Thursday, July 23, 2015

Baseball Stadiums: State Mutual Stadium

Over a year ago I made a New Year's resolution to visit all four Minor League Baseball teams in Georgia.


I failed miserably because I only visited the Gwinnett Braves last year (read more here).  Wanting to avoid a repeat, I did not make that resolution this year.  However, this summer I finally fulfilled my goals and saw all four of Georgia's Minor League Baseball teams in a single summer.

After visiting Gwinnett, Augusta (read more here), and Savannah (read more here), I only had Rome left to visit to complete my goal.  So I decided to take a day trip from my family's house in Marietta up to Rome to explore the city, but most importantly to watch the Rome Braves play.

After a hot and humid day I saw the main entrance to State Mutual Stadium...

Main entrance.

Across from the main entrance was the Redneck Rummage Sale trailer, which earned the 2014 Best Between-Inning On-Field Attraction Bizzie from MiLB.com's Ben Hill (read more here).

The Redneck Rummage Sale trailer in the parking lot.

But I didn't come to the stadium to ogle at a trailer in the parking lot.  I came to the game to explore the stadium and watch a baseball game.

Around the concourse there are pillars that the Braves utilize to display an exhibit about baseball in northwest Georgia and Rome.  The exhibit was created by Heather S. Shores, who worked at the Bandy Heritage Center for Northwest Georgia.  Her research was published in the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) journal The National Pastime (read more here).

Exhibit detailing the history of baseball in northwest Georgia.

Exhibit detailing the industrial-based Northwest Georgia Textile League.

Exhibit displaying notable photographs of baseball in northwest Georgia.

While exploring the concourse I found the South Atlantic League standings as the league had just started its second half the night before.

South Atlantic League standings entering play on June 26, 2015.

While I did not ask for assistance, I was unable to locate the lineups posted on the concourse.  However, I did find an interesting piece of Rome Braves history hanging over the concourse.

Championship flag honoring the Braves' first title since moving to Rome.

After exploring the concourse and seeking input about my food choices for the evening I decided to take my seat behind home plate and catch the beginning of the game before making my dinner selection.  So sitting comfortably behind home I was easily able to get my standard photo of the first pitch.

Rome Braves starting pitcher Zach Quintana delivering the first pitch
to Augusta GreenJackets center fielder Johneshwy Fargas.

I moved down each base line to get a few more action shots, and to get pictures of other parts of the ballpark.  Moving down the third base line I got a closeup shot of Quintana pitching and the Suzuki Showcase in right field.

Rome Braves starting pitcher Zach Quintana with a view of right field in the background.

When I walked around to the first base line I got a picture of Miller Lite Marina that sits in foul territory along the third base line.  The Miller Lite Marina has a few craft beers, but there is a standalone stand nearby that has a much wider selection of craft beers.  The beer selection was OK, but I was especially surprised they did not carry any beers from the nearby Blue Ridge Brewery and instead carried selections from Florida and Chattanooga Brewing Company just up the road in Tennessee.

Rome Braves first baseman Matt Tellor at the plate with the Miller Lite Marina in the background.

Finally after watching a few innings of play I decided to find something to eat.  When I checked out the concession stands before the start of the game I saw all the usual suspects like hot dogs, pizza, chicken tenders, and hamburgers.  There was also a Chick-fil-A stand, but in Georgia that's not unique.  Where I finally found some unique food items was down the right field line at Bubba's BBQ Barn.

Down the right field line Bubba's BBQ Barn has the most unique food items at State Mutual Stadium.

At Bubba's BBQ Barn fans can order the standard barbecue items, but also unique items like a fried bologna sandwich or the kitchen sink nachos shown below...

Kitchen sink nachos come served in a pizza box and include chips, barbecue pork or chicken, and the usual nacho toppings.

While the kitchen sink nachos looked delicious I was not nearly hungry enough to consume them.  Instead I opted for the BBQ sundae, which is a piece of cornbread topped by coleslaw, BBQ pork or chicken, and topped by another piece of cornbread.  The BBQ sundae had been featured in MiLB.com's 2013 Food Fight, which pitted unique food items against each other.

My BBQ sundae.

The BBQ sundae lived up to expectations.  It was filling and a great mix of flavors, but I wish the top piece of cornbread had been topped with honey or perhaps BBQ sauce.

After finishing the BBQ sundae and returning to my seat I got a few more photos.  I wanted to be sure to get a photo of the scoreboard.

The scoreboard in left field.

