City Island and the Harrisburg Senators
May 25, 2010
I had occasion to travel to Harrisburg, PA to see a Harrisburg Senators game. My work took me to the state capital for a late meeting which we turned into a ballpark visit. I was traveling with a work buddy who also is a baseball nut.
Harrisburg’s Metro Bank Stadium (formerly known as City Island Park), is located in the middle of the Susquehanna River on a fairly large island which is used for commuter parking as well as having an entertainment complex. Among the entertainment venues is a city beach, some amusement rides for smaller kids, an arcade, a lighted football field and the baseball stadium. The island is connected by several bridges connecting with both sides of the river. There is a pedestrian bridge which connects downtown Harrisburg with the island.
We arrived at the stadium just before game time. We wanted to go to Metro Bank Stadium because they had just completed building it and declared is a new stadium. It sure did look bigger and better than the previous park. In the past, there never were more than three rows of bleachers on the third base side and behind home plate there was a smallish covered reserved seating section with locker rooms underneath. With the new stadium there were more seats on the third base line (although not many more) as well as a picnic area. The main reserved seating section is now much larger, running from the third base bag around to the third base bag. The general admissions grandstand down the right field line remained as is from the former configuration.
After wandering around and talking to a few locals, we learned that the new ballpark was essentially built around the original structure behind home plate. The seating was extended down the lines as well as seating was added to the top of the structure with luxury boxes topping the thing off around the upper rim. The park still is essentially one level with the exception of the boxes. There is a very nice ‘boardwalk’ around the stadium allowing you to roam and see the game from many different angle. There are three new state of the art HD scoreboards and the usual array of billboard advertising on the outfield walls.
The day that we were there, there could not have been more than 1,000 people in the park. This allowed us to get a good look at the place. This day the Senators were playing the Bowie Baysox. The Senators are part of the AA Eastern Baseball League with teams located throughout the northeast. Both Bowie and Harrisburg were not at the top of the standings the day of the game.
The game was basically uneventful with fairly good pitching and fielding. The game time was about 2:25 minutes which is very good these days. Harrisburg won the game 2-1. The ending of the game was the most exciting part of the event. The Senators threw out the potential tying run at the plate to end the game. This happened as a result of an infielder stopping a ground ball base hit catching the base runner trying to score on what he figured was an outfield single.
The most interesting part of the game was the presence of young ladies dressed in what appeared to be basketball referees shirts and hot pants. These girls were representing a local restaurant called Arooga’s. I noticed two of these girls as we walked in to the stadium. Occasionally, a pair of them would circle the park walking right in front of us and improving the view greatly. When we circled the park, we found out in left field a canopy over tables with the Arooga’s logo. There at the table were about six of the ‘referee’ girls. I still don’t know what they actually did for the restaurant or the ball club, but I didn’t mind them being there either.
About 9 PM, we noticed that the mayflies were gathering at the stadium lighting. This location has historically had these mayflies descend to the field each night. This night was no exception. You have to know that the mayflies will not bite in order to not be somewhat creeped out by them. There are a lot of bugs on the river. For a while I thought the new park somehow had gotten rid of the little buggers. That was not the case. I wonder what it is like for the players when the bugs come down.
With parking on the island, it is easy to get in and out of the stadium, especially easy when only about 1,000 folks were at the park. Oh, the announced attendance was over 2,100. I guess all teams exaggerate their numbers. It has something to do with season ticket holders who do not attend the game. Anyway, the evening was really enjoyable.
Notes from the bush: Touring Minor League Ballparks
My old college buddy and I try to attend a few minor league baseball games in the summer. This year we chose tour US towns and ballparks in North and South Carolina and Tennessee. I’ve noticed over the years that each minor league park has its own character and identity. Each deserves to be discovered and enjoyed. That’s what Timothy and I were going to do. Timothy was my college roommate at the University of Tennessee. He lives in Newport, Tennessee, centrally located at the western edge of Great Smoky Mountains almost on the North Carolina/Tennessee border. There are an amazing number of baseball towns within within driving distance of this little town. This is where we would return each night.
Day 1 Will it Rain?
