Three years before the Mariners planted their Double-A affiliate in Jackson, Tennessee, the West Tenn Diamond Jaxx were embroiled in a dispute with Major League Baseball. Significant financial losses plagued the club's ownership, prompting them to ask for a swift relocation to Mauldin, South Carolina.
According to a decision handed down by the Supreme Court of Tennessee at Jackson in 2007, certain documents had been wrongfully withheld from reporters that revealed losses of at least $150,000 during both the 2003 and 2004 seasons. The President of Lozniak Baseball, Bob Lozniak, wrote to the City's Mayor in early 2005, hoping to terminate the stadium lease based on the losses to date.
Unfortunately for the Diamond Jaxx, relocation was simply not an option, and neither was a desperate attempt to sell the team to investors in Florida after the 2006 season. While the Jaxx cut ties with their parent club, the Chicago Cubs, the Mariners packed up their prospects after a disappointing season in San Antonio, Texas, and moved right in. They hoped to not only revitalize the team spirit in Jackson, but build a profitable minor-league contender after turning over 52 players to the big leagues in 2006.
As Lozniak and his team remained on the lookout for new investors, the Mariners snapped a three-year winning streak for the Jaxx with a 60-79 record in their first season. They missed the playoffs by seven games in the first half of the season, settling for a .432 winning percentage and fourth place in the North Division. Newcomers to the Southern League, they were introduced to MiLB's only female umpire, Ria Cortesio, who ragged on third baseman Ronald Prettyman before one of the games for his unusual surname. One of the Jaxx' rivals, Jacksonville Suns catcher A.J. Ellis, made note of her banter with the players. "She sings all the songs that are being played in-between innings," he told the Lawrence Journal-World. "She'll sing in your ear all game."
During the offseason, Lozniak finally located new buyers for the franchise. A pair of Nashville businessmen -- David Freeman and Reese Smith -- picked up the team for a cool $12 million, agreeing to keep the Jaxx in Jackson while they attempted to repair the fanbase and settle any outstanding financial losses. They also insisted on a lengthy extension with Pringles Park, as well as $1 million in ballpark renovations and a potential rebranding for the club, which would result in the Jackson Generals moniker three years later.
To reward their new investors, the Jaxx ramped up their performance in 2008, drawing 140,445 fans to the park and earning their first playoff berth with Seattle after a first-place finish in the first half of the season. If not for their dominant start to the year, though, the Jaxx might have prolonged their playoff drought by a couple more seasons. Their pitching took a nosedive in the second half, jumping from an average of 4.4 runs per game to 6.6 almost overnight. Injuries and promotions exhausted West Tenn's bullpen, leaving them hurting by the time the semifinals rolled around. Against the Marlins' Carolina Mudcats, the Jaxx found themselves shut out 3-0 while the Mudcats advanced to (and lost) the league championship. Despite the team's lackluster finish, mutual satisfaction between the parent club and its affiliate led the Mariners to renew their contract with Jackson for an additional two years.
With top-billed prospects like Greg Halman, Adam Moore, and Carlos Triunfel heading their lineup, the Jaxx made another push toward the playoffs in 2009. By the end of the first half, however, they found themselves scraping the bottom of the North Division with a 27-43 record. They broke even in the second half, good for third place in the division and a mere four games back from the league-leading Tennessee Smokies. With one week left in the 2009 season, the Jaxx had a legitimate shot at the postseason when the Smokies rolled into town for a five-game series. The Jaxx dug in with an 8-3 win in the series opener, then got crushed 13-3 the next night -- and for three nights afterwards. The day before the season drew to a close, the Jaxx were shut out 7-0, effectively stymieing their bid for the semifinals.
While West Tenn head honchos David Freeman and Reese Smith cooked up a rebranding scheme for the Diamond Jaxx, the team lost little time asserting their dominance in the North Division, stockpiling 23 runs in their first two games of the season. They commemorated their last season with another winning record and a pair of highly-touted prospects: 22-year-old infielder Dustin Ackley and 21-year-old right-hander Michael Pineda. In his first outing for West Tenn, Pineda set up a no-hitter for 3 1/3 innings against the Jacksonville Suns, allowing three walks and striking out six batters before the bullpen blew both the no-no and the shutout. Ackley, meanwhile, found himself elected to the College World Series Legends Team, voted onto the 28-man roster by a conglomerate of fans, sportswriters, and coaches.
By September, the Jaxx had received their new name and outfit from ownership. They would finish out the season as the Diamond Jaxx and adopt their new nickname -- the Jackson Generals -- by Opening Day 2011. In an attempt to bring one more title to the Jaxx' name, they faced off against the Cubs' Tennessee Smokies for a best-of-five semifinal round. It was a fitting matchup between the current and former West Tenn affiliates, but ultimately one that fell in the Cubs' favor as the Mariners were bested 3-1.
West Tenn Trivia
- Notable Jaxx: Dustin Ackley, Blake Beavan, Doug Fister, Nick Franklin, Greg Halman, Shawn Kelley, Michael Pineda, and Michael Saunders.
- After putting up back-to-back 80+ win seasons with the Cubs in 1999 and 2000, the Diamond Jaxx earned a spot in the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame as the 2001 Professional Team of the Year. Their pristine reputation was tarnished later that year with the worst win-loss record in Jaxx' history, a pitiful 59-80.
- Among the various gimmicks aimed at increasing attendance in 2008, the Jaxx hosted appearances by SpongeBob SquarePants and Patrick, Curious George, and the San Diego Chicken, as well as a "Shirt Off Our Backs" jersey auction. An even weirder stint followed the next year when local firefighters used a fire hose to spray groups of kids between innings.
- In 2009, the Jaxx took a heartbreaking 5-4 loss to the Mississippi Braves after 16 innings. Spanning nearly five hours, it was the longest recorded game in Braves' history.
- In order to ascertain the last time Carlos Peguero tied Giancarlo Stanton's home run totals, you'd have to go back to April 2010, when Giancarlo was "Mike" and the two players had nine homers apiece after a month against their Double-A competition. By the end of the season, Peguero had amassed 23 home runs to Stanton's 21.
- Utilityman Leury Bonilla found himself in a unique position when the 2010 season drew to a close. Or, rather, nine unique positions. He played every position -- including a scoreless ninth inning on the mound -- during the Jaxx' season finale against the Chattanooga Lookouts.