By: Monty Zickuhr
Last year, the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp was two weeks away from the start of the season when “ the world stopped,” shut down by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp owner and CEO Ken Babby told the Meninak Club of Jacksonville at its virtual meeting March 29 that the team now is running at “full throttle” preparing for baseball this spring.
“Even in those early moments when we were all signing up for Zoom accounts and I was fortunate enough to talk with a lot of people here in town we said pretty steadfastly from the beginning baseball would always bounce back,” Babby said.
“I now literally have no hair left on my head,” he said. “I didn’t have much to begin with but I can tell you it has been a tough, tough 21 months here with the Jumbo Shrimp.”
The team, promoted this year as the AAA affiliate of the Miami Marlins, will open its season at 7:30 p.m. May 4 against the Norfolk Tides at 121 Financial Ballpark. Tickets are on sale at the team website, milb.com/jacksonville.
The team also is the alternate training site for the Marlins, which opens its season April 1.
“As fans make their way into the home plate gate this year, they will be seeing many players that are on the 40-man major league roster,” Babby said. “They’ll be seeing many players that are just a step away from being major leaguers.”
Babby said that even though Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry lifted the Duval County mask mandate, face masks will be required at 121 Financial Ballpark to start the season, except when in an assigned seat eating and drinking.
“We’re all putting safety of our fans, of our players, first and foremost as we all wait, hopefully, to be vaccinated here sooner than later,” he said.
Babby said the team still is working through its capacity plan with the city and the state and will have more information later.
The team owner thanked his sponsors and clients for their loyalty.
Babby said 100% of the team’s partners rolled their sponsorships and tickets into 2021. “That, my friends, is what allows us to still be standing here.”
Last year, with the season in doubt, the Jumbo Shrimp created events including movie nights, a Father’s Day Brunch and a Fourth of July fireworks show.
“By the time we got to the end of the summer, although we missed baseball, we had produced 65 socially distanced, safe events at the ballpark,” Babby said.
“I’m incredibly proud of our staff and our incredible partners who stood with us and by us during this last year as we worked to bring to bring baseball back,” he said.
“And I can tell you there wasn’t anybody in town happier to ring out 2020 and ring in 2021 than the front-office staff of the Jacksonville.”
Babby urged the audience to be vaccinated as quickly as possible.
“Sometimes in life you don’t realize how special something is until it’s taken away from you. This will be my seventh season here in Jacksonville and I can tell you right off the bat it will be our most special one.