For the first game we crossed the Smoky Mountains heading east on I-40 to Hickory, NC where tonight we’re going to watch a SALLY League game between the Hickory Crawdads and the first place Lexington, KY Legends. Hickory is a small manufacturing town located on the Piedmont between Asheville and Charlotte. It’s the home of Dale Jarrett and Lenoir-Rhyne University.
We encountered heavy rain as we drove down through the mountains towards Hickory. I wondered if the game would be rained out. I just hoped that the inevitable rain delay would be brief. Surprisingly, the rain started to let up as we got near Hickory. By the time we got off of the interstate the rain had stopped.
We made several wrong turns on the way and ended up on a small road which curved around the end of the local commercial airport runway and down a hill. The little stadium was just over the hill from the runway. We saw the tall unlit light stanchions of the stadium. From what we could see, L.P. Frans Stadium has a retro look similar to other new minor league stadiums with abundant brick construction and slate roofs sheltering higher seats.
It was about 6:30 when we parked. Game time supposed to be at 7PM. The lights weren’t on so the field was dark from the overcast skies. Only a few cars were in the parking lot. Our worst fears. Maybe not. We saw a couple people walking towards the stadium. We asked them about the game. They said, “According to the radio, game was on.” That was when we noticed that the ticket window was open with someone purchasing tickets.
We figured the crowd would be small because of the rain during the day. We had an unlimited choice of seats to choose from. We decided on box seats in the 10th row near first base. As we walked into the stadium to our seats, the field lights were beginning to come on. We had a good view of the entire field except for down the right field line in the corner.
Since it was going to be a while before the game started, we decided to get food. It also was a good way to pass the time until the game started. It turns out that L.P. Frans Stadium has a restaurant with waitress service. Unfortunately, typical fried bar food. You couldn’t see the field from inside the restaurant which was located way down the right field line. The restaurant had deck seating outside where you could watch the game while eating, if it weren’t raining.
We explored the stadium after dinner. It did not take very long because the park is small. As we explored, the tarp was rolled off of the infield by the grounds crew which consisted of three college kids, two guys and a girl. The playing field at stadium seemed fine. There were no bald spots in the infield or outfield. Since it had just rained, the infield was damp and small puddles were in the outfield and foul territory. We were impressed that the young grounds crew got the field playable on a very wet difficult evening.
Since the Hickory Crawdads are a Pittsburgh Pirates (A-) minor league team, potential future Pirates could be playing for the Crawdads team. That makes the Crawdads my team. Also the ‘Dads have great uniforms. My favorite is a pinstripe jersey with the word ‘Dads written in script across the front. There is another jersey that features a red crawfish on the front that looks great too. Hickory Crawdads, like any other minor league team, has its own mascot called Conrad the Crawdad. Guess what it faintly resembled? We noticed that the video screen was a dot matrix display. They did have an electronic message/scoreboard. The outfield fence had two rows of large billboards which went from foul pole to foul pole.
The game was played at a very quick pace with Hickory winning 3-1 on a disputed inside the park 3-run home run in the 7th inning. The Hickory player hit a ball down the right field line where the right fielder tried to pick it out from under the fence, then he threw his hands up indicating he couldn’t get the ball or see the ball. Both umpires (there are only two of them at this level of play), ignored the hand gestures since the fielder had originally searched for the ball while all three runners ran around the bases. An inside the park home run. A colorful argument followed. That one play decided the game.
The field lights went out almost immediately after the final out. I guess they want to go home. In the end, on this damp rainy night, there were no more that 400-500 people at the game. The home team won. We re-crossed the mountains back to Newport for the night.
