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  • Writer's pictureMatt Colville

Keesler Federal Park – Biloxi Shuckers



Photos by Matt Colville, Stadium Journey


Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.71

Keesler Federal Park 906 Beach Blvd Biloxi, MS 39530


Year Opened: 2015

Capacity: 6,067

 

Shuck Yeah!!!!

In 2005 the Mississippi Gulf Coast received a direct hit from Hurricane Katrina – the destruction of the 20-foot storm surge and 150 mph winds was catastrophic. With the coast practically wiped off the map on that day it was a wonder if the coast would ever recover. Flash forward 17 years and the coast is thriving again, perhaps better than before, and if coming to Biloxi today you would have a hard time saying that anything happened on that fateful day in August 2005.


One symbol of hope and resilience for the region is the Biloxi Shuckers, born in 2015 when the Milwaukee Brewers moved their Double-A team from Huntsville as the first affiliated minor league baseball team to ever play in Biloxi. The Shuckers name is fitting for a team in an area like this, as the Gulf Coast is known for its oyster harvesting; ‘shucking’ is the slang word for picking oysters.


The Shuckers play at Keesler Federal Park, which opened midway through the 2015 season. This 6,000-seat ballpark is situated less than 100 yards from the beaches of the Gulf Coast. Biloxi is also known as a casino destination, and the ballpark sits right in the middle of all the casino action.


The luxurious Beau Rivage Casino, a giant lit-up guitar, and Hard Rock Casino line the backdrop at the stadium, providing a scene of glitz and glamour that remains unmatched at any ballpark in the country. A night game at Shuckers Ballpark will almost make you feel like you are in a mini-Vegas, and it’s almost a surreal feeling knowing this was the scene of so much destruction back in August 2005.



From 2015-2023 the ballpark was known as MGM Park, but in 2024 was renamed Keesler Federal Park after Biloxi-based Keesler Federal Credit Union, the largest credit union in Mississippi, and the credit union itself is so named because it originally served soldiers stationed at nearby Keesler Air Force Base.

 

Food & Beverage   4

When you play in a city known for such great seafood, you can expect nothing less when it comes to the food options here, which feature six permanent concession stands, each selling a different themed menu, as well as several temporary stands open for select games.


Each stand is located on the open concourse so you will never miss a pitch. Down the first baseline you will find two full-service permanent stands, as well as one grab-and-go stand – Shipwreck Grill and Catch of the Game offer the usual grilled items such as hamburgers and hot dogs, as well as fried chicken tenders and fries, plus nachos. If you don't want to wait in the line, however, the grab-and-go stand offers pizza, peanuts, candy, and drinks.


Also with a name like Shuckers, of course, they have oysters on the menu – down the first baseline toward right field is the Aw Shucks Grill, which sells southern-themed food items; you can buy jambalaya in a souvenir baseball helmet, grilled or fried oysters, fried shrimp, and boudin sandwiches. Unfortunately, the Aw Shucks Grill is only open for select games, usually during weekend games.


The third baseline features a broader selection of concessions, with two permanent stands on that side, namely Biloxi Breeze Tacos, which offers more than just tacos, as you can get the Shuckers signature crawfish queso or red beans and rice, and Lighthouse Pier, featuring some of the Gulf Coast's finest seafood, as you can purchase a shrimp po’ boy or get the seafood basket with hush puppies. In addition, each stand offers a different kind of po’ boy – on my most recent visit they had alligator.


For beverages Coca-Cola is the official soft drink provider, and an interesting fact about Biloxi is that Barq’s Root Beer was founded just a couple of blocks from Keesler Federal Park. To honor this fact, behind home plate you can find Barq’s Creamery serving root beer floats and ice cream out of mini baseball helmets. The Shuckers also have two beer gardens, one on each side of the concourse, both offering different draft beers (domestic and local) for $10.



The good thing about the Shuckers is they promote local Gulf Coast breweries, serving beer brewed on the coast. At the beer gardens you’ll find many different local breweries, with beers served on draft such as Lazy Magnolia and Southern Prohibition. The Shuckers also partnered with a local brewery to develop their “Let’s Go Shuckers” brand beer.

 

Atmosphere   4

Situated less than 100 yards off the beach, Keesler Federal Park has perhaps one of the best views in all of minor league baseball – just beyond the outfield wall sits the 32-story Beau Rivage Casino plus Hard Rock Casino, providing a beautiful view that no other ballpark in the Southern League has. In addition, the recent stadium renaming brought several changes to the ballpark; the right field berm has been transformed into a beach paradise for the 2024 season, so you'll feel like you never left the beach, as a boardwalk now occupies the outfield complete with a tiki bar and splash pad. The tiki bar features four TVs and bar seating overlooking right field. Walk down a couple of steps and you'll be walking on a makeshift sandy beach, complete with beach chairs and a giant lifeguard station. Schooner the seagull mascot can often be found at the top of the lifeguard station observing the field.


