The Southern League has announced the winners of its 2017 Executive awards. The awards, as selected by club, media and umpire personnel, are as follows:
Jimmy Bragan Executive of the Year – Harold Craw, Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp
In just his second year as General Manager of the Jacksonville club, Harold Craw helped create one of the most exciting seasons in Southern League history. Prior to the 2017 season, Jacksonville re-branded from the longtime Suns into the unique Jumbo Shrimp. The re-brand included new logos, colors and nicknames that sparked interest into Double-A baseball’s highest attendance increase. After drawing 264,401 fans in 2016, the Jumbo Shrimp saw a spike of more than 60,000 fans to 325,743 patrons. In addition to the 23 percent attendance increase, Craw has overseen the transition in ownership with a new staff and well-received updates to Bragan Field at the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville. Under Craw’s leadership, the Jacksonville franchise has taken its place in the upper echelon of Double-A and Minor League Baseball organizations. Craw lives in Jacksonville with his wife, Angie and two daughters, Cameron and Jasmine.
Woman of Excellence Award – Donna Kirby, Pensacola Blue Wahoos
A member of the Blue Wahoos staff since the inaugural 2012 season, Pensacola Vice President of Operations Donna Kirby has been an integral figure to the early success of the franchise. In her current role, Kirby focuses heavily on producing Pensacola’s unmatched customer service, leveraging her mentorship and metrics gathered through gameday surveys. As standard practice, the club surveys fans after every game, and Kirby analyzes the results while working with department heads to improve the Blue Wahoos product. This season, Kirby added logistics for the 2017 All-Star Game to her resume, and although the game was cancelled, staff and players were able to move seamlessly to events thanks to her efforts. Kirby works with multiple non-profit organizations, and she has conducted seminars and programs designed to improve companies’ customer service. As the winner of the award, Donna Kirby will be nominated for MiLB’s Rawlings Woman Executive of the Year Award.
Outstanding Employee of the Year Award – Ari Rosenbaum, Mobile BayBears
As a member of the BayBears front office over the past 11 seasons and Assistant General Manager for three, Ari Rosenbaum has served the Mobile front office with continued dedication. Stepping in to address a myriad of departments from IT and electrical to press box duties, Rosenbaum is certainly a jack-of-all-trades. Rosenbaum oversees the in-game operations of the club, including scoreboard and video board, music and promotions. A loyal and passionate member of the staff, he has shown a willingness to go above and beyond his job description to help the club function at an operating level.
Don Mincher Organization of the Year – Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp
With a nearly 25% increase in attendance from 2016 to 2017, the largest in Double-A, the Jacksonville organization created a buzz throughout the sports industry. After an offseason rebrand from the longtime Suns to the Jumbo Shrimp that was featured on just about every sports media outlet, the club proved the doubters wrong with an exceptional product both on the field and in the community. Through ballpark renovations and clever promotions, the Jumbo Shrimp brought a level of excitement back to the city of Jacksonville. With 2017 Entrepreneur of the Year Ken Babby and Jimmy Bragan SL Executive of the Year Harold Craw at the forefront of an excellent staff, the Jumbo Shrimp saw merchandise sales spike, shipping products to all 50 states and 16 countries. The Jumbo Shrimp served as partners with the military community, as well as countless non-profit organizations. As winners of the award, Jacksonville will be nominated for MiLB’s John H. Johnson Presidential Trophy.
Southern League Promotional Trophy – Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp
After an off-season re-branding was met with speculation from around the sports world, it would be hard to argue that the Jumbo Shrimp have not created a successful image around the Jacksonville community and Minor League Baseball. The daring rebrand brought an almost 25% increase in attendance this season, coupled with renovations to the ballpark itself. The Jumbo Shrimp also saw heavy merchandise sales, shipping new wares to all 50 states and 16 different countries. This year, the club’s new nickname, logos, slogans, and innovative promotions that included the MiLB Promotion of the Month “Shrimp Neck Pillow” and a unique take on Father’s Day has been featured in media from ESPN and The Today Show to Sports Illustrated and countless online sources. As winners of the award, Jacksonville will be nominated for the MiLB’s Larry MacPhail Award for Outstanding Club Promotion.
Southern League Community Service Award – Pensacola Blue Wahoos
For the second time in as many seasons, the Pensacola Blue Wahoos are named the Southern League Community Service Award winners. 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, the Blue Wahoos organization consistently leads the League in contributions through their improvement of the Pensacola area. 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 includes classroom visits and kickoff parties. 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 – Montgomery Biscuits
As hosts of the USAF Thunderbirds and the Patrouille de France, the Montgomery Biscuits kicked off the 2017 season with a military theme and didn’t stop there. The Biscuits hosted their annual Military Appreciation Night which drew nearly 7,000 fans and saw almost 100 cadets sworn in to the Armed Forces. The Montgomery staff works hard to honor the service members of the United States Military, recognizing a hero at every “Military Wednesday,” an event that also saw thousands of airmen enjoy special benefits at Riverwalk Stadium. As partners with the local Maxwell Air Force Base, GM Scott Trible serves as the Honorary Commander of the Air Command and Staff College, as well as the 908th Airlift Wing. As the winner of the Patriot Award, Montgomery will be nominated for MiLB’s Charles K. Murphy Patriot Award.
Sports Media Award – Bill Vilona, Pensacola News Journal
As a valued member of the Pensacola News-Journal, Bill Vilona has been a part of Pensacola Blue Wahoos coverage since the team’s inaugural season in 2012. With coverage of games, practices and off-site events, Vilona offers insight into the Blue Wahoos franchise year-round. A member of both the University of West Florida Athletics Hall of Fame and Pensacola Sports Hall of Fame, this marks Vilona’s first Southern League Sports Media Award.
Radio Broadcaster of the Year – Chris Harris, Biloxi Shuckers
In his third season as Biloxi play-by-play man and ninth total Southern League campaign, Chris Harris earns his second Radio Broadcaster of the Year nod and first as a member of the Shuckers organization. The 2013 award winner with the Jackson Generals, Harris was one of the first hires in Biloxi’s franchise history, spearheading the club’s broadcasting and media relations duties. Highlighted by ESPN during their 54-game road trip two seasons ago, Harris has been integral to the growth of the Shuckers brand.
Best Clubhouse Attendant – Shawn Jenkins, Tennessee Smokies
As the winner of the best clubhouse attendant, Shawn Jenkins of the Tennessee Smokies has shown exceptional work and service towards umpire clubhouse, while also assisting the home and visiting clubhouses where needed. Before, during and after the clubs and crews have put long hours onto the field, Jenkins places equal time behind the scenes. The 2017 season marked his first year with the Smokies.
Batboy of the Year – Wesley Sullivan, Mobile BayBears
While often going unnoticed, batboys serve an important role in helping the game of baseball move along at the proper pace. This season, the Southern League recognizes Wesley Sullivan of the Mobile BayBears as the inaugural Batboy of the Year. A graduate of St. Paul’s Episcopal School in Mobile, Sullivan has worked tirelessly with the BayBears this season, gaining the respect of umpires, managers and front office personnel alike.
Groundskeeper of the Year Award (presented by MLB/MiLB) – Ray Sayre, Pensacola Blue Wahoos
For the fifth time in five 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. Most recently, Sayre has handled double duties as the groundskeeper for the University of West Florida football program. 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) – Tyler Moos, Pensacola Blue Wahoos
On August 19, the Professional Baseball Athletic Trainers Society selected Tyler Moos of the Pensacola Blue Wahoos 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 Orlando, Florida.