In addition to the scoreboard I wanted to be sure to get a photo of Ozhaino "Ozzie" Albies, who entered the 2015 season as one of the Atlanta Braves top prospects.  According to MLB.com he is currently ranked as the fifth-best prospect (read more here) in the Braves' farm system.  He was also selected to play in the 2015 Futures Game, and USA Today Sports named him one of the top players to watch in that game (read more here).

Rome Braves shortstop Ozzie Albies in the batter's box.

After taking those two pictures I was content to watch the rest of the game, but quickly got up when the mascot Romey came by.

Me with Romey late in the game.

After giving up a first inning run to Augusta, Rome tied the game in the fifth inning.  However, the game was still tied after the completion of nine innings so the game headed to extra innings.  The GreenJackets took a 2-1 lead off Aramis Garcia's RBI-double in the 10th, but the Braves tied it in the bottom of the frame when GreenJackets reliever walked Braxton Davidson.  A Wigberto Nevarez sacrifice fly brought home Omar Obregon to give Rome a 3-2 win.

It's always good when the home team wins.

The day ended with the Braves celebrating a win and me fulfilling a New Year's resolution a year late.  Although I grew up in Georgia, it was odd to see that all the unique food items were connected to BBQ, which isn't particularly a food the state is known for producing.  However, the BBQ sundae was tasty, and the kitchen sink nachos looked delicious.  The craft beer selection needs to be improved, especially as that market has grown in the state over the past few years.  Overall, I had a great experience at the ballpark and would definitely return for more games.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Baseball Stadiums: Grayson Stadium

Following the announcement in late May that the Savannah Sand Gnats are moving to Columbia, S.C., for the 2016 season (read the story here) I set a goal of seeing the Sand Gnats before they left town.  With the goal of seeing the Sand Gnats before they moved, I made a three-day trek and saw the Augusta GreenJackets (read about it here) before catching the Sand Gnats at Grayson Stadium.

So when arriving at Grayson Stadium for the rest of the 2015 season fans are greeted by this image...

Main entrance.

The Sand Gnats fenced off the entrance plaza to create more entertainment space, so it's difficult to see the stadium marquee until fans are about to walk into the ballpark.

Closeup of the stadium marquee.

Originally built in 1926 and named Municipal Stadium, the ballpark was devastated by a hurricane in 1940.  Spanish-American War veteran General William L. Grayson helped raise the funds to rebuild the facility, which with the aid of Works Progress Administration (WPA) workers underwent a renovation in 1941.  The newly rebuild stadium was renamed in honor of Grayson's efforts, and commemorated with a plaque.

Plaque renaming the stadium for William Grayson.

As I entered I asked employees for suggestions and the most common answer was to hit the grill in the plaza.  However, as I was attending a game on a Wednesday the grill was closed.  Apparently it is only open on the weekends, but the menu did not look particularly unique so I didn't feel liked I missed out on anything great.

Nor was I particularly hungry because I had a delicious hamburger and a flight of beer at Moon River Brewing Company in downtown.  So I opted to walk around the stadium a bit before settling in to watch the first few innings of action.

While exploring I got photos of the first half standings, as the Sand Gnats were in the hunt for the division title and playoff berth when I was there.

The kind of blurry and tough to read South Atlantic League Southern Division first half standings entering play on June 17.

Nearby the standings were the starting lineups, so I got a photo of them as well.

The starting lineups are important, but money wins out.

The obstructed view of the starting lineups kind of illustrates some of the issues with Grayson Stadium.  There's no doubt a stadium needs an ATM, but it needs access to a phone line to complete transactions so other important things like the starting lineups have to take a backseat to taking care of fans.

After exploring the stadium some, I took my seat behind home plate.  As usual, I got a picture of the first pitch from behind home plate.

Savannah Sand Gnats starting pitcher Martires Arias delivers the first pitch
to Asheville Tourists center fielder Omar Carrizales.

After exploring the food options and consulting a few employees for feedback I decided to get a bite at the Philly Cheese stand, which is just past the gift shop on the first base line.

The Philly Cheese stand.

Savannah is not known for its Philly cheese steaks nor are the Sand Gnats a Philadelphia Phillies affiliate, so I don't have a good rationale for why they have the stand except that it's a popular food item with mass appeal.

What made my choice unique is that I did not opt for just a standard Philadelphia cheese steak.  The Sand Gnats offer a steak and chicken option, and something called The Godfather.  I opted for the latter, which consists of an Italian sausage topped with either the steak or chicken variety.  I went for the traditional choice and had my Italian sausage coated in a steak variety.

The Godfather cheese steak.

