In recent days, Mississippi residents learned that the M-Braves would be leaving Pearl, thereby leaving a stadium that holds 8,840 fans empty at the end of the 2024 baseball season.
Tim Bennett, the principal African-American facilitator who brought the M-Braves stadium to Pearl in 2005, reminds us of Alfred Lord Tennyson’s famous quote… “Tis better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all.”
In a one on one interview with the Jackson Advocate, Bennett, the present-day owner of the Hank Aaron Sports Academy, said, “Mississippi must look at the fact that we had a great run with the M-Braves being here and now that our time is soon to be over, we have to just be grateful that Pearl has benefitted in so many ways with job creation and business development in and around the stadium where there was nothing before.
“The Braves stadium also increased the tax base and allowed Mississippi to enjoy a 20-year run that can be attributed to the collective foresight and vision of former governor Haley Barbour, businessman Bill Yates, and then Pearl mayor Jimmy Foster.”
Current Pearl mayor, Jake Windham, said publicly that he’s disappointed with the Braves’ decision to leave Pearl and that the City of Pearl had worked with the Mississippi legislature to create legislation to help the ball club to remain in the city, but their efforts were not sufficient to keep them.
When asked what impact will the Braves departure have on the Hank Aaron Sports Academy, Bennett replied, “The impact should be minimal as it was understood the Hank Aaron Sports Academy’s formal contract would end when and if the Braves ever left Mississippi. However, the Braves organization has assured me that they will continue to work with the Academy and its acknowledgement that Hank Aaron was and is the greatest Braves player of all time. Thus, they will continue to further and take pride in the mission of Mr. Hank Aaron to expose minority youth to Major League Baseball.”
Bennett said the stadium has been well maintained and it would be a shame not to see it used for what it was originally intended in some capacity. However, it will be the decision of the developer, Spectrum-Bloomfield, to determine what will happen with the stadium.
“I also feel that the City of Pearl will want to have a voice in the fate of the stadium, especially since Pearl has benefitted so much from the likes of the Bass Pro Shop and the Mississippi Outlet Mall, along with other business entities surrounding the property that previously was not developed prior to the arrival of the stadium.
“Now that the City of Pearl has resort status, I feel that what has already been built around the stadium and the surrounding area will go a long way in mind of the developers as to what happens next.”
Bennett is also a former part owner of the Milwaukee Brewers minor league team, and the Biloxi Suckers on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. “I envision Mississippi will continue to have a presence with Major League Baseball now and into the future. I don’t want anyone to think that the Hank Aaron Sports Academy is going anywhere. We intend to continue to work for and with the minority youth in Mississippi to increase the presence of Mississippi baseball players in the Majors.”
Since the Braves came to Mississippi, there have been approximately 160 players that have advanced to the Major Leagues. “Hank Aaron Sports Academy will continue to work with everyone to increase the African-American presence from its present-day six percent representation and the Latin presence from thirty-three percent in the Majors.
“It’s going to take all of us to get this train moving after the Braves physically move to Georgia. I’m constantly working to develop partnerships such as the one I previously had with visionary likes Yates and Barbour. I want to bring to fruition even bigger opportunities for our youth than when I facilitated the Braves stadium deal that will benefit Mississippi youth well into the future.
“Even though I only have a high school education, I tell my players at the Hank Aaron Sports Academy to dream big because college is not the path for everyone…you can do anything you set your mind to. Prior to 2005 no one ever thought Mississippi would have a M-Braves baseball stadium in a little town like Pearl, Mississippi,” concluded Bennett.