After two games in two nights on my way to Stillwater, Okla., I capped my road trip with a stop in Memphis, Tenn., to take in a game at AutoZone Park between the Tacoma Rainiers and Memphis Redbirds at the start of the 35th anniversary of Elvis Week. Beyond attending a game at a great ballpark and enjoying some delicious food, I went to the Friday night game because I wanted an Elvis bobblehead.
There was a large crowd waiting outside the gates to claim their personal Elvis. I don’t understand the baseball player astride the entrance, but it is a great entrance to a fantastic ballpark.
The Redbirds run a block party on Friday nights, which featured a band performing covers of Elvis songs. With $2 Coors Light drafts and good music, it’s a fun way to start the weekend.
The block party also featured an Elvis impersonator who took photos in front of a Graceland backdrop, so naturally I had to get my picture with him.
If Elvis wasn’t enough, the Budweiser Clydesdales greeted fans outside the stadium.
Like many other ballparks constructed during the late 1990s to early 2000s, AutoZone Park opened in downtown in a previously rundown area. City and team officials hoped the ballpark would revitalize the surrounding area, which from what I can see had mixed results. The warehouses and other previously abandoned buildings provides a great backdrop for the ballpark, but it doesn’t appear that the immediate area has stimulated new construction. Regardless, fans get a great view from behind home plate.
It was extremely difficult deciding upon food at the ballpark. I had to decide between BBQ nachos (which I’ve now learned is way more common at Minor League stadiums than I expected), the BBQ bacon hot dog, the Big Dog, and chicken on a stick. Many people around the stadium suggested the BBQ nachos, but I declined because I had some within the past few weeks at another Minor League game.
After much debate and introspection, I opted for the Big Dog. The Big Dog is a foot-long hot dog covered in chili, shredded cheddar cheese, topped with three large onion rings, and served very appropriately with a fork and knife.
Upon further review, this camera angle may not give the Big Dog its due respects. I debated upon getting a dessert item afterward, but I was too full from the Big Dog.
I had quick success getting a shot with Memphis’s Rockey the Rockin’ Redbird. Immediately after first pitch I found him on the concourse, and got my picture.
The Redbirds did a great job with in-game presentation, as Memphis players had their headshots converted into Elvis-style headshots for the game.
Elvis may not resonate with everybody, but he is still clearly a favorite in Memphis and an Elvis bobblehead helped drum up a big Friday night crowd.
The sightlines are great from every seat in the ballpark, as I was easily able to capture a couple of action shots during the game.
A very minor downside of the stadium design is that the concourse does not wrap around the entire park. As has become more common, the bullpens are beyond the outfield walls, which assuredly affected the ability to build a concourse that connected all the way around the park. Fans are able to walk far enough around in left field to capture a view of the entire grandstand and some of the city’s impressive buildings in the background.
From beginning to end I enjoyed my experience at AutoZone Park. The block party is a great way to start off Friday night, especially because I was just passing through and didn’t have to wake up early the next morning. The music was great and the drink specials were worthwhile, so much so that I didn’t buy another beer at the ballpark.
The food was delicious, and amazingly tempting. I wanted to sample the BBQ bacon dog, but I was too full from the Big Dog to even consider it. I really love bacon, so it will be the next encased meat of choice when I visit AutoZone Park in the future. I know I missed something special the following night when the Redbirds honored the Negro Leagues, but I was thrilled with my Elvis bobblehead and the entire evening. Kudos to the Redbird staff!
Final: Tacoma 1, Memphis 3