Here are the honorees:
Jimmy Bragan Executive of the Year – Brian Cox, Tennessee Smokies
In his 14th season as general manager of the Tennessee Smokies, Brian Cox earns his third Jimmy Bragan Executive of the Year Award. After offseason updates to both the Smokies logos and Smokies Stadium, Cox saw his organization set a new franchise record with an average of 4,406 fans per game. On May 12, Smokies Stadium hosted 10,000 fans for a day-night doubleheader, while the single-game attendance record would be broken three times during 2015, capped by 7,866 on July 24. Under Cox’s leadership, the Smokies were named Tennessee Attraction of the Year by the Tennessee Hospitality and Tourism Association in addition to the Sevier County Attraction of the Year. Cox has seen continual growth over his time in Tennessee. In addition to fulfilling his numerous capacities in Kodak, Cox continues to serve as the Chairman of the Southern League Rules and Competition Committee. A native of Ohio and graduate of Bowling Green State University, Cox and his wife Cynthia live in Knoxville with their two sons, Brady and Logan.
Woman of Excellence Award – Lauren Chesney, Tennessee Smokies
As a member of the Tennessee Smokies for 17 years and 15 as Director of Community Relations, two-time Southern League Woman of Excellence Award winner Lauren Chesney has been and continues to be a vital stimulus behind the 2015 Tennessee Attraction of the Year. Chesney heads the Smokies outstanding community service branch that assists with Children’s Summer Reading, Caring Hands, Give a Kid a Ticket and Straight-A programs as well as mascot and player appearances throughout the area. Sitting on numerous local commerce and hospitality boards, Chesney oversees the Smokies incredible charitable giving and fundraising through initiatives that include but are not limited to jersey auctions, food and school supply drives, and the improvement of the baseball grounds at the East Tennessee Boys and Girls Club. As the Southern League Woman of Excellence, Chesney is nominated for MiLB’s Rawlings Woman Executive of the Year Award. Chesney is a local of the area, having graduated from Carter High School and East Tennessee State University.
Outstanding Employee of the Year Award – Jim Bishop, Mississippi Braves
Mississippi Braves assistant general manager Jim Bishop has been a mainstay of the Atlanta Braves’ Southern League affiliate through its time in Greenville to the transition to Pearl, Mississippi, earning the Southern League’s inaugural Outstanding Employee of the Year Award. Bishop is an integral member of the club’s advertising, corporate and sponsorship sales and special events initiatives. After his graduation from the University of South Carolina in 1992 where he served on the Gamecocks football equipment staff, Bishop began his Minor League career as an intern in Greenville. After a quick rise through the ranks, he was named to his current post in the fall of 1996. Ten years later, Bishop moved with the franchise to its current stop in Mississippi, where he has helped make the local Braves into an important piece of the local community. Jim and his wife Krista live in Brandon, Mississippi with their two children, Jack and Davis.
Don Mincher Organization of the Year – Pensacola Blue Wahoos
Since joining the Southern League in 2012, the Pensacola Blue Wahoos have produced an unmatched experience in baseball. Recently chosen as the “Best View in MiLB,” the Blue Wahoos organization prides itself on outstanding service to its loyal fanbase. Less than four years after its inception, Pensacola Bayfront Stadium saw its millionth fan walk through the turnstiles on Friday, May 8 of this year. Before the season started, the Blue Wahoos welcomed a new member to its ownership group when PGA tour member and two-time Masters Champion Bubba Watson joined Quint and Rishy Studer at the helm of the franchise. Watson made multiple appearances in Pensacola this season, only adding to the fan experience when he jumped on a dunk tank to support local charity. The Blue Wahoos have fully ingrained themselves with the local community and have provided the springboard to grow the downtown Pensacola area into a popular destination. As the Don Mincher Organization of the Year, the Blue Wahoos will be nominated for the John H. Johnson Presidential Trophy as awarded by Minor League Baseball.
