Nashville Sounds Named Minor League Baseball Organization Of The Year

Photo: Courtesy of the Nashville Sounds

The Nashville Sounds have been named the Minor League Baseball Organization of the Year at the Baseball Winter Meetings Opening Night Reception and Awards Program at the Hilton San Diego Bayfront on Sunday, Dec. 4.

The coveted award celebrates the overall achievements of the Minor League Baseball club which demonstrates excellence across all business functions and in baseball operations. It’s the first time Nashville has won the award in its 45-year franchise history.

“We are grateful and humbled to be recognized with this award as it truly represents our entire organization,” says Sounds General Manager/COO Adam English. “None of this is possible without the incredible support from our ownership group starting with Frank Ward. His commitment to success and the resources provided is extraordinary. Our entire staff is extremely dedicated as we seek to provide the best possible experience at First Horizon Park to attendees and players alike. We are proud to share this award with our partners and the best fans in Minor League Baseball.”

2022 was a remarkable season for the Sounds both-and-off the field. The Sounds won the International League West Division with a 91-58 record, the only team in Minor League Baseball to surpass the 90-win mark. The on-field success was partnered with the highest attendance in Minor League Baseball. A total of 555,576 fans entered the gates of First Horizon Park in 73 home dates, an average of 7,611 fans per-game.

First Horizon Park hosted the two largest crowds in ballpark history in 2022. On Saturday, July 16, 2022, a staggering 12,409 fans packed the ballpark. The mark eclipsed the previous high of 11,824 fans on March 24, 2018, when First Horizon Park played host to a Texas Rangers exhibition game. Less than one month later, 12,140 fans attended a Saturday night game against Gwinnett. Overall, First Horizon Park hosted 13 sellouts in 2022, an increase from 10 sellouts in 2021. 2022’s overall attendance of 555,576 was an increase of over 118,000 fans from 2021 and was the eighth-highest single-season attendance in the 45-year history of the Sounds.

Sounds Manager Rick Sweet was at the helm for all 91 wins the club captured in 2022, bringing his all-time Minor League managerial win total to 2,192, fifth-most all-time. Along with numerous attendance and revenue records, the Sounds set single-season franchise records in runs scored (809), strikeouts by pitchers (1,265) and fielding percentage (.985). The 91 wins were the second-most in franchise history.

Specialty jersey auctions helped the Nashville Sounds Foundation raise over $13,000 for non-profits such as American Cancer Society, Notes for Notes, Conexión Américas, the MTSU Charlie and Hazel Daniels Veterans and Military Family Center and Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee. The Nashville Sounds Foundation also provided four graduating high school seniors with $2,500 scholarships to be used during their freshman year of college.

The team’s 2022 promotions schedule included 26 giveaway dates, nine postgame fireworks shows, a variety of themed weekends and several specialty nights. The promotions were highlighted by Play Ball Weekend (June 10-12), COPA de la Diversión Weekend (June 24-26), Tim Dillard’s jersey retirement and bobblehead giveaway (July 29) and a very special Norman “Turkey” Stearnes feature on Saturday, June 11 as part of Nashville’s commitment to The Nine program.

As part of Play Ball Weekend in mid-June, the Sounds hosted a series of free baseball and softball clinics at First Horizon Park. Along with the Play Ball Weekend festivities, the Sounds welcomed the family of Norman “Turkey” Stearnes to First Horizon Park for a special night. Stearnes was a pioneer in the rich history of the Negro Leagues in Nashville and is the only native Tennessean in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Together with the Sounds newly-formed The Nine committee, the Stearnes family was honored in an on-field pregame ceremony. A sellout crowd of 11,008 fans were treated to the first of two Norman “Turkey” Stearnes Shirsey Giveaways.

Nashville Sounds Manager Rick Sweet Named International League Manager Of The Year

Rick Sweet. Photo: Courtesy of the Nashville Sounds

Minor League Baseball announced that Nashville Sounds manager Rick Sweet has been named International League Manager of the Year. The honor comes as part of the 2022 Triple-A All-Star Teams and League Awards which were voted on by league managers.

