PART 2 – BILOXI’S OWN BARRY LYONS

caillavetparkwithlightglow450dpiIn 1996, the Texas Rangers released Barry Lyons during the latter part of Spring training. He had other opportunities available which included returning to AAA baseball but his heart just wasn’t in it anymore. He was eager to go out under his own terms and finish his career in the Major Leagues. Going back home for some much needed R & R was the first order of business. That same summer, Lyons was approached by a local independent league franchise just south of Nashville to play ball and manage the team. He was very interested in the management opportunity but did not want to do both. “I wanted to move forward and my days as a player were behind me. It was time to try something new,” he said. Barry Lyons served as manager for one season but then was hired by the Cincinnati Reds to be a manager in their organization for the next two seasons.

Danielle was born right before Spring training during the second season with the Reds. The separation was very painful for Lyons, who missed his wife and new baby because he was in Charleston, West Virginia while they remained in Nashville. After the second season he asked for a transfer to the Chattanooga, Tennessee manager’s position in order to be closer to his family. It was also a step up within the organization. Unfortunately, he was not granted the transfer and the position was given to someone else. Lyons was then asked to go to Bakersfield, California, which he declined.

The transition from player to management was a positive one. Lyons was very happy but the constant traveling became too much. In the Major Leagues, players and management travel in chartered jets and stay in 5 Star hotels. They enjoy rock star treatment with all the perks. In the Minor Leagues it is a very different story. The men travel great distances on buses with accommodations at chain motels. It is two different worlds. “I was used to the finer things having experienced them first hand in the Majors. Even though I really enjoyed managing, the pay was not great and I could not justify being away from my family,” he said.

During the off season, Barry began teaching young players in Nashville. He provided private lessons and hosted baseball summer camps. This was the beginning of The Barry Lyons’ Baseball Academy. For three years he was a broadcaster for the AAA franchise in Nashville. Lyons was the Color Analyst for all the home games. One day a week, he also co-hosted a sports talk radio show which he thoroughly enjoyed.

In 2002, Barry Lyons and his then wife, Marsha, decided to move back home to Biloxi. Barry’s parents, now advanced in years, were in need of special care due to declining health. “It was very important to me to look after my parents and make sure they were properly cared for. My second goal was to be a catalyst and a leader in the quest to bring Minor League Baseball to Biloxi,” he said. Lyons approached Mayor Holloway with the idea during his first term in office in 1994. At the time Barry was playing AAA baseball with Indianapolis and was in a 5 game series in New Orleans. The games took place at the UNO college field. After each game, Lyons would drive back to Biloxi and following the fourth game, he made it a point to visit with Mayor Holloway. During their meeting, he proposed that the city of Biloxi should build a Minor League baseball park and have a team to call their own. “I can still remember the expression on his face and he was quite surprised! But he knew I was serious and I had no doubt that one day it could happen. Gaming was just beginning on the Coast and things were definitely on the way up,” Barry said. Through the years the topic would come up again and again. Barry Lyons would “stir the pot” and word spread throughout the media. “It was no wild fire but interest was growing here and there…the seeds were definitely planted,” he said.

In August, 2004, Barry Lyons made a presentation to the Biloxi City Council on Minor League Baseball in Biloxi. One week later he invited Tim Bennett, President of Overtime Sports, to present a more detailed plan. The initial plan was to build the stadium on the east end of Biloxi on Point Cadet. They presented a concept that was very well received by all in attendance. The next step was to secure a consulting contract with the city and put a deal together with the end result being Minor League Baseball coming to Biloxi. A two year contract with Overtime Sports was approved. Barry Lyons was involved in the entire process and helped open many doors. The first year went very well, everything was falling into place as planned. Year two began with great success as well. A site plan was about to be presented and there were verbal agreements in play for several of the properties located on the Point. There was going to be another presentation given to the City Council in September, 2005 but Katrina hit and demolished the entire South Mississippi Coast. The goal of bringing Minor League Baseball to Biloxi was put on hold.