Day 2 Chattanooga Choo Choo
Chattanooga, Tennessee, the land of Ruby Falls and Lookout Mountain, is about 150 miles southwest of Newport. This second game going to be one of the longer trips of the week. I had been looking forward to this trip because Chattanooga is located almost halfway between Knoxville and Atlanta, GA. I traveled I-75 to Atlanta by way of Chattanooga (halfway) many times during college. I knew a little about Engle Stadium where the Chattanooga team played for many years. But when we reached the outskirts of the city looking for the highway signs showing the way, we saw signs directing us to ‘Lookouts New Stadium’. Engle Stadium must either be gone or is no longer the city’s baseball stadium. The next road sign said to take US Route 27 north for Bell South Park. We thought this sounded like the baseball stadium. Finally we saw a sign that read, ‘Baseball Stadium Next Exit’. From there we were in downtown following signs directing us to Bell South Park. We eventually found a parking lot that was down over the hill from the new stadium, and near the riverfront park. Finding the new ballpark was exciting.
Downtown is just across the Power Alley from the ball park. The downtown area including the riverfront was redeveloped in the 1990s. The IMAX theater and the Tennessee State Aquarium were built as centerpieces for downtown Chattanooga. The IMAX theater is across from the baseball stadium. We ended up parking in the downtown area at the bottom of the brushy hill.
We approached the park from the street below. We discovered that Bell South Park is perched on top of a steep 40 foot hill. The stadium and playing field directly overlook downtown Chattanooga and the Tennessee River. It’s built on a mostly rectangular parcel of flat land with a steep wooded hill to the north and a steep grassy hill along Power Alley facing the downtown. There is a small steep service road on the third side, and US Rt. 27 directly borders the ball field to the west.
To get up to the stadium from the street below, everyone has to either to walk up about four flights of steps from the north end of of Power Alley or walk to the opposite end of the street and ride an amazing outdoor escalator up to the stadium. It is actually built into the steep hillside allowing people to ride from Power Alley level almost to the ticket office. We went for the escalator. There are a series of canopies which protect riders and the escalator from rain and weather. It kinda looked odd there on the hill, but what an enjoyable way to get to the ballpark.
As we traveled up the escalator we cleared the roof of the IMAX theater, we could see into downtown and to the river beyond. You can see the sun reflecting off of the angled glass structure of the aquarium from the top at ballpark level. There’s enough space at the top outside the stadium for a small plaza in the area behind home plate. From the plaza there is a sidewalk that extends along the edge of the stadium overlooking Power Alley below. The sidewalk links the escalator at one end of the stadium and the concrete stairway at the far end of the stadium. There is virtually no unused space on top of the hill.
Bell South Park has been the home of the Chattanooga Lookouts of the Class AA Southern league since the 1999 season. It’s another retro styled stadium with lots of steel beams and red brick facing. From down on Power Alley, the stadium looks like any other retro style stadium. After we got up to the ballpark and entered the stadium, we immediately noticed that the park has a odd shape. There are no seats along the third base side of the field. Nothing beyond the third base dugout except a very busy four lane US Rt. 27, which runs parallel to the third base line. Beyond the dugout and down the entire left edge of the field there are eight tall poles and two very high and long screens, erected between highway and field to protect moving vehicles from being hit by long foul fly balls. The day we were there, I swear that I saw at least one ball fly completely over the netting and into the highway. I wonder if an unsuspecting vehicle ever got hit by a baseball while driving north on Rt. 27?
So, virtually all of seating is located on the first base side of the field stretching from behind home plate to the right field foul pole. The main stadium structure has a roof that extends over most of the seats. A large roofed grandstand and party area are located above and behind the 16 ft. high right field wall. The right field wall is built of plywood covered with the lots of traditional advertising. In spite of the structural oddities it still looks like a baseball stadium.
As we always do, we explored the ball park before the game. We were in the right field pavilion when we stumbled into the Chattanooga Choo Choo. Beyond the 16 ft. right center field was a full sized steam locomotive parked on elevated rails. I was told by someone at the park that the Chattanooga Choo Choo, which was actually unveiled in 1995 at old Engel Stadium and moved to Bell South Field, makes an appearance whenever a Lookouts batter homers. When that happens the replica locomotive emerges from behind the right-center field wall to chug its way down an elevated track, billowing smoke while the batter circles the bases.
The Bell South field looked good except for a small bald spot by the first base cutout. The infield seemed smooth enough. The lights, although low, lit most of the field. Our seats were four rows back from the first base dugout. There is a mascot. He is called Looie the Lookout. I’m not sure what it is. I think it’s a bird.