Sweet led Nashville to the International West Division Championship with a 91-58 record and an appearance in the International League Championship Game. The Sounds were the only team in Minor League Baseball to surpass 90 wins in 2022. 

Sweet has tallied 2,192 wins as a minor league manager–the fifth-most in the history of Minor League Baseball. In three seasons (2014, 2021-22) as Nashville’s manager, Sweet is 238-176. His .575 winning percentage is the second-best in franchise history among managers with at least two seasons at the helm.

The Manager of the Year award is the fifth of Sweet’s career. He was named Pacific Coast League Manager of the Year in 1994, International League Manager of the Year in 2008 and 2009, and Baseball America’s Manager of the Year in 2010.

Sweet is the sixth Sounds manager in franchise history to garner a Manager of the Year award. Prior winners include Steve Scarsone in 2016 (Pacific Coast League Manager of the Year), Frank Kremblas in 2007 (PCL Manager of the Year), Rick Renick in 1996 and 1993 (American Association Manager of the Year) and Carl “Stump” Merrill in 1980 (Southern League Manager of the Year).

Darius Rucker’s Passion For Sports Is More Than Just A Hobby [Interview]

Darius Rucker. Photo: Jim Wright

Nashville’s sports scene continues to grow and, along with this growth, comes the inevitable crossover of country music and sports.

In recent years, more and more country music stars have started showing off their sports team pride, whether they’re teams in Nashville or around the country. Dierks Bentley and Carrie Underwood have been Preds superfans for years, Scotty McCreery has shown off his Carolina Hurricane pride and Kane Brown is been one of the University of Georgia football’s biggest cheerleaders.

However, for Darius Rucker, his fandom precedes his music career and is so much more than a hobby. Its part of his life.

“Sports have been so important to me. Especially football,” Rucker shares with The Sports Credential. “I’ve been a football and a Miami Dolphins fan since I was five-years-old. I remember the day I became a fan, it feels like it was yesterday. For so many years I’ve just lived and died with them, and I’ve lived and died with the Gamecocks [from the University of South Carolina].”

He sums, “Sports, they just mean everything to me.”

Rucker, a product of the University of South Carolina, has been an avid Gamecocks fan for decades, being one of the school and the team’s biggest supporters. His band, Hootie & the Blowfish, was founded on the campus of South Carolina and have become synonymous with the university, signaling that Rucker’s musical roots with the school run deep.

Pending his touring schedule, Rucker is either at or watching every South Carolina game, but his passion and knowledge doesn’t stop with the Gamecocks. Rucker is a serious college football junkie.

Rucker was the guest picker on ESPN’s College GameDay when the show visited the school in 2012 before the heated rival matchup between South Carolina and the Georgia Bulldogs. He came prepared to to the show, knowing more than just a super fan and impressing hosts Kirk Herbstreit and Lee Corso.

Watch Rucker’s appearance as the guest picker on College GameDay in the video below:

“One of my favorite things I’ve ever come up with is that there are two times of the year for me. There’s football season and there’s waiting for football season,” he notes cheekily.

His passion for football and for the Miami Dolphins pushed the multi-Platinum entertainer to move into the world of clothing as he partnered with Fanatics to start his own line of NFL gear. With the collection, fans can buy shirts, hoodies and jackets for their favorite NFL teams that were made in partnership with Rucker.

NFL x Darius Rucker Collection by Fanatics.

“I didn’t think I’d have a chance to have a clothing line with the NFL, so it was huge for me,” Rucker explains. “Getting the clothing line meant the world to me, and it did so well last year that they wanted to do it again this year. I’m loving the clothes this year more than I did last year. It’s pretty cool so I’m excited.”

Rucker sees the Fanatics collection as another way to be part of the sports community. Just like music and his love for South Carolina football, the community is what makes these things so much more special.

