The Southern League has announced the winners of its annual Executive awards. This year’s slate features multiple awards for several teams, including the Birmingham Barons, Tennessee Smokies, Jackson Generals, and Pensacola Blue Wahoos.
The awards are voted on by club, media and umpire personnel. The award winners follow:
Jimmy Bragan Executive of the Year – Jonathan Nelson, Birmingham Barons
A longtime member of the professional baseball community and Birmingham Barons General Manager for the last 12 seasons, Jonathan Nelson earns his third career Jimmy Bragan Executive of the Year honors after another incredible season at Regions Field. Under Nelson’s leadership, the Barons have led the league in attendance the last four seasons, with 418,361 fans crossing the turnstiles this season. With unique promotions and community involvement, the Barons have become one of the premier franchises in all of Minor League Baseball. Perhaps most importantly, Nelson has assembled an incredible staff that continues to promote the Barons product, becoming the top attraction in downtown Birmingham. Nelson’s leadership within the league continues past Birmingham, serving on the Southern League Rules and Competition Committee and Hall of Fame Committee. Jonathan and his wife Christy, reside in Vestavia Hills, Alabama with their son Jonathan Jr. and daughter, Sophia.
Woman of Excellence Award – Miranda Black, Mississippi Braves
In her seventh season with the Mississippi Braves and first as Director of Tickets and Communications, Miranda Black was tasked with coordination of the Southern League All-Star Game, one in which she did not disappoint on her way to the 2016 Southern League Woman of Excellence Award. After two years as a media relations and sales trainee, Black was named Media Relations Manager before the 2013 season. Black is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the Trustmark Park Box Office, while continuing media relations duties, including graphic design projects, media/photo requests, the M-Braves website and all social media outlets. Coordinating school-day programs, Black also assists with executing MiLB partnerships, general game production and technology. A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi, she resides in Brandon, Mississippi. As the Southern League Woman of Excellence, Black is nominated for MiLB’s Rawlings Woman Executive of the Year Award.
Outstanding Employee of the Year Award – Chris Allen, Tennessee Smokies
As President and COO of the Tennessee Smokies, Chris Allen has been at the forefront of the Smokies Stadium recent renovations and increase in attendance, earning the Southern League Outstanding Employee of the Year Award. Under Allen’s leadership, the Smokies continue to break records in attendance, in-game revenue, ticket and corporate sales, outside events and merchandising. While also serving as President of Boyd Sports, Allen has juggled Smokies duties with the overhaul of the Appalachian League Johnson City Cardinals. A graduate of Liberty University, Allen has already produced an incredible career in the baseball industry and community alike, sitting on numerous Boards such as the Make-A-Wish Foundation of East Tennessee and Junior Achievement of East Tennessee. Chris and his wife Elisa live in Dandridge, Tennessee with their four children, Casey, Chase, Carolina, and Charley.
Don Mincher Organization of the Year – Birmingham Barons
Since a move back to Birmingham from Hoover a few seasons ago, the Birmingham Barons continue to provide one of the finest experiences in all Minor League Baseball year in and out, resulting in the 2016 Don Mincher Organization of the Year. Regions Field has become the top downtown option in the area over spring and summertime. Due in large part to a world-class ballpark and creative promotional schedule, the Barons have paced the League in attendance each of the last four seasons, including 418,361 this season. Led by the Jimmy Bragan Executive of the Year Jonathan Nelson and his staff, the club continues to set the bar in attracting area residents to the downtown area with incredible fireworks and Thirsty Thursday attendance figures, thereby identifying Regions Field as a vital cog in the community. As the Don Mincher Organization of the Year, the Barons will be nominated for the John H. Johnson Presidential Trophy as awarded by Minor League Baseball.