The Godfather may have nothing to do with Savannah, but it was a delicious surprise.  The seasonings used to cook the steak mixed well with the cheese and Italian sausage, which I chose to top off with yellow mustard and ketchup.  Even "if" the grill had been open I would still choose The Godfather over those offerings.  It is definitely the best food item at Grayson Stadium.

Shortly after finishing my Godfather, the Sand Gnats mascot Gnate the Gnat came by.  So I quickly had my photo taken with him.

Me with Gnate the Gnat.

One plus and minus of Grayson Stadium is the net that extends all the way around the seating bowl.  It means fans are protected from any bats or balls entering the stands, but it also means taking clear action photos is incredibly difficult.  So I did not take many action photos and had to venture far down the right field line to the colossal party deck called the Southern Comfort Station.

View of the Southern Comfort Station from the third base side.

So what did I get to actually see from the SoCo Station?  The home team bullpen abuts it, so I got to see some young kids asking some Sand Gnats for their autographs.  I also got a nice view of the scoreboard...

View of the scoreboard from the Southern Comfort Station.

and a decent view of the picnic area along the third base line, which is cordoned off from the field of play by a chain-link fence and netting.

View of game action and the picnic area along the third base line.

After my photos from the SoCo Station I walked over to the picnic area so I could get some more photos.  Aside from the photo of the Southern Comfort Station, I was able to get a picture of the seating bowl and the elevated press box.

View of the elevated press box and seating bowl from the third base line.

After taking pictures to show off the seating bowl and the amenities at the stadium, I returned to my seat to watch the action.  Although Savannah threatened in the bottom of the 9th, the game went to extra innings.  Sitting right behind the net, I got one last action photo in the bottom of the 12th with Asheville reliever Yoely Bello on the mound.

Asheville Tourists reliever Yoely Bello facing Savannah Sand Gnats center fielder John Mora in the 12th inning.

Ultimately the Tourists pushed across two runs in the top of the 13th inning and held on for a victory.  I missed the final inning because I had sightseeing plans early the next morning, but thoroughly enjoyed my time as Historic Grayson Stadium.  The craft beer selection covered a wide spectrum that included local beers like Southbound's Scattered Sun Belgian Wit and SweetWater's 420.  There was not a huge variety of food, but The Godfather was delicious and assuredly the items off the grill would be equally good.

Grayson Stadium definitely shows some wear it is still a great venue to watch baseball.  Despite reports that a collegiate-wood bat Coastal Plain League team will move to Savannah in 2016 (read more here) fans should go out and watch the Sand Gnats this season.  If I lived in the vicinity I would definitely check out the Sand Gnats on a regular basis.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Baseball Stadiums: Lake Olmstead Stadium

One great thing about growing up in metro Atlanta is the amount of Minor League Baseball teams within a day's drive.  One of the worst things about growing up in metro Atlanta is having to decide which teams to visit.  Having to choose which teams to visit has led me to only recently seeing the Augusta GreenJackets in action last week.

By the time I made it to Lake Olmstead Stadium for my first game I had read up on the place from my favorite MiLB blogger, Ben Hill (read his visit here), and consulted my trusted copy of The Ultimate Minor League Baseball Road Trip by Josh Pahigian.  So I was well prepared for my visit, but the most notable part of my planning was taking advantage of BOGO tickets on Social Media Night.  I submitted the requested information and ultimately purchased two box seats for $12 instead of the usual $12 apiece.

After the planning the first thing I saw after parking the car was a red carpet rolled out for fans at Lake Olmstead Stadium like this...

Main entrance.

After getting in the gate, I immediately saw the gift shop, but opted to explore a bit before taking photos of the shop.  The sun was still setting when I entered the stadium, so I wanted to get some better photos with the shadows not wreaking havoc on my pictures.  In fact, I came back around to take the above photo because of the sunlight issues.

Next to The Hive gift shop the GreenJackets mascot shows off his arm on a beehive background.

The concession stands along the third base line were closed, but the banners above them displayed the GreenJackets' pride in their current affiliation with the San Francisco Giants.

A banner shows off the number of former GreenJackets on the Giants' 2014 World Series team.

Along the third base line is also a plaque honoring former South Atlantic League president John Henry Moss, who worked in Minor League Baseball for 50 years before his retirement in 2007.  The plaque details that the South Atlantic League Board of Directors retired the number 50 throughout the league in his honor.

Plaque honoring former South Atlantic League president John Henry Moss.

Closer to the gift shop, appropriately called The Hive, I found the traditional items: the league standings and the night's starting lineup.