In 2020, Rucker became involved in another sports community, joining Music City Baseball LLC’s (MCB) Music Advisory Board in an effort to bring Major League Baseball to Nashville. MCB has teamed up with a number of artists and country singers, including Luke Combs, Justin Timberlake and Brown.

MCB is also partnered with the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, naming this potential team the Nashville Stars, honoring the Negro League teams that have played in the city under the same name.

“Nashville’s really becoming a big city and with that comes sports,” Rucker shares. “Being a part of the Nashville Stars and trying to bring a baseball team here is awesome.

Darius Rucker. Photo: Courtesy of Music City Baseball LLC

“I think Nashville and baseball is a no-brainer. It’s a great city for it, and it would be support more than a lot of teams are,” he continues. “Bringing the history and the legacy of the Nashville Stars, and keeping the old Negro League team at the forefront, is an important ingredient for me. I’m honored to be a part of it.”

Since 2016, Rucker has also been a partner with MGC Sports Agency where he offers insight and help in the recruiting process. In this role, he offers a perspective of what it’s like being in the entertainment industry, a Grammy award-winner, and an active, worldwide touring artist since the 1990’s.

With NIL exploding in the college football world, and as someone who began their career path in college, he offers a different perspective than most agents.

“I love the small role that I do have at the company,” he says. “I’m just over the moon, I can’t believe I get to do this, I have so much fun. When you sign the No. 1 NFL Draft pick in Trevor Lawrence, who plays for the Jacksonville Jaguars, it can’t help but be fun.”

Between College GameDay, South Carolina Women’s Basketball winning the National Championship, 18 SuperBowls and countless golf tournaments, it would seem hard to pick one game or one moment that stands out the most. For Rucker, though, singing the national anthem in front of a sea of fans at the World Series or the NBA Finals takes the cake.

“For me the thing that stands out the most is singing the anthem at the World Series, NBA Finals and the NCAA Finals,” Rucker explains. “Getting to do the anthem at those great events means the world to me. Being American and the sports fan that I am, every time I get to do the anthem is something very special.”

Between careers, family and life in general, some people’s fandoms tend to fall off as they get older and more responsibilities pile up. This is maximized in a career in the music industry, but sports are such an integral part of Rucker’s life that in no way has his fandom taken a backseat.

“I’m in five fantasy leagues,” Rucker quips. “When you love something as much as I love sports, you’ll find time for it. You’ll make time for it.”

A Look At The Vandy Boys Playing In The 2022 MLB Playoffs

Dansby Swanson. Photo: Courtesy of the Atlanta Braves

The MLB Postseason is here and though Nashville doesn’t have a dog in the fight, there are some Music City connections that Nashvillians can throw their support behind.

Vanderbilt baseball was ranked as the nations No. 1 college baseball program by D1 Baseball and for great reason. Along with the championships and winning records, head coach Tim Corbin has been able to produce some fantastic MLB prospects year in and year out.

This year is no different as four Vandy Boys will be representing their alma mater in the playoffs starting this weekend.

The reigning World Series champion Atlanta Braves are back in the postseason after winning the NL East in a tight race. The team has two former Commodores in Dansby Swanson and Kyle Wright, who were not only instrumental to their championship run, but proved to be irreplaceable this season as they lead the Braves to one of the most dominant performances among all teams.

Kyle Wright. Photo: Courtesy of the Atlanta Braves

Swanson, class of 2015, was a work horse this season, playing all 162 games at shortstop. He sported a batting average of .277 and on-base percentage of .329. He had a career-high of 177 hits and 96 RBI’s with 25 home runs. Through the Braves early season struggles and injuries, Swanson has been one of the most important players for the team.

Wright, class of 2017, emerged from last year’s World Series as a solid option for the Braves starting rotation coming into this season. But he has exceeded expectations, being one of the top pitchers in all of baseball.

