Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Five Great Places To Catch A Ballgame In The South

Spring is in the air and with it comes the renewal of my favorite pastime - baseball. Obviously, with the Giants winning three World Series in five years heightens my excitement of the game going into the new seas. onSince I no longer live near my favorite team, and live in an area that doesn't have major league baseball, I've become a much bigger fan of minor league baseball. The crowds are smaller and the feeling is much more relaxed. No matter what, it's baseball so I really have grown to enjoy it. Wherever I travel the first thing I look for is local sporting events. I've seen lots of minor league hockey, basketball and football at all levels and even have seen baseball in Japan!

"Football is played on a GRIDIRON, baseball is played in a park."
George Carlin

Locally, minor league baseball thrives well with the Southern League, South Atlantic League, the PCL and even short season rookie ball (Appalachian League) within a reasonable driving distance of me. To encourage all of you to come visit and catch a ballgame with me, here are my top baseball stadiums in my neck of the woods:

AT&T Park (Chattanooga, TN home of the Chattanooga Lookouts) and Smokies Stadium (Kodak, TN home of the Tennessee Smokies)
Both of these stadiums are great modern stadiums with comfortable seating and nice settings. Neither have any really outstanding features, but they both are great places to catch ballgames. AT&T Park is in downtown Chattanooga which provides a nice place to catch a good meal and see the river all within walking distance of the park. Smokies Stadium is my defacto home ballpark. Nestled in the foothills near the Great Smoky Mountains, it's a great launching point to many other tourist attractions in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg.

Historic McCormick Field (Asheville North Carolina home of the Asheville Tourist)
This stadium is an older one - hence the monikor "historic", but is in one of the most beautiful cities around. There are lots of mountain views, a lively downtown with great food options and art galleries, and the Biltmore Estates. The stadium doesn't have many modern amenities, but is quite charming and the outfield view is of a forest of trees. Of note is that this is the stadium that the fictional character from the film Bull Durham, Crash Davis, finished his minor league career. This is a charming, small, older park that is in one of the jewel cities of the south. Definitely worth a visit for those baseball movie buffs. The only complaint I have is that the stadium is on a hill and parking is a bit of a chore.

AutoZone Park (Memphis, TN home of the Memphis Redbirds)
This stadium can be lumped in with the "retro" classic stadiums that have become popular lately. Modern amenities with the charm of stadiums of old. The downtown location makes this stadium a great one to enjoy all of sights, tastes and sounds of Memphis - most of which are within walking distance. Graceland is within driving distance, by the way. This views of the city buildings are wonderful with lots of brick and it seems as if the stadium has always been part of the city landscape. I found myself caught up between innings just taking in the city site lines. This is a stadium that rivals major league parks.

Rickwood Field (Birmingham, AL - prior home of the Birmingham Barons and the Birmingham Black Barons)
First they only play one professional game per year (The Rickwood Classic) featuring two Southern League teams in period uniforms so catching a ballgame will take effort. It does host several tournaments and local high school games but this is
"America's Oldest Baseball Stadium" pre-dating Fenway and Wrigley Field. The names of the players who have played here is like reading the rolls of the Hall Of Fame. Of note is that a teenaged Willie Mays played here. This is a historic gem that few know about and even fewer visit. I have to admit feeling a bit in awe standing in centerfield thinking that I'm where Mays once roamed. Catch a Barons game in Hoover where Micheal Jordan played but also be sure to visit this gem of a stadium. It does feel like you're stepping back in time.

Flour Field (Greenville, SC - home of the Greenville Drive)
This one is located in the West End of Greenville with great places to eat and shop. It's walking distance to the park and also to downtown. There's also a beautiful waterfall in the West End to check out. Being Greenville, this is the hometown of Shoeless Joe Jackson (there's a statue of him a few blocks from the stadium). His home has been moved directly across from Flour Field and definitely worth a look. As for the park, it is another retro classic stadium but with a huge design influence: the Greenville Drive is the Single A team for the Boston Red Sox and they designed the field to the exact dimensions of Fenway Park! So they have their own Pesky Pole and their own version of the Green Monster (with a mechanical scoreboard). I personally think that Fenway by the slightest margins over Wrigley Field is my favorite ballpark so visiting this stadium was a treat. I even caught both a home run over the Monster and Fenway Single where the hitter ended up caught between first and second on a line drive that could likely have been a home run in other parks. That was fun to watch and made the experience even better than I'd hoped. This is a must see place to catch a baseball game.

So there you have my list. Now if you're in the area, stop by and let's catch a ballgame!

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