Southern League Promotional Trophy – Tennessee Smokies
Over the 2016 season, the Tennessee Smokies thrived in creating and executing unique promotional calendars, being named the 2016 Southern League Promotional Trophy winner. Launching a new weekly television program, “Bear Trax,” the Smokies focused on the team’s good works in the community, promotions and in-game entertainment. On two of the Smokies 23 post-game fireworks nights, the club set two of the highest single-game attendance totals in Smokies Stadium history, including a record-breaking 7,902 on May 14 for Stars Wars Night. During the season, CBS Sports named the club’s Han Solo Star Wars jersey the “best minor league promo jersey ever.” Re-structuring their giveaway days to Sundays, the Smokies saw a tremendous increase in attendance on those nights during the 2016 campaign. As the winner of the Southern League Promotional Trophy, the Tennessee Smokies will be nominated for MiLB’s Larry MacPhail Award.
Southern League Community Service Award – Pensacola Blue Wahoos
Consistently posting large charitable contributions and community initiatives, the Pensacola Blue Wahoos are named the 2016 Southern League Community Service Award winners. The organization remains active with non-profits throughout the Pensacola area, including the Epilepsy Foundation of North Florida, Autism Pensacola, the United Way, and the National Alliance of Mental Illness among others. In conjunction with the Studer Community Initiative, the Blue Wahoos raise awareness on the importance of early childhood education in the area to improve the community as a whole. Programs include Kazoo’s Grand Slam Reading Program, which reached nearly 9,000 people in 2016, nearly an 18% increase. The Blue Wahoos community relations team works year-round to identify ways to contribute to improving Pensacola to enact programs to bring about meaningful change. As the winner of the Southern League Community Service Award, Pensacola will be nominated for MiLB’s John Henry Moss Award.
Southern League Patriot Award – Chris Birch, Biloxi Shuckers
In their first full season in Biloxi, the Shuckers looked to continue and expand its military recognition in a heavy military economic area on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. The club looked to its Sales Director Chris Birch to spearhead those efforts. The honorary Commander of the 81st Communications Squadron and civilian liaison for public affairs in sharing the 75th Anniversary of Keesler Air Force Base, Birch has promoted incredible ties between the military and civilian leaders. In addition to the provision of tickets for military, Birch and the Shuckers host in-game military ceremonies, first pitch reunions and see Shuckers players coach clinics for military children, among countless other opportunities to honor and promote the local military. Through his dedication, Birch is named the inaugural Southern League Patriot Award winner, created to honor our patriotic individuals and clubs. As the winner of the Patriot Award, Birch will be nominated for the MiLB’s Charles K. Murphy Patriot Award.
Sports Media Award – Tyler Bouldin, WLOX-TV, Biloxi
With WLOX-TV in Biloxi, sports anchor and reporter Tyler Bouldin has diligently served Mississippi Gulf Coast residents with Shuckers action over the franchise’s first two campaigns. A Dallas native, Bouldin has worked with WLOX for three years. Producing game recaps, features and web contents, Bouldin places added emphasis on the young Biloxi franchise. A mainstay at MGM Park, the University of North Texas alum provides reports on Shuckers players and visiting Southern Leaguers alike, while also traveling to opposing stadiums.
Radio Broadcaster of the Year – Justin Baker, Mobile BayBears
After just his third season as Mobile play-by-play man, Justin Baker earns the 2016 Southern League Radio Broadcaster of the Year. A product of Georgia Southern University, Baker began his broadcasting career at his alma mater in 2007, calling Eagles action for five seasons. The Marietta, Georgia resident first joined the BayBears in 2012 as PA announcer and broadcast assistant before earning his spot behind the BayBears microphone in the 2014 season.
Best Visiting Clubhouse Attendant – C.J. Fedewa, Jackson Generals
As the winner of the best visiting clubhouse attendant, C.J. Fedewa of the Jackson Generals has shown exceptional work and service towards both the visiting and umpire clubhouses. Before, during and after the visiting clubs and umpiring crews have put long hours onto the field, Fedewa places equal time behind the scenes. The 2016 season marks his seventh year with the Generals franchise.
Groundskeeper of the Year Award (presented by MLB/MiLB) – Ray Sayre, Pensacola Blue Wahoos
For the fourth time in four seasons, Pensacola’s Ray Sayre was selected as the Groundkeeper 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) – Geoff Swanson, Jackson Generals
On August 26, the Professional Baseball Athletic Trainers Society selected Geoff Swanson of the Jackson Generals 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 in December at the Baseball Winter Meetings in National Harbor, Maryland.