In 2022, Wright pitched 30 games with an astounding 22 wins and ERA of 3.19. He struck out 174 batters and pitched 180.1 innings. He has been nothing short of superb and will be key for Braves as they look to repeat last season’s success.

The Braves are the No. 2 seed and will play next week, facing the winner of the series between the St. Louis Cardinals and Philadelphia Phillies.

Former Vandy superstar David Price, class of 2007, will also be representing the black and gold with the Los Angeles Dodgers this postseason, who finished with the best record in baseball at 111 wins. He’s been one of the better relief pitchers in the league for the better half of seven years, winning a World Series with both the Boston Red Sox and Dodgers. This season, he pitched in a career-high 40 games with an 2.45 ERA. Though he only pitched 40 innings, his presence will be needed for the Dodgers as games will most likely be tight towards the final innings.

David Price. Photo: Courtesy of Vanderbilt Athletics

Price joins fellow Nashville native and John Overton High School alum Mookie Betts, who won championships with Price in Boston and LA.

The Dodgers will also play the winner of the San Diego Padres and New York Mets next week.

There will be one former Vandy Boy playing in a Wild Card Series this weekend, and it will be class of 2011 catcher Curt Casali. He is a nine-year veteran behind the plate and played most of the season with the San Fransisco Giants before being traded to the Seattle Mariners. The Mariners punched their ticket to the postseason for the first time in 21 years.

Casali played 57 games this year–16 with Seattle–sporting a batting average of .207 and a on-base percentage of .318. He played 120 innings for the Mariners behind the plate and had a .993 fielding percentage. Casali was named to the team’s Wild Card roster this morning and will take on the Toronto Blue Jays later today (Oct. 7) at 4:07 p.m. CT.

Savannah Bananas Bringing ‘Baseball Circus’ To First Horizon Park In 2023

The Savannah Bananas. Photo: Courtesy of MiLB

The Nashville Sounds have announced that Minor League Baseball phenomenon, the Savannah Bananas, are bringing their “World Famous Baseball Circus” to First Horizon Park on June 2, 2023.

Affectionately referred to as ‘The Greatest Show in Sports” by ESPN, the Bananas have reimagined the baseball experience and the game itself. The Bananas sold out every night of the seven-city 2022 “Banana Ball World Tour,” with over 700 cities and 28 countries being nominated by thousands of fans for the 2023 tour. The team has now narrowed it down to the final 32 cities, in addition to their games in Savannah.

In addition to the cast of characters, dancers, performers, mascots and musicians, the Bananas will bring their own twist to First Horizon Park. Banana Ball is a fast-paced, action-packed style of baseball with rules that include no bunting, a two-hour time limit, fans catching foul balls for outs, batters stealing first base, and a one-on-one tiebreaker showdown at the end of the game.

“We’re thrilled to bring the Savannah Bananas to First Horizon Park,” says Sounds GM/COO Adam English. “To be able to showcase this truly unique and creative brand of baseball to the best fans in Minor League Baseball is a great opportunity.”

The 2022 World Tour was turned into a 5-part documentary, Bananaland, that can be seen on ESPN+. The Tour was also covered by HBO Real Sports, the Today Show, FOX Sports, The New York Times, LA Times, CBS Sunday Morning and more.

“The response has been absolutely Bananas for this world tour,” says Savannah Bananas Owner Jesse Cole. “Everywhere we go we hear from fans begging us to come to their city. We are so grateful for their support and because of their passion for the Bananas and Banana Ball we knew we had to extend the tour dramatically in 2023. Now we are bringing the show to almost four times the amount of cities as we did in 2022 to make sure we able to connect with as many Bananas fans as possible. Taking the Bananas to Nashville and First Horizon Park has been something we’ve heard constantly from our fans over the years. We are fired up to bring an unforgettable show to them this spring.”

The Savannah Bananas play their home games in front of a sold out, 4,000-person crowd at Grayson Stadium in Savannah, Georgia. Bananas home games have been sold out for six straight years with the priority list for tickets reaching 80,000 in Savannah alone.