South Atlantic League Southern Division standings entering play on June 16, 2015.

Starting lineups for the Lexington Legends and Augusta GreenJackets on June 16, 2015.

After exploring the concession stands and gift shop, I decided to take my seat before the game started.  As I waited for the first pitch the GreenJackets mascot Auggie came around, so I was quickly able to get my mascot photo out of the way.

Me with Auggie before the start of the game.

Soon after getting my photo with Auggie the game started.

Augusta GreenJackets starting pitcher D.J. Snelten delivering the first pitch
to Lexington Legends shortstop Humberto Arteage.

Sitting to the left of the net by the visitors' dugout on the third base side, I had a great vantage point for some action photos.

Closeup of GreenJackets starting pitcher D.J. Snelten.

Closeup of Legends starting pitcher Niklas Stephenson.

GreenJackets second baseman Ryan Jones at the plate with the SweetWater Draft House in the background.

After watching a few innings of the game, I decided to explore a bit and get a bite to eat.  So I set out toward the first base line because that was the only location with concession stands open on the Tuesday night I was in attendance.

Along the way I saw the team's Wall of Champions, which celebrates wild card, division, and league championships since the the team's first SAL title in 1989.

GreenJackets Wall of Champions with two former players who made it to the Majors and the year they played in Augusta.

One thing I got photos of, but didn't to explore was the SweetWater Draft House.  It is a picnic area that groups can reserve for large parties, which was the case when I was there.

SweetWater Draft House down the first base line.

After debating my choices between an Auggie Doggie or Auggie Burger, I settled on maintaining my trend of having encased meat over alternative choices when dining on a ballpark's signature food item.

Auggie Doggie, which is a hot dog topped with coleslaw and pulled pork.

The Auggie Doggie was tasty, but admittedly in hindsight I should've made one important change to the dog.  I should've added BBQ sauce because while the pulled pork was tasty it needed a bit of flavor, and it would have been more flavorful with the BBQ sauce.

Although the ballpark is named after the nearby lake there are no views of the lake in the distance.  However that doesn't mean there aren't occasionally aesthetically pleasing views from the ballpark like the sunset I captured.

Sunset over center field.

After enjoying a few more innings of action, I wandered down the left field line and saw a couple of banners that I had missed earlier.  The GreenJackets seem to take a lot of pride in their history and the history of baseball in Augusta.  I know that before Spring Training became focused on Florida, and later Arizona, that many Major League teams would use different sites from year to year, but I was unaware of Augusta's role until seeing the banner.

Banner detailing the history of Spring Training in Augusta.

In addition to the banner hailing Augusta's Spring Training history there were a variety of banners detailing the previous names of baseball teams that called the town home like the Augusta Electricians in 1893.  Instead of inundating people with all banners, I wanted to share the banner with the most unique name: the 1922-29 Augusta Tygers, who were named after Ty Cobb.

Banner honoring the Augusta Georgians and Augusta Tygers.

After seeing the banners, I returned to my seat and enjoyed the last few innings of the game before taking a photo of the scoreboard.  So in the bottom of the ninth inning I got a photograph of the scoreboard.

Closeup of the scoreboard in the final frame.

Despite Deacon's name appearing on the scoreboard, the Giants No. 15 ranked prospect Aramis Garcia pinch hit for him.  However, the pinch hitter did not make an impact in the game and the Legends held on for a 4-2 victory over the GreenJackets.

Despite the incredibly warm evening (with temps during the day hitting above 95 degrees), I enjoyed the BOGO night at Lake Olmstead Stadium.  The drink deals were great, and the signature food items were very good.  I would definitely order the Auggie Doggie again, and I was extremely tempted to try the Auggie Burger.  The concession stand lines always moved quickly.  The mascot was accessible throughout the game, so even if I hadn't gotten my picture early in the game I would have been able to capture that shot numerous times throughout the game.  The staff was friendly and welcoming throughout the game, which is always a key part of wanting to return to a ballpark.  So I'm glad that I finally made it to Lake Olmstead Stadium and "Caught the Buzz."

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Baseball Stadiums: Rickwood Field

In 1996, a tradition was born that returned baseball to downtown Birmingham, Ala.  The Friends of Rickwood and Birmingham Barons staged the first Rickwood Classic, which brought the team from its suburban home at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium (read about visit here) to downtown for a single game.  Since 2013, the Barons have played in downtown at Regions Field (read about visit here), but have continued to play the Rickwood Classic.

Main entrance.

