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A brief history of the Jackson Generals

First up in the Mariners' Double-A history series: the Jackson Generals.

After 13 years, the West Tenn Diamond Jaxx were laid to rest by a 93-year-old woman. Jane Des Ormeaux, faithful devotee of the Double-A franchise that was rooted in Jackson, Tennessee, tossed the last pitch of the Jaxx' era to conclude the 2010 season. It was her nickname that stuck with the club from their inception in 1998, first applied to the Chicago Cubs' Double-A squad, then the Mariners' brand of prospects.

Now, however, it was time for a rebranding. Club owners David Freeman and Reese Smith purchased the team in the 2007 offseason with the hopes of revitalizing a worn-out fanbase. Rumors of the team's financial struggles and potential relocation kept fans out of the bleachers, even after a return to the Southern League Championship series in 2005.

After two more failed attempts at the SL title, the Jaxx' name was retired in favor of the "Jackson Generals," a moniker that evoked memories of the 1950s Kentucky-Illinois-Tennessee League Jackson Generals. According to general manager Tom Hanson and historian Kevin McCann, the history of baseball in West Tennessee went back as far as 1903, claiming famed ballplayers like Shoeless Joe Jackson, Casey Stengel, and Yogi Berra.

While enthusiastic crowds flocked to the park at the beginning of the 2011 season, it quickly became apparent that keeping their attention would require more than a new logo and mascot. Attendance dipped to 106,689 fans on the year, averaging just 762 per game. It was the lowest number the Generals had seen since the Mariners assumed control of the club in 2007. The team coasted to a 68-72 record by season's end, finishing third in the North Division and sitting a dozen games out of playoff contention.

By 2012, the buzz around the Generals became considerably stronger with the addition of Taijuan Walker and Danny Hultzen. James Paxton had already served some time on the roster in 2011, keeping a 1.85 ERA in 39 innings with 13 walks, two home runs, and 51 strikeouts over seven outings. Supplemented by two high-caliber pitching prospects, however, both Paxton and the Generals had room to raise their expectations for their first SL championship with Seattle -- as well as a handful of major-league call-ups.

The roster wasn't the only thing due for a facelift. Under the leadership of new general manager Jason Compton, Pringles Park underwent extensive renovations to its exterior, scoreboard, and group suites. Compton also made it his mission to boost concessions sales and improve customer service, installing additional cash registers, broadening the dining options at the park, and adding quirky themed nights to capitalize on weekend attendance and entice bigger weekday crowds.

Both the team and its management were rewarded Opening Day, when 4,645 fans showed up to see 25-year-old Andrew Carraway take the mound, marking the best home crowd since the club came under new management in 2007. From there, the Generals' season only improved. By the end of the first half of the season, they were sitting atop the North Division standings to claim a spot in the postseason. Attendance continued to spike, increasing by as much as 18% since 2011's dismal turnout.

"We have a chance to do something real special this season," Compton told Ballpark Digest's Kevin Richards at the halfway point of the season. "A Southern League Championship and finishing higher in the League Attendance Standings than we have in a decade are all real possibilities."

Unfortunately for Compton and Jackson's first-rate rotation, an SL championship was not in the cards. The Generals bested the Chattanooga Lookouts in the first round of the postseason, clinching the North Division Championship with a Mike Zunino three-run home run off of Chattanooga reliever Wes Roemer. In the championship round, the Mobile BayBears proved a far more formidable opponent. The Generals dominated 8-1 in the series opener, then fell in three straight losses to hand the league title to the BayBears on a 1-0 three-hitter.

The financial and on-field success the Generals had sustained in 2012 ran out by the following year. Danny Hultzen was sidelined indefinitely with a torn labrum and rotator cuff, while James Paxton found himself promoted to the M's Triple-A Tacoma Rainiers. Walker followed him to Tacoma in mid-June, receiving his promotion five days after he pitched a six-inning, 12-strikeout win against the Diamondbacks' BayBears. No longer bolstered by the Mariners' top prospects, Jackson saw attendance plummet by over 20,000 fans at the end of their sub-.500 season.

Although the Generals couldn't quite rebound with a 63-76 record in 2014, they managed to attract significant attention from their fanbase. Taijuan Walker returned for Jackson's home opener, striking out 10 batters in five innings for his first -- and last -- Double-A appearance of the season. First-round draft pick D.J. Peterson spent half of the season on the roster, tying with Daniel Paolini for a team-leading 13 home runs in 58 games. By June, the Generals had a packed house. Over 6,400 fans attended a promotional night headed by Jason Compton, setting the highest attendance numbers on a non-holiday since 2004.

For their last contest of the year, the Generals took batting practice against the Montgomery Biscuits with a 20-hit, 13-6 win. Both D.J. Peterson and Dan Paolini hit two homers, while Moises Hernandez made it out with two shutout innings and his first win of the year. Ten days after Jackson's dominant season finale, the Mariners extended their Player Development Contract through 2016.

Jackson Trivia

  • Notable Generals: Dustin Ackley, Greg Halman, James Paxton, Michael Pineda, Michael Saunders, Kyle Seager, and Taijuan Walker.
  • In 1986, over a decade before the Memphis Chicks moved to Jackson, Bo Jackson suited up for his first professional baseball game. At the time, the Chicks were housed in Tim McCarver Stadium. (Yes, that Tim McCarver.)
  • The first ceremonial pitch tossed in Generals' history came courtesy of Walt Mestan, former pitcher for the 1950 and 1951 Generals.
  • In May of the Generals' inaugural season, left fielder Jake Shaffer set a new record in Pringles Park with an inside-the-park grand slam against the Birmingham Barons, boosting the score to 6-3 in the eighth inning and leading the team to their fourth consecutive win.
  • Later in 2011, James Gilheeney pitched seven innings of no-hit ball, walking four batters and striking out five in 112 pitches, the most by a Generals starter that year. It was the first time that a Jackson starting pitcher had survived seven innings without relinquishing a hit.
  • During a 13-1 drubbing of the Chattanooga Lookouts in April 2013, Abraham Almonte inked his name in the Generals' history books as the first player to hit for the cycle.
  • In 2014, the Generals took home 50th place in the annual MiLB Food Fight for their infamous BBQ Sundae, a parfait of Cajun Cookers BBQ, BBQ baked beans, and coleslaw.