Andrew Johnson Burial Place in Greeneville, Tenn.

After his departure from the presidency, Andrew Johnson returned to Greeneville, Tenn., where he lived before becoming involved in state and later national politics.  He had arranged to purchase a farm outside of town, but found life boring and sought political office on multiple occasions.  Johnson was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1875, but died on July 31 after suffering a series of strokes.

Johnson was buried on a plot of land he purchased in 1852 that overlooked town because he enjoyed the view from the place known as “Signal Hill.”  Following the construction of a large monument by his grave in 1878, locals began referring to the hill as “Monument Hill.”  In 1906, the cemetery became a national cemetery under the administration of the Department of War.  In 1942, the National Park Service took over the cemetery, and it became part of the Andrew Johnson National Historic Site.

An overview of Monument Hill.
Andrew and Eliza Johnson’s graves are at the center of the family plot.
A 28-foot tall marble obelisk stands near the Johnsons’ graves. It is topped by an eagle, and features the U.S. Constitution and Bible.

My night with the Gwinnett Braves – July 19, 2014

The cliché goes that people don’t see the sights in their hometown because the sights are right there.  While that isn’t totally true about me visiting the Gwinnett Braves, there is a kernel of truth in the statement.

I grew up in Cobb County about 40 miles and roughly an hour drive from where Coolray Field stands now.  Growing up in suburban Atlanta during the ’80s and ’90s there was only ONE team in the area: the Atlanta Braves.  Going to a minor league game at that time meant a trip to a number of towns two hours away like Augusta, Columbus, or Macon.  Since 2009, minor league baseball fans haven’t had to venture far to catch a game because the Atlanta Braves relocated their AAA farm team to suburban Atlanta.  However, I haven’t made many trips to Lawrenceville because it’s not particularly geographically convenient to me.

I made one visit in 2011, but did not blog about that experience.  I decided to visit this summer with a friend from grad school who lives in Cumming (approximately 20 miles and 30 minutes away from the stadium) so I could write about my fan experience.

Main entrance.
Ticket office next to the main gate.

Even the casual baseball fan can deduce that the Gwinnett Braves are owned by the Atlanta Braves, so it’s not a surprise to see signage at Coolray Field connecting the G-Braves to the big league club.  However, I was quite surprised to see banners with Chipper Jones, Bobby Cox, and Hank Aaron welcoming fans.  None of the three ever played or coached the Gwinnett club.  Jones did play for the franchise when it was in Richmond, Va., but he didn’t even do a rehab stint with the team.

As a minor league baseball and Atlanta Braves fan, I’d rather see banners boast players who spent time with the G-Braves like Freddie Freeman, Craig Kimbrel, Kris Medlen, or Jason Heyward, who are highlighted on the Gwinnett team’s website.

My friend and I arrived at the stadium about 40 minutes before the start of the game, so we were too late to get one of the Ron Gant bobbleheads.  There was an extremely long line of people waiting for him to autograph items, so it made exploring the food options a bit difficult because it wrapped around so much of the concourse that it was tough getting to some of the concession stands.  Despite the lines at some of the stands, the wait wasn’t very long because there was a plethora of stands plus a few specialty places like a McAlister’s Deli stand, a Chick-fil-A kiosk, and Niekro’s, which is a full-service restaurant with a bar.

Best-named concession stand.
They do serve McAlister’s Famous Sweet Tea.
Home of the ballpark’s signature food item: The Knucksie.
Food options along the third-base concourse.

I chose not to eat right away after checking out my choices, so I opted not to get dinner and instead waited for the first pitch.  However, before the first pitch you need to know the lineup.

The starting lineups featuring Evan Gattis on a rehabilitation assignment.

To the best of my memory, I have never been to a minor league game when a major league player was doing a rehab assignment.  So seeing Evan Gattis in the lineup was a first for me.

First pitch between the Durham Bulls and Gwinnett Braves.