As for the game, the Lookouts were hosting the Carolina Mudcats, a Colorado Rockies farm team. The Mudcats first batter hit a home run. From then until the 7th inning, the game moved along quickly with no runs being scored. The best Carolina hitter was their pitcher who had two hits. The Chattanooga right fielder showed his local knowledge of the 16 foot right field wall by playing a ball off of the wall to throw out a runner who was trying to stretch a single into a double during the game. The Lookouts scored a run on a couple of singles in the 7th to tie the score.
Chattanooga had the go ahead run on second base with two outs in the 8th inning. The last available hitter on the bench was Pete Rose Jr. (the son), who pinch hit for the pitcher. Petey popped out to end the inning and the threat. In the bottom of the ninth the Lookouts finally scored the winning run. Because it was fireworks night everyone stayed and getting out of town was easy.
Bell South Park is not the nicest new AA facility I’ve seen. But it is one of the most unusual settings and stadiums I have ever seen. The location of the field is amazing. This is the only baseball field I have ever seen where cars traveling north on a four lane highway are genuinely at risk of being hit by a long foul ball over third base. Next time I’ll try to visit the Aquarium.
Day 3 South Carolina
It was raining again when we left East Tennessee for Greenville, SC. It meant another rainy trip across the Smokies on I-40. This time turning south at Asheville towards Greenville. We were concerned again about traveling so far then the game not being played. Not to worry. As we descended out of the mountains onto the plateau of western South Carolina, the weather started to clear. Just like a few nights before in Hickory, we were fortunate. In spite of a gloomy forecast tonight’s game it was going to be played.
Greenville Municipal Stadium is where the Greenville Braves play baseball. It is located out on the edge of town along a single two lane road. The stadium was built in the mid-seventies and didn’t look like most of the baseball stadiums I have seen.
We bought our tickets and entered the concrete structure to find ourselves on the concourse where the concessions are sold. The concourse is behind the back row of seats above the playing field and extends to the end of the seating areas. It looked like there were about 20 rows of seats that extend down each base line beyond the dugouts. The views of the from any seat in the field are good. We purchased great seats in row 10 behind the third base dugout.
Since the main concourse was level with the parking lot, there is a fence which blocks the view of the parking lot from inside. The stadium is kind of sunken. From the concourse in the back there are steep hills extending down to the playing field level and down both foul lines. The bench seats were built into concrete pads that were poured on the hillsides. The stadium seating area did not have any kind of roof structure or cover over the seating. Actually there was no cover anywhere. The concourse is in the full sun during day games. It took a while to find out that the locker rooms are two separate block buildings located beyond the two respective foul poles.
The playing field was very wet from the earlier rain. Puddles were all over the outfield. The infield was wet apparently because the tarp leaked when being removed. Someone at the park told me that Municipal Stadium is known for its extremely poor drainage. He said the way the field was dug down into the ground to accommodate the seating causes lots of water to gather on the field. The game will be played on a very wet field.
This particular evening there were many corporate outings at the ball park. It was easy to spot the corporate groups because of the large groups of men with blue or white dress shit sans jacket. They also tended to be loud. I was told that local corporate support in the form of group ticket sales make up a large percentage of the fans. Greenville has own mascot called TomyHawk. This is a Braves franchise so it makes a little sense. I won’t describe the thing, think birdlike. The fans around our seats loved his act. It goes well with baseball and beer.
I have to mention that Greenville had a wonderfully minor league fence with billboards stacked four high stretching from foul pole to foul pole. To hit a home run, the ball must clear the first two levels of 4×8 sign boards. When a ball is hit off any of the outfield billboards, the umpires have to determine if it’s a home run or not. If the ball bounces off of the top two its a home run. It the ball bounces off of the bottom two levels of fence and bounces back into the field, the ball is in play. I pitty the umpires. At least at the AA level of baseball three umpires are always used.