In 2006, a new commission convened with the focus being to rebuild and revitalize the heavily damaged city of Biloxi. It was called “Reviving The Renaissance.” It was comprised of various committees from tourism, business and economic development. Workshops were held to tackle this daunting task and everyone worked together and shared ideas. The result was a guide book, a plan to follow, that would rebuild Biloxi. Barry Lyons’ presentation for the baseball stadium was of great interest and was highly regarded in the plan. Governor Haley Barbour had proposed building a sports venue on the Mississippi Gulf Coast as well and fully supported the idea. But waterfront property values soared and costs associated with the project made a deal impossible.

Interest began to grow once more and progress continued toward the ball park development for the following two years. Property on Caillavette Street in Biloxi associated with the IP looked very promising but the economy went belly up and the IP was sold. Once again things fell through.

Barry Lyons was deeply affected by the experience of hurricane Katrina and suffered through a very dark period in his life as a result of the devastation of the storm, his parent’s failing health, and the suicide of his beloved brother, Pat. He was completely immersed in sadness and desperation, unable to break free from the grip of pain that took over every fiber of his being. “When I needed God the most, I didn’t turn to Him, I turned to alcohol and drugs trying to find some relief from my suffering. I struggled every day and I was lost,” he said. Doctors warned him if he did not change this destructive behavior he would certainly die. The alcohol and drug abuse resulted in the end of his marriage to Marsha and almost cost him his life. “I got worse and worse. I didn’t know who I was anymore and all I cared about was drinking and getting high,” he said.

Several months after the divorce was final, Barry met Julie Pinson of Mobile, Alabama. They began dating and soon fell in love. She stayed by his side and supported him through his many struggles. He continued to drink day in and day out. Julie refused to give up on the man she loved but was warned repeatedly to leave him. Her strength allowed her to carry them both until one day it became too much and she did leave with a very heavy heart. It would take six weeks before they spoke again.

On Christmas Day, in 2011, Lyons hit rock bottom and literally cried out to God for help and salvation. He hated what he had become and was filled with fear and remorse. He surrendered himself and at that moment found peace and knew he would be healthy and whole again. “Once I decided to ask for God’s help, my feeling of peace was immediate,” he said. Barry saw Julie again on New Year’s Eve and called her on New Year’s Day to ask her to help him get well. With her support he entered a detox program that lasted five days. He then entered a Christian Addiction Recovery Program at The Home of Grace. During his first week, Barry accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. He graduated 90 days later on April 13, 2012. In six weeks he and Julie were married. Barry Lyons has reclaimed his life and has never been happier. He does speaking engagements whenever possible to share his testimony and encourage others.

As Barry Lyons settled into his new healthy life, clean and sober, he became aware that the project to bring Minor League Baseball to Biloxi was moving forward again. This time he was not involved in the process but hoped for the opportunity to share in the end result if his long time dream for the Coast came to fruition.

Tim Bennett was the driving force that brought all interested parties together in order to forge the deal to build a stadium, purchase a team, and relocate the team to Biloxi. The goal was accomplished through lengthly and difficult negotiations between many parties. They included the Governor’s office, the city of Biloxi, the Beau Rivage, the State Highway Department, Minor League Baseball, the Southern League, the Huntsville Stars, Ken Young, and Tim Bennett.

Barry Lyons is extremely grateful to everyone who contributed to the success of the baseball stadium project. He is particularly appreciative to Tim Bennett for his unwavering commitment, dedication, and determination to achieve this goal.

For the past twenty five years, Lyons has been a mentor to aspiring ball players. He works with youngsters, teaching them the fundamentals of baseball as well as interjecting life lessons that parallel the sport he is so passionate about. But now he has an even greater platform to speak from. “First and foremost I pay homage to the Lord and share my personal experiences of how God has transformed my life and guided me,” he said. Currently, Lyons is the Hitting coach and Assistant coach for the Biloxi High School Baseball Program and is enjoying every minute of being back on the field with the kids.

Barry Lyons could not be happier that his long time dream for a Minor League Baseball team and stadium in Biloxi is now a reality. He has said the stadium is a wonderful gift to this community. His motivation has always been driven by his love of God, love for his family, love for the city of Biloxi and his love and passion for the great game of baseball. He represented his home town with great pride and the utmost integrity when he played professional baseball and nothing would delight him more than having a significant role with the team and to contribute to the success of Minor League Baseball on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

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