After the first pitch, I returned to Niekro’s and ordered a Knucksie.  My friend got a chicken sandwich from the Chick-fil-A kiosk.  As has become custom, I had to take a photo of my food during the game.

The Knucksie: house-smoked pulled BBQ pork piled high with pickle chips, caramelized onions, two kinds of BBQ sauce, and coleslaw served on a toasted corn muffin.

The sandwich was delicious and very filling.  I didn’t detect two BBQ sauces, but the sweet, mayo-based cole slaw mixed well with the BBQ sauce and created a very tasty mix along with the corn muffin.  I opted for it because it is genuinely the signature item at the ballpark, and because none of the other items at the concession stands stood out as truly unique.

The beer selection was limited, too.  Georgia has a growing craft brewery industry, but the only local brew I could find was SweetWater 420 on draft at Niekro’s.  None of the concession stands had it on tap nor did I see it offered in bottles or cans anywhere in the stadium.  In this day of neolocalism and ballparks trying to offer signature food items and drinks, it’s disappointing that there were no special beers or drinks at the stadium.

Due to the larger than average crowd, I did not walk around the stadium as much as I did when I first visited in 2011.  So I stayed in my seat along the third base line to take most of my photographs, especially of the game action.

Scoreboard in right field.
Durham starting pitcher Alex Colome with Gwinnett shortstop Ozzie Martinez taking a lead off first.
Gwinnett Braves catcher Evan Gattis (a.k.a El Oso Blanco) at the plate.

While watching the game from the third base line, I captured a few shots that showed off the stadium like the right field fence that featured the club’s two retired numbers: Tommie Aaron and Jackie Robinson.  I shouldn’t have to explain to baseball fans why Robinson has his number retired, but Aaron has his number retired when the franchise played in Richmond and it was re-retired during the club’s 2012 season.

The G-Braves’ two retired numbers honors by the visitors bullpen.

Even if you’re not a vexillologist, everybody likes to have fun with flags.  One my interests as a kid was flags, so I always try to capture a photo when flags are flying.  Of the three flags, I only could identify two of them: the flag of the United States of America and the flag of the State of Georgia.

The best flag photo I captured on a night that wasn’t very windy.

Although the food and beverage choices did not provide a unique touch to the gameday experience, the stadium seats did.  The seat at the end of each aisle is emblazoned with the Coolray Field logo, which isn’t a big part about going out to the ballpark, but it is adds a unique touch to the stadium.

A great detail on the stadium seats.

Speaking of seats, I always enjoy a view of the grandstand because it shows how multiple layers are blended into one.  In this case, it shows off the suite boxes on the second level along with the press box.

View of the grandstand with the press box behind home plate and the suites down the first base line.

After walking around a little bit, fog started to set in so my friend and I sat down along the first base line to watch the end of the game.  That didn’t stop me from taking photos, as I snagged the following shots.

Awesome alliteration as the Bullpen Buffet overlooks the home team’s bullpen.

As a longtime baseball fan, one of the most enjoyable things about watching minor league games is being able to see players make the Majors.  If you’ve watched enough baseball, sometimes you get to see a player who made it to the Majors playing in Triple-A trying to make a big-league roster.  I got to see that with Durham’s Wilson Betemit, who came up in the Atlanta Braves system and made the big-league roster in 2004.  Ten years later he’s played on six MLB team’s and is with his seventh organization (Tampa Bay Rays).

Former Atlanta Braves farmhand Wilson Betemit playing first base.

Another reason I wanted to walk around the stadium was to find the team’s mascot, Chopper.  As my friend said, there are two things people will almost always see when I post photographs of my visit to a Minor League Baseball stadium: a food photo and a photo with the team mascot.

After securing my food photo early in the game, I needed to find the groundhog to get my mascot photo.  I found him along the first base line, as my friend and I walked around to check things out.

Me with Chopper.

