On the estate of William Henry Harrison in North Bend, Ohio, the second son of John Scott and Elizabeth Harrison was born on Aug. 20, 1833. Benjamin Harrison was born in “The Big House” on his grandfather’s estate. The house later burned down, but was located at the intersection of Symmes and Washington avenues. A historic marker commemorates Harrison’s birthplace.
When you used to work in sports, it’s not always easy to attend games because you’re usually working them. That is the case with the Huntsville Stars for me. I interned with the team during the summer of 2003. I visited for a game that fall during the Southern League playoffs, but like many stadiums that was before I started blogging about my ballpark treks.
When the sale and move of the Stars was announced early this year, I decided that I must watch a home game before the team moved to Biloxi. I wasn’t the only one thinking about returning to Huntsville, as a former coworker organized a reunion via Facebook. So not only did I get to see a game, but I got to see a bunch of former coworkers who I haven’t seen in nearly 10 years.
The exterior of the stadium was just as I remembered it, but that didn’t stop me from taking pictures of the road leading to the ballpark named after former team owner, president, general manager, and Huntsville-native Don Mincher.
|A road dedicated to former Stars owner Don Mincher with Joe W. Davis Stadium in the background.|
The facade of the stadium looks just the same as it did when I last attended a game, except for one change. Until the team changed its logo a few years ago there had been a pair of logos bracketing the text that read “Joe W. Davis Municipal Stadium.” The aluminum where the logos stood is considerably lighter in color than the rest of the facade.
Once I picked up my ticket from will call, I walked around the stadium a bit. The biggest change is that the gift shop is no longer a hole in the wall, but an actual shop with an entrance. After loading up on gifts and some gear for myself, I documented some of the standard ballpark features like the night’s starting lineups.
|The starting lineups for Saturday, Aug. 2, 2014.|
|View of gift shop with a sign thanking the fans. The team’s mascot can be seen in the store.|
As I hadn’t found where my former coworkers were sitting, I ended up watching the national anthem from the third base line. The team celebrated AUSA Military Appreciation Night and had an honor guard present the colors.
|Players remain at attention as the honor guard leaves the field.|
I could go into detail about the stadium’s history, but MiLB.com’s Ben Hill has a detailed rundown of the team and the ballpark included in his visit to Huntsville earlier this season (read about it here).
I did want to capture a picture of signage commemorating the Stars’ championship seasons.
|The left field wall with stars to celebrate the team’s three Southern League championships: 1985, 1994, and 2001.|
With the national anthem concluded, I headed towards home plate because I wanted to get a photo of the first pitch. The view from home plate during the first pitch is an image I think conveys the essence of a ballpark. For many fans, the backdrop is a crucial element to their enjoyment of the game and the view from the grandstand is regularly discussed in books reviewing baseball stadiums.
|First pitch between the Huntsville Stars and Jacksonville Suns.|
After capturing the first pitch, I checked out the concession stands to determine what I would eat for dinner. While I hadn’t been to a Stars game in over 10 years, very little has changed about the food choices. The standard ballpark fare is available at each stand (one open on the first and third base lines), so fans looking for a signature food item won’t find one in Huntsville.
|Former concession stand with a nearby bar.|
|Concession stand on third base line.|
|Condiment stand and concourse along first base line.|
I wasn’t surprised to see the basic food choices, so I opted for one of my favorite items from my internship days: a Philly cheesesteak. It’s not a food item that is part of the Southern food palate, but I would regularly get them at Billy Ray’s Grill when I interned with the Stars in 2003.
After getting my cheesesteak and getting a beer, I eventually found my former coworkers who were sitting in a section along the first base line.
|My Philly cheesesteak.|
Along with the Philly cheesesteak, I got a Speckled Trout Wheat from Old Black Bear Brewing Company, which is a local craft brewery. There were other beers on tap from OBB, but they were the only local or regional craft beers available. Living and working in Alabama, I know the state has a growing craft beer industry, so I was disappointed that only one of the state’s craft beers was available.
While talking with my friends, I lucked out and got my photo with the team mascot taken. With a team named Stars, people might expect an alien for a mascot, but that’s not the case in Huntsville. The legend goes that a family of skunks ran across the outfield just before the team’s first game in 1985, which ultimately gave birth to Homer the Polecat.
|Me with Homer the Polecat, who is sporting an old-style team jersey.|
While talking with friends, I did watch some of the game.
|Jacksonville starting pitcher Robert Morey.|
I also got pictures of the stadium, which should help people unfamiliar with the dimensions of the ballpark understand why ownership in Huntsville sought a new stadium for many years. The stadium reflects the era in which it was built: the 1980s. It’s a concrete structure designed to host baseball and football. It hosted high school area football until 2002, so there are extra seats down the third base line that are regularly unoccupied.
|View of the grandstand with press box and sky boxes.|
The stadium has sky boxes, but they are simply down the third base line and do not open to the elements. While I have never experienced a game from a sky box, I was in them often as an intern and the inability to open the windows leaves fans isolated from the rest of the crowd.
