MS Braves, JSU Tigers To Play Exhibition at Smith Wills in 2023

September 29, 2022

JSU baseball coach Omar Johnson, Hank Aaron Sports Academy CEO Tim Bennett and M Braves Vice President and General Manager Pete Laven

The Mississippi Braves will play an exhibition game against the Jackson State University Tigers on April 5, 2023, at the Hank Aaron Sports Academy at Smith-Wills Stadium.

The game, billed as The Hank Aaron Tribute Game, marks the first time a minor league baseball team has played at the former home stadium of the New York Mets and Houston Astros Minor League franchises in 23 years.

Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba made the official announcement.

"Having our Mississippi Braves team compete against the Jackson State Tigers not only will provide a great exhibition for our players, but it will also be a wonderful opportunity to help raise money for a wonderful and much-needed cause," said Ben Sestanovich, Atlanta Braves assistant general manager, player development.

Tim Bennett, CEO of Hank Aaron Sports Academy, announced that the net of all gate proceeds would go towards the facilities Renovations Assistance Program ("RAP ”) which will focus on upgrades of local baseball parks and facilities owned by the City of Jackson.

Smith Wills Stadium became the home of the Hank Aaron Sports Academy in 2021 to assist the underserved community of youth in the Jackson-Metro area as an extension and magnification of the legacy of Henry "Hank" Aaron. It has served as a home field for the seven Jackson Public School baseball teams, along with summer/fall youth baseball, camps, clinics, and free programs designed to attract minority and under-served children to learn and play the game of baseball.

"We live in a world where promises are made quite frequently but go unfulfilled," Bennett said. "We are fortunate to have the Atlanta Braves display that they are not only World Champions on the field but also in the community as well, by standing behind their commitment to being leaders in the game of baseball to under-privileged and often overlooked communities."

Smith Wills has a seating capacity of 5,200 and has the ability to draw a sell-out crowd. Bennett added, "[The game] could potentially result in a capital contribution to the facilities RAP of $150,000 in 2023."

Bennett, an Auburndale, FL native, is co-owner of the Milwaukee Brewers franchise, the Biloxi Shuckers, playing at MGM Park. He is recognized as the first African-American to hold such a position in the history of the state of Mississippi and one of only a few active owners in the country in both MLB and MiLB, respectively.