The team has been known as TikTok’s favorite team with over 3 million followers. The Bananas have been featured across the globe for playing a game in kilts, using a Dancing First Base Coach, the Banana Nanas Dance Team, the first ever baseball player to wear stilts, a Banana Pep Band, breakdancing players, and more.

Individual tickets will go on sale in early April at the Savannah Bananas website. Group tickets for the June 2 game are on sale now at www.firsthorizonpark.com.

Vanderbilt Baseball Drops Full 2023 SEC Schedule

Hawkins Field

Vanderbilt baseball’s 2023 SEC schedule is set, with the Commodores due to play Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Tennessee. 

The 30-game conference slate gets underway March 17–19 when the Commodores welcome the Ole Miss Rebels to Hawkins Field, marking third consecutive season that Vanderbilt will open conference play at home. The Rebels will be making their first trip to Hawkins Field since 2018 when Vandy won the final two games of the three-game set to claim the series victory.

The series with Ole Miss will be the first of back-to-back weekends against SEC West opponents, as Vanderbilt will travel to Mississippi State one weekend later. The Commodores will make their first trip to Starkville since 2018.

Vandy will also welcome Georgia (March 31-April 2), South Carolina (April 14-16), Kentucky (April 28-30) and Arkansas (May 18-20) to Nashville as part of its conference home slate.

In addition to their travel to Mississippi State, the Commodores will visit Missouri (April 6-8), Tennessee (April 21-23), Alabama (May 5-7) and Florida (May 12-14).

The updated schedule replaces the previously announced schedule that was recalled due to an error that resulted in two games appearing on the 2023 Conference slate that were not scheduled to take place until 2024.

The SEC slate is subject to change for television scheduling. The Commodores will release their non-conference schedule at a later date.

Vanderbilt plans to open fall training on Oct. 18. The Commodores’ fall schedule features a pair of exhibitions, including a home matchup against Samford (Oct. 22), and a neutral-site contest against Arizona State in Las Vegas. The team will conclude the fall with the annual Black and Gold Game tentatively scheduled for Nov. 13.

College Corner: Vandy Baseball, TSU Basketball, Blue Raider Hall Of Fame

Vanderbilt Baseball Ranked As Nation’s Top Program By D1Baseball

Photo: Courtesy of Vanderbilt Athletics

Vanderbilt baseball has been ranked as the nation’s top program in D1Baseball’s bi-annual Top 100 rankings.

The Commodores, led by head coach Tim Corbin, receive their second No. 1 ranking since 2015. They were ranked second in both 2017 and 2019. They are the only team to have been ranked among the top two spots in each of D1Baseball’s lists. Vandy has posted two national titles across the last nine seasons, including four trips to the College World Series finals.

Vanderbilt has advanced to an SEC-best 16 consecutive NCAA Tournaments, including seven NCAA Super Regionals in the last decade. The Commodores are the first school to reach the College World Series finals four times at TD Ameritrade Park and the first to capture multiple titles at the ballpark.

The top four programs on the list hail from the SEC, including Arkansas (No. 2), Mississippi State (No. 3) and Florida (No. 4). Oregon State rounds out the top five, followed by Louisville, LSU, Ole Miss, Texas Tech and Stanford.

 

 

TSU Basketball Finalizes Coaching Staff Ahead Of 2022-23 Season

Tennessee State University (TSU) men’s basketball head coach Brian “Penny” Collins has finalized his staff for the upcoming season, naming alum Brandon Lockridge as the Director of Basketball Operations.

With the addition of Lockridge, Collins also promoted Josh Bone to Assistant Coach after spending the previous seasons as a video coordinator and Director of Basketball Operations. Collins also bumped up Assistant Coaches Russ Willemsen and Jerry Nichols to Assistants.