From the outside the ballpark seems kind of small; the park was built right next to an interstate overpass to the west, and with the casinos towering over the stadium to the south the ballpark can easily be overlooked if you are driving by on Highway 90. They recently built a parking garage on the south side of the stadium, so that takes up a lot of the view now from the highway as well.


Because of frequent hurricanes and flooding, the concourse at Shuckers Ballpark is elevated. There are two entrances into the park, and unlike most minor league ballparks, there is no entrance behind home plate. Instead the main entrance and ticket booth are both beyond the center field fence, but there is another entrance down the third baseline.


Take note of the beautiful grounds outside the stadium when you enter – a lush rose garden greets you as you enter at the center field entrance. The park's beige exterior also ties into the giant Beau Rivage across the street, making it seem like it's a part of the casino. Furthermore, something new added for 2024 outside the stadium at the left field entrance is Shuckers Plaza, a gathering area that includes inflatables, food and beverage options, and a wiffleball field. Bats and balls are even provided; kids and adults alike will enjoy being able to take a swing or play catch before the game.


Once inside the ballpark the concourse is wide and open, but there is a noticeable lack of shade inside; with no covering over the concourse it's not so fun when the frequent summer thunderstorms pop up. However, behind home plate sits the new and improved Shuckers Team Store, which was upgraded before the 2024 season.



The upper level features a third-base party deck – the party deck has seating for about 30 people and offers a buffet. During summer games you’ll also get excellent breezes coming off the Mississippi Sound, as well as beautiful views of the Gulf Coast waters. The upper level features Kloud7 Sky Box, which offers indoor and outdoor table seating, as well as a full-service bar with televisions and a full restaurant-style menu. In terms of suites, Keesler Federal Park features 12 of them; each can hold up to 12 people and features food and drinks, television access, and indoor and outdoor seating. One of the suites is even themed after the Milwaukee Brewers, and features various Brewers-themed artifacts on display.

 

Neighborhood   4

Biloxi is a pretty small city of about 48,000 located off the beaten path, about 90 miles east of New Orleans. Biloxi still retains that small-town feel evident in most towns in Mississippi, but the city is also a nightlife destination for the state as well – Biloxi is an extremely popular gaming destination that attracts millions of visitors every year, and is often referred to as the Vegas of the South.


Biloxi features nine high-rise casinos, each offering its own themes and amenities. You cannot put a ballpark in a more prime location than Keesler Federal Park; the stadium sits less than 100 yards from the waters of the Mississippi Gulf, conveniently located right downtown near most of the attractions in Biloxi.


If you are into gambling you can go from the ballpark to playing whatever casino game you want in less than 10 minutes. Mississippi also recently legalized sports betting, so you’ll be able to bet on almost any sporting event you can imagine before the game – but ironically, minor league games are not available to bet on. Even if you aren’t into gambling, however, I would recommend giving yourself time to walk around the two casinos before or after the game. The inside of the Beau Rivage is stunning – the first floor features an upscale shopping center and restaurants, as well as beautiful, lush tropical gardens that you must see for yourself. The Beau also features plenty of restaurants and entertainment options, as it regularly attracts big-name acts, and even has a virtual top golf area where you can hit a golf ball at a virtual screen.


Hard Rock Casino next door is a pretty cool casino as well, and attracts the younger mid to late-20s crowd. Hard Rock features numerous restaurants, bars, and nightclubs, and features a nice display of famous memorabilia from top-name music acts in the lobby. All the casinos in Biloxi have their own unique features, and there is a trolley stop right out in front of the baseball stadium for travel from casino to casino. Even if you are not into gambling, it’s something fun for people to do while in Biloxi.


There are also plenty of restaurants in the downtown area within walking distance of Keesler Federal Park – Half Shell Oyster House, Fields Steak & Oyster, Patio 44, Mugshots, Sal & Mookie’s Pizza, The Fill Up, and the oldest restaurant on the Gulf Coast, Mary Mahoney’s Old French House, are just some of the restaurants in the neighborhood within walking distance. For bars you can walk to Morgan Freeman’s Ground Zero Blues Club, Adventures Pub & Spirits, The Sandbar, Mermaid Bar, and The Fillin’ Station, located in an old 50s-style gas station.


If you want to stay near the park there are plenty of hotels along the Beach but the closer you are to the water the more expensive they’ll be. For a cheaper alternative I’d recommend driving up the interstate a few miles to D’Iberville and staying at one of the hotels there.

 

Fans   3

For the Shuckers, the first nine seasons' attendance has not been as great as hoped for. The Shuckers average about 2,400 fans per game, which places them near the bottom of the Southern League. One thing hurting the team is that college sports dominate the area, so minor league baseball takes a backseat for most people in the area.