Overall the gameday experience was good.  The between-innings contests were good, and you can read more about them from MiLB.com’s Ben Hill’s visits in 2010 and 2014.  The stadium is easily accessible to the surrounding Gwinnett County community, and the view of the outfield doesn’t lead fans to see the state highway in the distance.

As a fan of baseball and, especially Minor League Baseball, I wish the team incorporated more local elements into the food and drink choices and pushed the envelope.  The team does a great job with traditional promotions like bobbleheads that obviously brought out a large crowd on a Saturday night.  The club has jumped on board with the zombie craze and is taking advantage of the fact that The Walking Dead is filmed in the Atlanta area by hosting “The Day of the Dead” promotion on Aug. 3.  So the marketing crew has the potential to think outside the box and exploit local elements, but the food and drink choices haven’t received the same treatment from their corresponding department.

Martin Van Buren Birthplace in Kinderhook, N.Y.

The Hudson River Valley was originally claimed and settle by Dutch settlers.  The explorer Henry Hudson named a section of land along the river Kinderhoek (Dutch for “children’s corner”) because he had seen Native American children playing in the area.  It was eventually organized into a township, and it is in this village that Abraham and Maria Van Buren operated an inn and tavern.  On Dec. 5, 1782, in a house attached to the tavern Maria gave birth to the couple’s third child Martin.  The house was eventually torn down, but a historic marker is located near the site.

A state historical marker designates the location of the Van Buren house.

Ulysses S. Grant Birthplace in Point Pleasant, Ohio

Jesse Root Grant moved to Point Pleasant, Ohio, after finding work in the township as a tanner.  Shortly after moving to the small borough, he met and married Hannah Simpson, and the coupled settled in Point Pleasant.  On April 27, 1822, the couple welcomes their first child.  The boy was unnamed for a few weeks before his name was chosen at a gathering of the Grant and Simpson families.  The chosen name was Ulysses, but Jesse wanted to honor his father-in-law and declared that the child would be named Hiram Ulysses Grant.  However, most people in the family called the child Ulysses.  He became known as Ulysses S. Grant upon entering the U.S. Military Academy at West Point when the U.S. Congressman nominating him for the commission mistakenly wrote down “Ulysses S. Grant.”

The U.S. Grant Birthplace State Historic Site includes four other properties besides the president’s birthplace.
The Grant family moved from the house less than a year after Ulysses’s birth.

Zachary Taylor Burial Place in Louisville, Ky.

Following the consumption of raw fruit and iced milk during Fourth of July festivities in Washington, D.C., Zachary Taylor became extremely ill.  He died five days later.  Historians still debate what caused his death.

Following a brief interment at the Public Vault in Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C., Taylor’s remains were interred alongside his parents in their family cemetery in Louisville, Ky.  In 1883, the Commonwealth of Kentucky erected a 50-foot monument capped with a life-size likewise of Taylor near his grave.  After his descendants advocated for turning the family plot into a national cemetery, the U.S. government built a new mausoleum for Taylor and his immediate family members in 1926.

The original Taylor family tomb still stands in the cemetery.
In 1883, the Kentucky government erected a granite column to honor Taylor.
In 1926, the U.S. government built a limestone neoclassical mausoleum for Taylor’s remains.
The mausoleum contains the remains of Zachary and Margaret Taylor.

Harry S. Truman Library in Independence, Mo.

Following his departure from the presidency in 1953, Harry S. Truman and his wife Bess returned to Independence, Mo.  So it was only natural that his presidential library would be built in the city where he lived most of his life.

On a hill overlooking the Kansas City, Mo., skyline, the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum was dedicated on July 6, 1957.  The dedication included the Masonic Rites of Dedication, as Truman received the 33rd degree of the Supreme Council of the Scottish Rite.  Former president Herbert Hoover along with Chief Justice Earl Warren and former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt attended the ceremony.

In addition to the library and museum, Harry and Bess Truman are buried in the courtyard.

Main entrance to the library and museum.

A copy of Harry S. Truman’s official White House portrait.

Statue of Harry S. Truman.