to grow,” SBL commissioner Todd Pratt said. “We continue to look for ballparks. We’re very careful who we choose.

“This is the ninth team. It just shows you the success and the value of family entertainment, especially through all the bad times we’ve gone through the last 18 months. The kids have to play.”

Brand, who’ll oversee the Monsters’ operation until a full-time general manager is hired, is the GM of the Columbus minor-league hockey team, a former hockey player and executive, and a big wrestling fan.

One day a couple years ago he was on his way to a wrestling show in Munford when he passed the Oxford Civic Center complex along the interstate. Of course, he was looking at it from a distance going about 70 mph, but one field caught his eye.

His first thought was the field really looked good, but it as he got closer he reasoned it would yield a lot of home runs. He later learned it was the city’s Field of Dreams ballpark for special needs players.

Still, as he made his way around the area he thought it looked as if it could support the kind of team he was interested in running. A few months later on a drive back to the family farm in Michigan he remembered that little field along the interstate and decided to take a detour for a closer look.

He punched local baseball parks into his GPS and the device took him to Choccolocco Park for the first time. He thought to himself this wasn’t the field he saw the first time, but he was really blown away by the Signature Field.

The wheels were in motion.

“I was like, ‘Why don’t they have a team here?” he said. “I did more research and started calling around to some people. One thing led to another and here we are.

“I don’t want to use the word stumbled on Choccolocco Park because it’s such an outstanding facility, but if it wasn’t for wrestling and the Field of Dreams off the highway, it would’ve just been another stop on my many travels.”

The last time there was summer wooden-bat baseball in Calhoun County the East Alabama Big Train made a brief showing at Jacksonville’s Henry Farm Park in 2009.

You must be logged in to post a comment Login