Just like us, the Carolina Mudcats were in Chattanooga last night and made the trip to Greenville overnight to play the Greenville Braves of the Class AA Southern League. Unlike last night when the Mudcats lost in the 9th inning at Chattanooga, this night the Mudcats lost by giving up a home run to the first batter. It all went down hill from there. The Braves scored in 7 out of 9 innings for an easy 12-1 win.
There was a very good cheese steak vendor on the concourse. Strangely, the costs at Greenville were noticeably higher than any of the two previous ball parks. Four dollars to park, fifty cents for up to date team statistics, $4 cheese steaks. Municipal Stadium did not have a clock visible in the stadium. There were no pitch speeds from a radar gun, certainly no video. They did have an electric scoreboard. This not the nicest minor league facility ever built. But it provides a place for high quality AA baseball to be played and watched. The baseball was good. The home team won.
Day 4 A Decision
I woke up to a call from my friend, Timothy saying he is on the disabled list today. He is big enough to have trouble fitting his legs into the average size stadium row. His knees are aching and he needs a day off to ease the pain. Now what to do? I had lots of choices. I could do as we had originally planned and go to Charlotte. The Tennessee Smokies are at home tonight playing just 20 miles from my hotel. I could drive about an hour across the mountains to Asheville, NC and see a Tourists game. We are already planning on seeing Tennessee tomorrow and Charlotte is just too far. McCormick Field in Asheville seemed like the best choice. It was raining on the western side of the Smokies and the maps indicated that there were heavy rains all throughout the mountains. On the other hand, Asheville radar showed that there was no rain over there.
I set off back across the mountains on I-40 in the rain. There were flood warnings for the western side of the Smokies. I hoped the radar map was right and I hadn’t wasted the trip.
After the rainy and foggy trip up over the mountains, it was a relief to see the weather clearing. By the time I descended into Asheville the weather was sunny and pleasant. You have to drive through neighborhoods to get to the Asheville Tourists ball park, McCormick Field. You go about half way up a steep wooded residential street before you see the field. The park is another retro brick stadium with a roof over the main seating behind home plate. The field was originally built in the 1920s and rebuilt on the same spot years later. The most recent renovations were done in the early 1990′s.
There was no parking near the field that I could see. The promotional material I found for the Tourists said “parking is always free.” Trouble was that there wasn’t any parking. I had to drive up the hill past the ball park into the residential area and parked on the street overlooking right field. I could see from there that there was going to be a small crowd.
As I entered the park, the ‘scorecard hawker’ commented to me on my Vassar Clements t-shirt. I should have expected to run into music fans here. Asheville is home to many great bars and music halls that have live music almost every day. I’ve been to Asheville before to see various musical shows and have always had a good time. The locals know their music. Nice.
At the ticket window I asked the salesman what was the best seat in the house located. He said that he thought that a field box seat in the first row next to the on deck circle. That is the seat I got. I was sitting beside the backstop screen near the Tourist’s dugout. I could talk to the on deck hitters and listened to the batters and umpires talking. What a nice place to see a game up close.
McCormick Park is built on the side of a hill. This caused another irregularly shaped ball park with a deep right and a close but tall left field fence and screen. Looking at the field, it was clear that the rain earlier in the day had washed out the playing surface. Puddles and mud everywhere. The ground crew spread drying dust all over the field and worked it in. By 7 o’clock, the field was mostly playable. There still were bad spots and slippery sections.
There was an electronic scoreboard. However this was the first field which did not have an electronic message board.
A woman sang a very bluesy rendition of the national anthem. I laughed to myself when I noticed that the players were using stop watches to time the length of the performance. The players were playing over and under using the length of the performance of the national anthem. This night, the woman took a long time. After the performance, the players were all comparing their various stop watch readouts. What a concept – over or under a minute and a half.
Tonight the Tourists were playing the Wilmington, NC Waves, a Dodgers farm team. The Tourists are currently in first place by ½ game. They needed a win to stay on top. The game began with Wilmington scratching out an early run . Then both pitchers mowed down hitter after hitter. Asheville tied the score at one in the bottom of the 7th with a home run. In the bottom of the 8th, Asheville put together a couple of hits to take the lead and then win 2-1. The home team wins again. The Tourists stay in first place. Everyone goes home happy.