When the Shuckers play it's hard to get a full house, but when Southern Miss or Mississippi State play a neutral site game here, expect a standing room only crowd where you can barely walk the concourse. The games with the biggest attendance will be the summer weekend games when they capitalize on the weekend casino and beach crowd, while if you go on Sunday or during the week you should have no problem getting tickets.


The Shuckers organization does a great job entertaining the fans; the mascot is a giant seagull named Schooner and is a constant presence interacting with kids and taking part in various games on the field in-between innings. The crawfish race is always a hit with the kids in attendance – crawfish is a Southern delicacy, and the main things you boil with crawfish are potatoes and corn, so in the bottom of the 5th inning mascots dressed as crawfish, corn, and potatoes race from right field to left field, hence the crawfish race.



The Shuckers also have a wide variety of promotions and giveaways throughout the season. For example, they’ll wear different color jerseys to match the theme of that night’s promotions. Biloxi is a huge military town, so for military-related promotions they’ll wear camouflage unis, while for Jackie Robinson Day they’ll wear the old yellow and blue Biloxi Dodgers uniforms from the Negro League. But my favorite jersey combo is on New Orleans Saints Night when the Shuckers invite several current and former Saints players to the game, and the team wears black and gold Saints-inspired jerseys. Also new for 2024 the Shuckers will rebrand themselves with two different identities for eight home games: four games as the Biloxi King Cakes and four games as the Biloxi Beach Chickens, King Cakes paying homage to the Coast's Mardi Gras tradition, and Beach Chickens as the 'slang' word for Seagulls. King Cake and Beach Chickens gear is also sold throughout the season in the team store.


Access   3

The best part about coming to Keesler Federal Park is just how easy it is to get here – the park is conveniently located right on the beach at the corner where the I-110 overpass meets Beach Blvd. I-110 is a north/south branch of I-10 about five miles north of Biloxi, so if coming from out of town just take I-10 to exit 22 onto I-110 in D’Iberville, and then go south for about ten minutes until you get to the beach. The first view you’ll get when you arrive in Biloxi is the giant Beau Rivage in front of you, and you can’t miss the ballpark to the left of the overpass.


Unfortunately, the Shuckers do not have a public parking lot on site. However, there are over 8,000 parking spaces within a 15-minute walk to the stadium – parking directly across the street to the north is $5, and under the overpass on Howard Ave they also charge $5 to park. But the best place to park is across the street at the Beau Rivage parking garage, where it’s free to park, and there is even a covered walkway that crosses busy Beach Blvd.

 

Return on Investment   3

Individual tickets for Shuckers games are priced as follows – General Admission for $15 (three sections down the third baseline and five sections down the first baseline); Dugout Box Club seating for $17 (four sections behind each dugout); and the Home Plate Box Club for $19 (three sections behind home plate). Most games won’t come close to a sellout, though, so you shouldn’t ever have trouble getting tickets.


There aren’t very many places where you can go to the beach, go to a casino, and then walk across the street to watch a baseball game, so I consider this a great experience. You won’t have to fight traffic and crowds, you will get a great view of the game, and you can park for free – you can’t beat that.

 

Extras   5

One extra for the unprecedented trials the Shuckers had to go through during their first year as a franchise in 2015 – due to political, financial, and environmental issues the opening of Keesler Federal Park ended up being delayed until mid-way through the season, so the Shuckers had to go on a 54-game, eight city, 2,800-mile road trip playing all their games on the road, as well as some games in their former home in Huntsville. By mid-June Keesler Federal Park finally opened to great fanfare, though, and the Shuckers even ended up making it to the Southern League Championship that first year, and were named Minor League Baseball’s Team of the Year in 2015.


Another extra for Biloxi’s recovery from Hurricane Katrina; if you come to Biloxi now there is no sign of the deadly storm, which is quite remarkable considering how it looked then. If you have some time to walk around before the game I recommend the Hurricane Katrina Memorial, which is located about a block east in the town green – there is a water marker there that shows just how high the storm surge was. Also scattered throughout the park are tree stumps with various coastal art inscribed; these are the remains of dead trees that were destroyed during Katrina.


Another extra for the great marketing job the Shuckers have done. Some minor league teams have generic nicknames and mascots, but the Shuckers have a nickname that is unique, charming, funny, and specific to the Gulf Coast. It’s a shame that more people don’t attend games here because the Shuckers have capitalized on the culture of the Gulf Coast region as a whole.


Keesler Federal Park is the only ballpark in the country where you can watch baseball on the beach while eating fried oysters or jambalaya, all while a giant seagull entertains fans and a giant crawfish runs around in-between innings. Everything here ties into the culture and uniqueness that makes the Mississippi Gulf Coast so special; this is a great job of local branding by the Shuckers.



Also, of course, one extra for the beautiful view of the casino skyline at Keesler Federal Park – on a clear day from different vantage points of the stadium you can see all of Biloxi’s eight casinos. In addition, you can go from the stadium to the beach or to gamble in less than 10 minutes, and I can’t think of any other ballpark in American where you can do that at.

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