Lockridge previously served under former head coach Cy Alexander during the 2007-08 season after two seasons as a graduate assistant video coordinator. As a player, Lockridge served as a team co-captain his senior season and was regarded as one of the top 3-point shooters in the OVC. He finished his collegiate career 10th all-time in the TSU record books with 116 3-point field goals. Lockridge has a career night as a junior when he dropped 18 points in 24 minutes, connecting on 6-of-9 from downtown at Ohio State. He finished his junior season seventh in the OVC in 3-point shooting.

His coaching career began in 2014 on Collins’ staff at Columbia State where the duo led the Chargers to back-to-back NJCAA National Tournament appearances, including runs to the Elite Eight in 2014, Sweet 16, and Region 7 Championship in 2015.

 

Blue Raider Hall Of Fame Induction Set For Oct. 14

The Blue Raider Hall of Fame Class of 2022 induction ceremony is set for Friday, Oct. 14, in front of the Emmett and Rose Kennon Sports Hall of Fame at 6 p.m. CT. The ceremony, as always, will be open to the public and will feature refreshments prior to its start.

The Class of 2022 features alumni from four different decades of Blue Raider athletics, with inductees recognized for their on-the-field achievements and for being outstanding representatives of the MTSU community. The Class of 2022 includes:

  • Leslie (Clark) Vance (Volleyball, 2006-09): The volleyball program’s all-time assists leader that led the Blue Raiders to four NCAA Tournament appearances as a setter
  • Krystle Horton (Women’s Basketball, 2003-07): A dynamic two-way player that ranks in the top 10 for both points and rebounds as a Blue Raider, helping MTSU win three NCAA tournament games across her career
  • Kevin Kanaskie (Men’s Basketball, 2006-09): The all-time assists and minutes played leader; he is the only Blue Raider men’s basketball player with at least 1,200 points, 400 assists and 200 3-pointers
  • Sandy (McMillan) Neal (Women’s Tennis, 1973-76): The first female scholarship student athlete at MTSU that played on Court 1 for both singles and doubles, eventually leading the women’s tennis program to three OVC titles as a coach
  • Bryan Peck (Baseball, 1999-2000): A Louisville Slugger/Collegiate Baseball All-American; the two-time All-OVC selection still ranks in the top 10 in career average, home runs and slugging percentage
  • Don Thomas (Football, 1985-88): An Associated Press First-Team All-American; started at linebacker for MTSU for four seasons, including the Blue Raiders’ 1985 11-0 regular season campaign

Nashville Sounds Clinch Division Title For First Time Since 2016

Photo: Courtesy of the Nashville Sounds

The Nashville Sounds are back in the postseason, winning the International League West Division title after beating the Louisville Bats 6-3 in 10 innings on Friday (Sept. 24).

This is the Sounds’ second full season in the International League West Division and first division title since 2016. This title is manager Rick Sweet‘s seventh division title and first since managing Colorado Springs in 2017.

The game was tied 3-3 going into the 10th inning, but back-to-back bunts by the Sounds scored the go-ahead run. Matt Lipka singled on a bunt that put Andruw Monasterio at third. Esteury Ruiz then got a bunt down and Monasterio beat the throw home from the Bats pitcher, making it a 4-3 game.

Brice Turang then gave Nashville a couple more insurance runs, doubling to the left center field gap that brought home Lipka and Ruiz. It gave the Sounds a 6-3 advantage going to the bottom of the 10th.

With three outs to get, Trevor Kelley came out of the bullpen and got the job done. The right-hander walked one, but struck out three-straight Bats to secure the win and begin the celebration in Louisville.

The Sounds record is 89-57 with just three games left in the regular season. Nashville finishes with a three-game home series against the Memphis Redbirds starting tonight (Sept. 26).

After the regular season concludes, the Sounds will play the winner of the International League East Division in a one-game playoff to determine the 2022 league champion. This game is set for Saturday, Oct 1, at 8:05 p.m. CT.

That winner will play the Pacific Coast League champion on Sunday, Oct. 2, at 6:05 p.m. CT to crown the overall Triple-A National Champion.