This year marks the 20th Rickwood Classic, but my first time attending the game.  Each classic commemorates a different era of Barons history with this year's event commemorating the 1948 Barons, who won the Southern Association title and their fourth Dixie Series crown.

Rickwood Field opened in 1910 after Barons owner Rick Woodward built a concrete and steel structure to mimic the grandeur of Philadelphia's Shibe Park, and incorporated elements of Pittsburgh Forbes Field.  The stadium was placed on the Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage in 1991, and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1993.

Historic marker with sign 

After getting some primary photos of the exterior I entered the gate with my friend to see this scene...

Entering the turnstiles.

Once fans are through the turnstiles they quickly encounter the starting lineups, which you can see a glimpse of in the preceding picture.  The complete lineups are below.

Starting lineups for the Jacksonville Suns and Birmingham Barons for the 20th Rickwood Classic.

In addition to hosting the Rickwood Classic, the Friends of Rickwood maintain the field as a "living museum" that is open during the weekdays for fans to explore.  To aid fans on their self-guided tour on weekdays there are pamphlets at the ballpark.

Signage for self-guided tours.

So after grabbing a brochure with about 45 minutes before the game was to start, I explored the ballpark and took some photos.

The movement of the outfield reflects changes in baseball stadiums, as many ballparks moved their fences during the 1930s.

Walt Dropo was went onto to earn 1950 American League Rookie of the Year honors with the Boston Red Sox.

A fence in the outfield wall provides a view of the field and the grandstand.

Pennants commemorating titles by the Barons and the Negro League Birmingham Black Barons won at Rickwood Field.

One of the best features of the Rickwood Classic is seeing the Barons, and usually the visiting team, dress in period uniforms matching that year's theme.  For the 20th Rickwood Classic, the Barons wore replica uniforms from 1948, which was also the theme of the 1st Rickwood Classic in 1996.

Barons players in their 1948 replica uniforms.

After exploring for a bit, my friend and I took our seats and I got in position to get a shot of the first pitch.

Birmingham Barons starting pitcher Myles Jaye preparing to deliver the first pitch
to Jacksonville Suns center fielder Kenny Wilson.

In addition to the period uniforms the outfield walls are adorned with retro advertisements, which adds a unique touch to the setting.

Right field wall with retro advertisements plus a section honoring the history of Rickwood Field.

Right center field wall.

After watching the first inning from behind home plate, my friend and I moved to a spot down the first base line.  It was a great spot that provided some great angles for pictures of the pitchers and batters.

Closeup of Barons starting pitcher Myles Jaye on the mound.

Jacksonville Suns first baseman David Adams at the plate.

Birmingham Barons shortstop Tim Anderson (White Sox No. 2 ranked prospect) at the plate.

I explored down the third base line and got some pictures of the grandstand and the outfield walls, too.

First base grandstand.

Right field bleachers.

Finally my friend and I decided to get something to eat, just as the 7th inning began.  One plus and minus of the Rickwood Classic is the limited concession items.  It's nice that you have much simpler options that many newer ballparks, even the Barons' regular home - Regions Field.  However, it means some people's taste buds don't get to explore quite as much.  Down the first base line there was a large grill featuring hot dogs, Polish sausage, and Italian sausage.  So my friend and I opted to head there when our hunger finally forced us to eat.

Polish sausage with grilled peppers and onions with yellow mustard.

Despite thoroughly enjoy the stadium, the atmosphere, and the experience the Barons were not able to deliver with a win.  The Suns prevailed 8-2 as first baseman David Adams went 5-for-5 with three runs scored while second baseman Danny Black went 2-for-4 with three RBIs.

Vintage scoreboard with the final score: Jacksonville 8, Birmingham 2.

After the game fans are allowed onto the field, which is not something that usually happens at any baseball stadium.  Yes, many Minor League teams allows kids to run the bases, but that is usually controlled and often limited to one day a week.  At the Rickwood Classic, all fans are invited down to the field.

A father and son playing catch on the field after the game.

As my friend and I were leaving the stadium we saw the home team locker room was open, and were invited in to check it out.  The team had already left, which allowed us to explore the entire space and see the manager's office recreated from 1948.

Fred Walters' office from 1948.

Without a doubt, the Rickwood Classic and Rickwood Field itself definitely deserve all the praise they receive.  It's a well preserved historic field, and the game recreates that nostalgic experience.  Attending the Rickwood Classic has been on my baseball bucket list for a few years, and I'm extremely thankful that I was able to experience it.  Whether you live near Birmingham or not, it's definitely worth the trek to the West End neighborhood to explore the ballpark.