The scoreboard is another piece that reflects its age. It was upgraded since I last attended a game in 2003, but the video system does not work and the main part of the scoreboard predates my time as an intern.
|View of the scoreboard, and sign thanking the fans.|
Despite the upkeep issues, the staff was extremely friendly and helpful. The food was hot and fresh, in spite of the limited selection. The beer was cold and refreshing, although I would’ve enjoyed a bigger variety. Most importantly, it was great to attend Just One Game and see a bunch of former coworkers who I haven’t seen in many years.
|Group picture of former Stars employees.|
Like a lot of stadiums around the Southeast, AT&T Field is one that I visited many years before I started blogging about my stadium visits. I first visited what was called BellSouth Park in 2002, but my history of visiting stadiums in Chattanooga dates to 1993 when I saw the Lookouts play at Engel Stadium.
Chattanooga is about 90 minutes from where I grew up in metro Atlanta, which is why one of my first visits to a Minor League Baseball stadium was a Lookouts game. I made this trip because I wanted to write about a nearby stadium, and I’m slowly, but surely working to attending a game at all the active stadiums in Minor League Baseball. I am not Ben Hill nor am I trying to replicate his outstanding work, but I can write about the gameday experience from a fan’s perspective (read Ben Hill’s non-gameday visit here and about his excursion to Engel Stadium here).
One of the great things about the ballpark is its location, not exactly in downtown Chattanooga but adjacent to all the sights. The stadium sits atop a hill on the western side of downtown.
|Due to its location atop a hill AT&T Field has an escalator.|
|Plaques honoring Cal Ermer and Tommy Lasorda.|
Growing up the Lookouts had been a Cincinnati Reds affiliate, so it was a bit weird to see “Welcome to Dodgertown, Tennessee” above the main gates.
|The signage says it all.|
The team has been a Los Angeles Dodgers affiliate since 2009, and the team has done a lot to incorporate that connection into the team’s identity. The Lookouts toned down the use of red as a team color, and ramped up the use of blue, which is visible in the team’s uniforms and caps. AT&T uses blue in its logo, so I can’t say all the blue used by the Lookouts is because of the Dodgers affiliation, but the shades of blue are different and the hue on the uniforms clearly appears to be Dodger blue.
As usual, I walked around the stadium before the game and captured a picture of the starting lineups. I don’t pay much attention to lineups unless there is a prospect I’m particularly interested in watching and know about him before going to the game.
|The night’s starting lineups.|
The concourse as AT&T Field is below the seating bowl, so fans cannot see the game action while waiting in line at the concession stands. However, the concourse is extremely wide, has plenty of stands, and monitors showing a closed-circuit feed of the game.
|A concession stand below a banner showing former Lookout and current Dodger reliever Kenley Jansen.|
|A view of the concourse with a beer stand in the foreground.|
Deciding on a food item was difficult, so I watched some of the game before . I also decided on getting a beer from the Big River Grille & Brewing Works Beer Garden. After getting a Chattanooga Steamer amber ale, I took my seat and captured the first pitch from Chattanooga starting pitcher Nick Struck.
|First pitch between the Birmingham Barons and Chattanooga Lookouts.|
Following the first pitch, I walked around a bit and found a wood-carved statue of the team’s mascot, Looie. I asked one of the workers at the promotions table to take my picture in exchange for me signing up to participate in a between-innings contest of musical chairs.
|It’s a bit blurry, but you get the idea.|
At the middle of the third, I met up with staff member Alex (notable for giving Ben Hill a tour of the stadium earlier this summer), the two other contestants and headed toward the third base line near the batting cages and the home team’s bullpen.
While talking with Alex, I was able to get my requisite picture with the team’s mascot.
|Me with Looie.|
Traveling by myself, I don’t have any of my own pictures of the musical chairs contest, but I was able to get two that Alex took to include here.
|Round 1: Dancing to House of Pain’s “Jump Around”|
|Round 2: Still dancing to “Jump Around”|
After collecting my prize, I decided to get a jumbo hot dog with yellow mustard and got another beer from the beer garden. I opted for the jumbo dog because it is the “classic” ballpark item, and the Lookouts featured it as their submission for MiLB.com’s 2014 Food Fight contest.
|View of the Big River Beer Garden with U.S. Highway 27 running alongside the ballpark.|
After eating, I watched more of the game and took some photos of the stadium.
|Game action with the Mayfield Dairy Ice Cream stand in the background.|
|View of the scoreboard.|
|View of right field seats.|
|The Tennessee Aquarium in the background with Lasorda’s Landing in the foreground.|
|View of the grandstand with signage for AT&T Field members Cal Ermer and Tommy Lasorda.|
While taking pictures showing off different vantage points of the stadium, I got photos of the other between-inning contests. The Lookouts did a dizzy-bat race, but my favorite was the Hardee’s Hamburger Roll.
|Between-inning contest where contestants must roll hamburgers to Looie.|
As I attended a game on a Friday evening, I got to enjoy post-game fireworks. Post-game fireworks are a staple of the minors, and Chattanooga is no exception.
As I expected, I had a great time at the Lookouts game. The on-field entertainment was unique, but not overdone. The beer choices were good, but I would’ve enjoyed see more local selections at the concession stands. The only Tennessee-brewed beers I found were at the beer garden. Granted, the choices from Big River were very good beers.
The food selection was the typical ballpark fare, and while the traditionalist in me appreciates the simple choices I was disappointed that there wasn’t at least ONE signature item. With that in mind, the food was good and the service was quick.
One thing that is clear about the gameday experience at AT&T Field is that the Lookouts place an emphasis on the fans having a good time. The stadium is well-staffed and everybody I interacted with during my visit was friendly and helpful. I just lucked out by winning an on-field contest and getting to close the night with a very good fireworks show.