Sunday, August 23, 2015

Baseball Stadiums: First Tennessee Park

For the second year in a row I was in Nashville for a baseball game, but this season the Sounds were playing in a brand new ballpark instead of 36-year-old Herschel Greer Stadium (read about last season's visit here).  Although I was visiting a brand new stadium in First Tennessee Park, my visit was quite different because I attended the game with my girlfriend and two of her friends.

Another wrinkle to my visit was that the previous day's game had been suspended due to rain in the bottom of the first inning, so instead of a single game starting at 7 p.m. the Sounds hosted the completion of the previous day's game before hosting a seven-inning game afterward.  So instead of arriving around 6 p.m. to secure my 1940s Nashville Vols bobblehead, we arrived around 5 p.m. to get our giveaway items and settle in for the resumption of Wednesday's game at 6 p.m.

With it's location just north of downtown, First Tennessee Park does not have a lot of designated parking.  However, there are multiple parking lots and street parking spots around the stadium.  So after parking in one of these lots, the first view of the ballpark was not the main entrance but instead I got to see...

My first view of First Tennessee Park, which was a view of the "big ass" guitar-shaped scoreboard.

The back of the guitar-shaped scoreboard may have been my first view of First Tennessee Park, but the main entrance looks like this...

Main entrance.

Moments after walking into the stadium at the Home Plate Entrance I got my Nashville Vols bobblehead and lucked out finding the Sounds' new mascot Booster.  So I got my photo taken with him before the setting out to explore the ballpark.

Me with Booster in a throwback Nashville Vols jersey.

With my bobblehead in hand and a photo with the mascot done, our group went about exploring the stadium, which almost immediately led us to the souvenir shop.  With two people who had never visited Nashville in tow we stopped and explored the shop for quite a bit.  I bought a coloring puzzle for my friend's 5-year-old son, but the most interesting scene in the souvenir shop was the display around the Nashville Vols items.

A sign above the t-shirts commemorates the history of baseball at the site.

As someone who appreciates history it was really cool to see the signage above the throwback t-shirts to help educate fans who might not know about the baseball teams in Nashville before the Sounds came into existence in 1978.

In addition to the signage in the souvenir shop fans who walk around the entire concourse will see something especially unique on the back of the batter's eye.

Signage commemorating the history of baseball at the site that First Tennessee Park now occupies.

Immediately across from the batter's eye and the historic signage there is a fence with netting featuring the First Tennessee Park logo, which creates a compelling juxtaposition between the past, present, and future as you can see the construction underway in the area immediately surrounding the ballpark.

A fence with the First Tennessee Park logo just behind the batter's eye.

The most popular feature in the outfield is by far the concession stand and bar area known as The Band Box.  The concession stand features a farm-to-table approach to ballpark dining, which results in some unexpected ballpark food items like a quinoa chopped salad or a hot dog produced in town by Porter Road Butcher.

Additionally there is a picture perfect photo opportunity, so I took advantage and had one of our friends take a photo of me and my girlfriend.

Me and Katie at The Band Box.

Despite the great photo opp, people come to The Band Box for the bar and other entertainment like ping pong, cornhole, shuffleboard, and the foosball table.

A view of the bar before the game started.

Later in the game I wandered back to The Band Box, and it was jam packed with urban-dwelling millenials enjoying the craft beer selection.  On that note, The Band Box has a good beer selection with popular national brands, notable regional brands, and some awesome local beers from breweries like Black Abbey, Little Harpeth, and Turtle Anarchy.

The Band Box during the game.

After getting a drink at The Band Box we migrated to our seats on the third base line to watch the start of the previous day's suspended game.  The August 5 game was suspended before the Sounds came to bat in the bottom of the first inning, so I opted not to get a photo of the first pitch because it wasn't really the "first pitch."

So from my view along the third base line I took some photos of the game action, but started with probably the most notable feature of First Tennessee Park ... the guitar-shaped scoreboard.

The scoreboard with a throwback motif with the Sounds batting in the first inning.

I also took some photos of the game action.  Notably I took some pictures of former Major Leaguer Barry Zito toiling for the Sounds.

Nashville Sounds pitcher Barry Zito delivering a pitch to Memphis Redbirds second baseman Dean Anna.

I also captured Memphis Redbirds second baseman Dean Anna at the plate facing Zito.

Memphis Redbirds second baseman Dean Anna at the plate against Nashville Sounds pitcher Barry Zito.

One of the coolest things I saw on Throwback Thursday was the outfits worn by the on-field emcee and the accompanying spirit girls (or cheerleaders or whatever is the appropriate term).  The emcee wore a baseball uniform that mimicked an old New York Yankees uniform with the number "3" adorned on his chest while the spirit girls wore uniforms reminiscent of the Rockford Peaches of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, and immortalized in the 1992 film A League of Their Own.

A between-inning trivia contest during the first game.

One of the great improvements with the Sounds relocating from Greer Stadium to First Tennessee Park is the view.  Greer Stadium, which is still standing, is removed from downtown and does not provide fans with an aesthetically pleasing backdrop.  By comparison, First Tennessee Park is located just north of downtown facing south with great views of the downtown Nashville skyline.  So fans are easily able to get a picture of downtown like the one I took that night.

A view of the left field berm and a snippet of the downtown Nashville skyline.

When it comes to food, Nashville has cultivated its own tradition that has yet to be copied elsewhere in the country.  That unique dish is known as "hot chicken."  The dish is what it sounds like, but you can read more here.  It is fried chicken that is spiced to make it extremely hot.  So when I sought out something unique to eat at the stadium it was a no-brainer to try some hot chicken, especially considering the team's mascot Booster is a hot chicken.

A basket of hot chicken with waffle fries from the Hot or Not Chicken stand.

After finishing my hot chicken, which was tasty, but not nearly as spicy as I expected considering that two people in the group said it made their eyes water, I sat back to watch the Sounds complete their come-from-behind victory over the Redbirds.

In the suspended game from Aug. 5 that was completed on Aug. 6, the Sounds scored eight unanswered runs to win 8-3.

After the first game concluded the grounds crew took about 30 minutes to prepare the field for the second game, which I decided was the appropriate time to get my usual photograph of the first pitch of the ballgame.  Unfortunately first pitch wasn't until almost 9:30 p.m., so my picture may not have turned out as good as usual.

Nashville Sounds starting pitcher Dan Otero delivering the first pitch to Memphis Redbirds left fielder Rafael Ortega.

After getting a photograph of the first pitch I walked around and to the first base line to get some photographs of the game action.

Memphis Redbirds center fielder Tommy Pham takes a lead off first base in the top of the first inning.

A closeup of Nashville pitcher Dan Otero on the mound.

A closeup of Memphis Redbirds starting pitcher Tyler Waldron on the mound.

After picking up another beer at The Band Box, I made sure to capture a view of the field from the outfield looking over the grandstand.

A view of the stadium from the outfield.

After scoring three runs in the first, the Sounds never looked back and coasted to an 8-0 win over the Redbirds.  The impromptu doubleheader ended around 11:30 p.m., so it was a much later night than expected, but I had a great time on my first visit to First Tennessee Park.

The architecture is unique.  The views are magnificent.  The food is delicious.  The beer selection is plentiful.  And all of that makes for an awesome experience at a ballpark.

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.