The home plate umpire was different than most of the umpires we have encountered upon our baseball journey. This umpire had gray hair and when he removed his hat he was bald. He was older than most other umpires in this league – perhaps in his mid-30s. I should mention that minor league umpires are young prospects too. Typically the average age of umpires in this league is 22-24 years old. An umpire in his 30′s is very unusual. It was also apparent that he was not as consistent as the younger umpires we had seen on this trip. Maybe I was projecting. But I could hear the Wilmington team complaining about the umpire all night. They thought he was inconsistent too. Maybe he was an emergency substitute umpire.
The Tourists didn’t spend as much time running promotions between innings as the other cities. They had an organ player. There was no dizzy bat race, no sausage race. I enjoyed my throwback atmosphere at McCormick Field. The weather cooperated again tonight. It did not rain in Asheville. The trip back was 50 miles of mountain driving and it rained in the entire trip. I am glad I decided to go.
Day 5 A home game of sorts
On Sunday afternoon we are going see the Tennessee Smokies play at their new stadium. Smokies Park is only 20 miles away from my hotel. This is the first time I’ll get to see the Smokies in 28 years and my first time ever at Smokies Ballpark. The Smokies recently moved out of Knoxville to this facility which is located in the most unusual location. It’s not located in a town or suburbs. The stadium is located along I-40 just off of exit 407 at state highway 66. There are no towns near here. There are several hotels and a truck stop. Some fast food and gas too. This exit is the most direct way to get to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Gatlinburg from anywhere east or northeast.
After you exit the interstate and enter the parking lot of Smokies Stadium, you immediately notice this place is different. The ball park has a southwestern cut sandstone look with low tile roofs. All of the exterior are rough cut sandstone. There is a lot of landscaping around the stadium. It does not look like a baseball field from the outside except for the light towers. There is no retro red brick and steel look for this stadium.
We arrived early and explored the stadium. The mostly one level park has low field side seating stretching almost from one foul pole to the other. There is a concourse directly behind the seating area similar to Greenville. It’s very open with no cover. One local told me that Smokies ballpark allows patrons to see the game at all times, even when you’re at a concession stand ordering food.
Along the back of the concourse the concession stands, customer relations, rest rooms, and souvenir shop are concentrated in the area from first base to third base. The souvenir shop is very nice. The store is accessible from outside as well as inside the stadium. They have all kinds of stuff. Anything University of Tennessee from to caps football jersies. The shop also has gear from most minor league teams. They certainly had everything Smokies including the new Smokies logo featuring a black bear and the older classic Smokies logo with the green mountains.
Down the third base line beyond the concessions and souvenir shop is a restaurant and bar called The Double Play. It’s nice and serves typical bar food with wait service. Lots of beers are on tap. The food was okay. The beer was good. Television screens throughout allow you to watch the game outside on the field or another sporting event somewhere else. The Double Play has two separate entrances, one from the concourse and the other from the parking lot outside. The sports bar is open most of the year. It was very nice to enjoy the food, beer, and air conditioning before the game.
Above these buildings are the press box and a large number of value added boxes for groups and high end customers. These suites have catering available, and informal meeting area along with seating in front of the suites and above the infield.
The stadium has a grass berm all around the outfield that provides overflow seating. It’s very nice, but seldom used. Because of the large crowd today, there were some people sitting on the outfield berm. It’s a nice feature of this park. There also is a large jacuzzi just beyond the fence in left center field. It was not being used this day. Perhaps it was because the crowd today was primarily Christians here to see the music afterwords who might not appreciate the ambiance of fans splashing in the water while drinking a beer and watching the game.
I thought it was unusual that smoking was allowed in designated spaces around the ball park. The Smokies created smoking areas located at several points along the concourse. The areas are defined by two chain fences sticking out from concrete concourse walls to form a three sided ‘cattle pen’ effect. During the game, many smokers huddle in the small fenced off areas to enjoy a smoke during the game. There was a good view of the field from all of the smoking areas.
