Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Biscuits, Rays extend affiliation, to play exhibition at Riverwalk in 2014

The Montgomery Biscuits and Tampa Bay Rays, together since the Biscuits' inception, have extended their affiliation and are going to play each other, too.

The Biscuits and Rays will face off in an exhibition game at Riverwalk Stadium on March 29, 2014, the Rays announced Tuesday.

The teams, whose player development contract was due to expire at the end of next season, have extended it through 2018.

“We've had a great relationship with Montgomery, and it's a great place to develop players,” said Billy Gardner, who has been Montgomery's manager for the last seven years. “I think the exhibition is great for the fans.

“They'll get to see the guys who have played for Montgomery and made it to the major leagues,” Gardner said. “To see them in a major league uniform will be really great.”

The Biscuits, envious since the Rays played an exhibition game at Triple-A Durham in 2010, have campaigned for a game with the Rays for several years. It's one reason they, along with the city, rebuilt Riverwalk's 9-year-old infield before the 2013 season at the Rays' behest.

“Any time you upgrade your facilities and can improve your playing surface, we show our affiliate our commitment to providing a first-class environment,” Biscuits president Greg Rauch said in April.

Rauch declined comment earlier Tuesday except to say the Biscuits would have their own news conference at 5 p.m. Wednesday at Riverwalk.

The Rays had eight of their nine Opening Day starters in the lineup at Durham on April 3, 2010, though each starter left after just two plate appearances. Tampa Bay won 9-6 and, most importantly to the host Bulls, an announced crowd of 10,374 attended.

Three days later, the Rays opened their regular season at home against Baltimore.

At least three Southern League teams have hosted their major league affiliates since 2009 -- and a fourth will also have theirs next year.

The Mississippi Braves hosted Atlanta's second annual “Future Stars” game just this year where Atlanta played a group of the organization's top prospects. Atlanta won 10-0 before an announced crowd of 8,217, the largest in Mississippi's Trustmark Park history.

The Jacksonville Suns hosted the then-Florida Marlins in 2010 and the Carolina Mudcats, part of the Southern League through 2011, hosted the Cincinnati Reds in a 2009 “Future Stars” game.

The Pensacola Blue Wahoos, who took Carolina's place in 2012, will host the Reds on March 28, 2014, one day before the Biscuits-Rays showdown.

The Birmingham Barons have played three exhibition games against their parent team, the Chicago White Sox, since 2000. The Barons also hosted a Baltimore-Philadelphia exhibition in 1999.

In 2014, the Rays open their regular season at home March 31 against the Toronto Blue Jays. The Biscuits start their season April 3 when they host the Birmingham Barons.

The Biscuits have been part of the Tampa Bay organization since their debut in 2004. The affiliation contract between the two, last renewed in 2010, was to expire after the 2014 season.

The Biscuits, entering Tuesday, have had 60 former players reach the major leagues, including 43 who debuted with the Rays.

The Biscuits have had a former player win the Cy Young Award (David Price in 2012) and two be named American League Rookie of the Year (Evan Longoria in 2008 and Jeremy Hellickson in 2011). This year, pitcher Matt Moore marked the 11th time a former Biscuit has been a major league All-Star. All are with the Rays.

Tampa Bay's current 30-player roster, as of Monday night, had 11 Biscuits, including former Southern League most valuable players Delmon Young (2005), Longoria (2007) and Desmond Jennings (2009).

The 2014 exhibition will kick off the Biscuits' true 10th anniversary season. The team celebrated it a year early with a commemorative logo and uniform patch.

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