Southern League Promotional Trophy – Mississippi Braves
The Mississippi Braves have taken some of the customary MiLB traditions and created a stronger and more stable product with its yearly promotional schedule. Through Special Olympics, ALS, Shirt-Off-Our-Backs, Leukemia-Lymphoma, Cancer Awareness and Salvation Army nights among countless other charitable promotions, the M-Braves produce a quality program that keeps their fans returning for more. Mississippi continues to reach out to former players and fan-favorite professional acts in addition to its bobblehead and T-shirt giveaways and fireworks displays. As the winner of the Southern League Promotional Trophy, the Mississippi Braves will be nominated for MiLB’s Larry MacPhail Award.
Southern League Community Service Award – Jackson Generals
In 2015, the Jackson Generals will have raised more than $10,000 for organizations within West Tennessee, while giving more than $100,000 total in donations to charities, schools and non-profits around the country and within the local community. The Generals serve as participants in numerous community projects that benefit local schools for underprivileged kids and mentor high school seniors with the Tennessee Promise Program. Jackson hands tickets to local Honor Roll students and recognize its Teacher of the Year with his or her own baseball card. The club has pledged $2 per hit to charity for each base knock former Generals and now Seattle Mariners star Kyle Seager records this season. The Generals have also hosted Easter and Labor Day events for local citizens. On August 22, Jackson roped off two seats designated the “Gold Star Family Seats” to be forever reserved in the memory of families in West Tennessee that have lost loved ones in active and non-active military service. As the winner of the Community Service Award, the Jackson Generals will be nominated for MiLB’s John Henry Moss Award.
Sports Media Award – Dan Shugart, WEAR ABC 3, Pensacola
A mainstay in the Pensacola press box from the Blue Wahoos inaugural season until now, WEAR Pensacola’s Dan Shugart has provided remarkable coverage of his local nine over the last four seasons. Shugart carries his excellent work beyond the diamond with practice, event and offseason footage. Bringing incredible baseball knowledge to the field each day, at times he may even stand in as the Blue Wahoos radio broadcaster when the call comes his way. Shugart has become such a staple in the community that the club hosted a “Dan Shugart Bobblehead Night,” featuring his signature mustache. Shugart’s presence and hard work have helped to create much of the goodwill between the Pensacola franchise and the local community.
Radio Broadcaster of the Year – Tommy Thrall, Pensacola Blue Wahoos
The Voice of the Blue Wahoos from its inception in 2012 through today, Tommy Thrall continues to serve as an integral part of Pensacola’s spectacular fan experience. In addition to his time as the daily play-by-play man and emcee of community events, Thrall also serves as the Blue Wahoos announcer for its televised contests on Cox Sports Television. Providing high baseball acumen with over a decade of experience in the booth, Thrall has proven to be an outstanding representative of the Blue Wahoos.
Best Visiting Clubhouse Attendants – Nathan Edwards & Terry Fellows, Montgomery Biscuits
As co-winners of the best visiting clubhouse attendant, both Nathan Edwards and Terry Fellows have shown exceptional work and service toward both the visiting and umpire lockers. Before, during and after the visiting clubs and umpiring crews have put long hours onto the field, Edwards and Fellows place equal time behind the scenes. This marks the third time in as many seasons that the Biscuits visiting clubhouse attendants have taken home attendant of the year honors after former clubhouse attendant Will Bowman earned the award in 2013 and 2014.
Groundskeeper of the Year Award (presented by MLB/MiLB) – Ray Sayre, Pensacola Blue Wahoos
For the third time in three seasons, Pensacola’s Ray Sayre was selected as the Groundskeeper of the Year. Joining the Blue Wahoos in 2012, its inaugural season, Sayre began his career working on the athletic fields of his native University of Kentucky. Graduating from Eastern Kentucky University with a degree in Turf Grass Management, Sayre worked for several Minor League teams before making his way to the Panhandle. As the Southern League’s Groundskeeper of the Year, Sayre will be nominated for the Sports Turf Managers Association classification winner.
Trainer of the Year (chosen by PBATS) – Shane Nelson, Tennessee Smokies
On August 17, the Professional Baseball Athletic Trainers Society selected Shane Nelson of the Tennessee Smokies as the Southern League Trainer of the Year, as voted upon by his peers. He becomes one of 18 league winners to be considered for Minor League Athletic Trainer of the Year, which will be announced at the Baseball Winter Meetings in Nashville.