We attended a Sunday 5PM game which typically does not draw a crowd. While on the way to the game, I found out that the Smokies had a promotion featuring the contemporary Christian group, 4Him performing after the game. When you looked around the crowd today, it was apparent that tickets were marketed to church youth groups etc. They announced a sellout crowd of 6,400. When you look around, about 2/3 of the seats directly behind home plate were empty. Perhaps 1000 seats were unoccupied this sunny afternoon. Season ticket holders have their seats in the area directly behind home plate. The team announces sold tickets, not people in the seats. Anyway, the general admission and reserved seats were packed. Apparently a great promotion.
As for the game, the Tennessee Smokies were playing the Orlando Rays. Last night Orlando, the last place team, had beaten the Smokies knocking them out of first place in the Division. The game this day was important. Orlando scored a run in the first inning to take an early lead. It soon became apparent that this wasn’t going to be Orlando’s day. The Rays gave up 6 runs in the third inning and Tennessee didn’t look back winning 12-1. There were 4 home runs hit, a runner thrown out at the plate from center field (the most exciting play in baseball!), and the home team won.
My buddy told to me that when the new ballpark was built, in his opinion, the Smokies Ballpark was oriented the wrong way. The stadium is built on an old farm field just off the interstate cloverleaf. It is dug into a hill with steep hills beyond the outfield fence. The some of the red hill is washing out and is unattractive the rest is covered with brush. The hill is all you see when sitting behind home plate looking beyond the fence. Up the steep hill beyond right center field is a KOA campground with electric and sewer sites lining the edge of the hill. These sites have Wrigley Field like views overlooking the field. I was told that the Smokies pitching coach, Craig Lefferts, has a travel trailer up there where he lives during the season. I digress. Behind the stadium, looking to the southeast and east is a terrific view of the western Smoky Mountains. If the ball park was rotated 180 degrees the view would be of the local fields and the hazy mountains beyond. It sure would have taken the visual emphasis away from the step red muddy hillside and to provided a nice backdrop for the game.
I went to undergrad school in Knoxville during the 70′s and often went to the warehouse district of east central Knoxville to old Billy Meyer Stadium to see the many incarnations of the Smokies; and K-Jays; and K-Sox. I never understood why the team moved so far outside of Knoxville. I thought I would feel empathy for the new park based on rooting for the franchise while in K-town long ago. I didn’t.
It was another great day for baseball. A bonus for us was that most fans stayed for the concert. We were out of there in no time. It was nice to get back to the hotel before dark with time to rest for the final long excursion tomorrow.
Day 6 The last long ride to Music City
The last trip of the week. Today we’re going to Nashville to see the Nashville Sounds play the Sacramento River Cats. It’s the longest drive of the week, about 225 miles each way. We left for Nashville early. We needed time to travel four hours leaving enough time to to get lost in the City and still get to the stadium in the afternoon. We did not hit any rain as we drove across the plateau to Nashville. Downtown it was apparent that it did rain there earlier in the day. After circling downtown Nashville a little while, we found old Greer Stadium and parked in an empty parking lot next to the park. From where we parked, stadium looked like a medieval castle with white stucco on all outside walls including the walls around the stadium There are a few low turrets on the roof. It certainly looked unusual from the outside.
The stadium is built on the grounds of the former Fort Negley, an American Civil War fortification. Negley was central to US Military operations throughout the war. One main feature of the original was the large turret on top of the main building in the Fort. To pay homage to this, Greer Stadium has several turrets on the roof of the stadium behind home plate and along first base parking lot.
The parking lot had just a few people getting out of their cars. We asked the only people we saw if there was a game tonight? They told us the game was on. We went to the small window in the long stucco wall that passed for a ticket office and purchased field box seats on the third base side just past the dugout.
We enter the stadium and show our tickets to the usher, she said, “Sit anywhere you want tonight honey.” The inside of the stadium was just as empty as the parking lot. It was about an hour before the game and nobody was around.
Greer Stadium was built in 1978 and seats over well over 10,000. The place shows its age and is no longer in top condition. Walking into the stadium we walked on plywood floors that were more than weather worn. The building is essentially a one level stadium from foul line to foul line. It has an after thought second deck consisting of a large press box and 13 corporate boxes that wrap around from first to third base. Above the boxes on what would be the third level is the jewel of the entire stadium. Slugger’s Lounge.
The Slugger’s Lounge is a bar/restaurant serving dinner, stadium food, and alcohol. Located on the 4th floor of the ballpark directly behind home plate, Slugger’s Lounge opens one hour prior to each home game and remains open until a half-hour after the game is over. It’s air conditioned and has a fabulous view of the field. This provides a great place to kill some time in air conditioning while watching batting practice down on the field.
We arrived early and had not eaten. Since we were hungry, eating dinner at Slugger’s Lounge made a lot of sense. We got a table that overlooked home plate right against the glass wall that was more than 50 feet above home plate. Nice. Too bad batting practice was canceled because of earlier rain showers. The food was good and the view was spectacular. I kept looking around to see if some famous Nashvillian might have walked into the Lounge. This restaurant with a view is the only place in the stadium that a local celebrity would be comfortable. A couple of the Statler Brothers are part owners of this franchise.
Greer Stadium has a wonderfully tacky scoreboard. It’s shaped like a huge guitar. There are two electronic message boards on the upper body of the guitar with four large adds sharing the lower half of the hollow body. The neck of the guitar is the inning by inning scoreboard. The neck is exactly 10 innings long with space for the line score. The very end of the guitar where the tuning pegs are is where the balls, strikes and outs are displayed. The actual tuning pegs were little Bud advertisements. Tacky.
I estimated the attendance on this cool damp evening was less than 1,000. As is usually the case, the officially announced crowd of 2,200 was inflated. Non-attending season ticket holders had to have been counted in the total.It looked like the advance sale for the game was non-existent. The place was so empty that the one beerman selling beer among the seats could be heard anywhere in the park a clear as a bell shouting, “Beer, here. Get you ice cold beer here!” Hearing the beer call reminded me each time of how empty the park was this night.
As for the game, The Nashville Sounds hosted the Sacramento Bees. This was a AAA Pacific Coast League game. Nashville does not seem like it is close to the ocean. It is not as the Sounds had played a game the day before in Fresno, California and had to fly from Fresno to Nashville overnight to play this game. No time for batting practice today. The players barely showed up. At least this was the case for Nashville. Sacramento had played in Memphis the day before and were acclimated to the time zone and were on normal rest. It showed.
Sacramento scored early and often to win 7-1. The score does not represent how one sided the game was. One of the Pirates castoffs pitched and should have come out in the second inning, but since this is developmental baseball, and everyone else was tired, he stayed in and pitched poorly for much of the game.
The end of the game struck me as very odd too. In the bottom of the ninth inning, Nashville had the bases full, two outs with their best prospect, Chad Hermanson at the plate. He struck out ending the ballgame leaving the winning runs on base. After the strikeout, there were no boos, there weren’t any cheers. There was no announcer saying “The final score is Sacramento 7 and our Nashville Sounds 1. etc” Just silence. The home team lost and the few people that were at the game walked out to their cars and headed home. No traffic jam, easy out.
After visiting Greer Stadium, I wonder what a Pirates prospect getting a call up from AA Altoona to AAA Nashville thinks when he sees this facility? I imagine he would be surprised and probably disappointed by the mediocre facilities Greer has. The batting cage is down the left field line behind the seats, outdoors, under a flat roof. (Altoona has an indoor batting cage and mound.)
It is a surprise to find out that Greer is one of the oldest stadiums used by a Triple-A team, and it now falls well below professional baseball’s standards for a stadium at that class level. (It’s only 22 years old!) Greer Stadium was a mediocre baseball experience. My team, the home team lost the game. Their home winning streak ended. The Nashville Sounds are affiliated with the Pittsburgh Pirates. My favorite team. The Sounds looked bad tonight. Rooting for the Pirates is tough these days. It is frustrating to see the immediate future of the Pirates is not good.
It was a long drive back to Newport and home tomorrow. Through rain and threats of rain all week, we didn’t miss a game. For now, I’ve seen enough baseball.