Following his failure to be re-nominated as the Democratic Party’s candidate for president in 1844, Martin Van Buren retired to his home Lindenwald (now the Martin Van Buren National Historic Site). He stayed active in national politics and sought the presidency as the Free Soil Party’s candidate in 1848. By 1861, he was bedridden and suffering from pneumonia. On July 24, 1862, Van Buren died from bronchial asthma and heart failure at Lindenwald. He was buried next to his wife Hannah in the Kinderhook Reformed Dutch Church Cemetery.
Over a year ago I made a New Year’s resolution to visit all four Minor League Baseball teams in Georgia.
In 2014, I resolve to visit all four Georgia @MiLB teams: @GreenJackets, @GwinnettBraves, @TheRomeBraves, and @gnatsbaseball. #PlayBall
— Steven Ericson (@geoSteven) January 1, 2014
I failed miserably because I only visited the Gwinnett Braves last year (read more here). Wanting to avoid a repeat, I did not make that resolution this year. However, this summer I finally fulfilled my goals and saw all four of Georgia’s Minor League Baseball teams in a single summer.
After visiting Gwinnett, Augusta (read more here), and Savannah (read more here), I only had Rome left to visit to complete my goal. So I decided to take a day trip from my family’s house in Marietta up to Rome to explore the city, but most importantly to watch the Rome Braves play.
After a hot and humid day I saw the main entrance to State Mutual Stadium…
|The Redneck Rummage Sale trailer in the parking lot.|
But I didn’t come to the stadium to ogle at a trailer in the parking lot. I came to the game to explore the stadium and watch a baseball game.
Around the concourse there are pillars that the Braves utilize to display an exhibit about baseball in northwest Georgia and Rome. The exhibit was created by Heather S. Shores, who worked at the Bandy Heritage Center for Northwest Georgia. Her research was published in the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) journal The National Pastime (read more here).
|Exhibit detailing the history of baseball in northwest Georgia.|
|Exhibit detailing the industrial-based Northwest Georgia Textile League.|
|Exhibit displaying notable photographs of baseball in northwest Georgia.|
While exploring the concourse I found the South Atlantic League standings as the league had just started its second half the night before.
|South Atlantic League standings entering play on June 26, 2015.|
While I did not ask for assistance, I was unable to locate the lineups posted on the concourse. However, I did find an interesting piece of Rome Braves history hanging over the concourse.
|Championship flag honoring the Braves’ first title since moving to Rome.|
After exploring the concourse and seeking input about my food choices for the evening I decided to take my seat behind home plate and catch the beginning of the game before making my dinner selection. So sitting comfortably behind home I was easily able to get my standard photo of the first pitch.
|Rome Braves starting pitcher Zach Quintana delivering the first pitch
to Augusta GreenJackets center fielder Johneshwy Fargas.
I moved down each base line to get a few more action shots, and to get pictures of other parts of the ballpark. Moving down the third base line I got a closeup shot of Quintana pitching and the Suzuki Showcase in right field.
|Rome Braves starting pitcher Zach Quintana with a view of right field in the background.|
When I walked around to the first base line I got a picture of Miller Lite Marina that sits in foul territory along the third base line. The Miller Lite Marina has a few craft beers, but there is a standalone stand nearby that has a much wider selection of craft beers. The beer selection was OK, but I was especially surprised they did not carry any beers from the nearby Blue Ridge Brewery and instead carried selections from Florida and Chattanooga Brewing Company just up the road in Tennessee.
|Rome Braves first baseman Matt Tellor at the plate with the Miller Lite Marina in the background.|
Finally after watching a few innings of play I decided to find something to eat. When I checked out the concession stands before the start of the game I saw all the usual suspects like hot dogs, pizza, chicken tenders, and hamburgers. There was also a Chick-fil-A stand, but in Georgia that’s not unique. Where I finally found some unique food items was down the right field line at Bubba’s BBQ Barn.
|Down the right field line Bubba’s BBQ Barn has the most unique food items at State Mutual Stadium.|
At Bubba’s BBQ Barn fans can order the standard barbecue items, but also unique items like a fried bologna sandwich or the kitchen sink nachos shown below…
|Kitchen sink nachos come served in a pizza box and include chips, barbecue pork or chicken, and the usual nacho toppings.|
While the kitchen sink nachos looked delicious I was not nearly hungry enough to consume them. Instead I opted for the BBQ sundae, which is a piece of cornbread topped by coleslaw, BBQ pork or chicken, and topped by another piece of cornbread. The BBQ sundae had been featured in MiLB.com‘s 2013 Food Fight, which pitted unique food items against each other.
|My BBQ sundae.|
The BBQ sundae lived up to expectations. It was filling and a great mix of flavors, but I wish the top piece of cornbread had been topped with honey or perhaps BBQ sauce.
After finishing the BBQ sundae and returning to my seat I got a few more photos. I wanted to be sure to get a photo of the scoreboard.
|The scoreboard in left field.|
In addition to the scoreboard I wanted to be sure to get a photo of Ozhaino “Ozzie” Albies, who entered the 2015 season as one of the Atlanta Braves top prospects. According to MLB.com he is currently ranked as the fifth-best prospect (read more here) in the Braves’ farm system. He was also selected to play in the 2015 Futures Game, and USA Today Sports named him one of the top players to watch in that game (read more here).
|Rome Braves shortstop Ozzie Albies in the batter’s box.|
After taking those two pictures I was content to watch the rest of the game, but quickly got up when the mascot Romey came by.
|Me with Romey late in the game.|
After giving up a first inning run to Augusta, Rome tied the game in the fifth inning. However, the game was still tied after the completion of nine innings so the game headed to extra innings. The GreenJackets took a 2-1 lead off Aramis Garcia’s RBI-double in the 10th, but the Braves tied it in the bottom of the frame when GreenJackets reliever walked Braxton Davidson. A Wigberto Nevarez sacrifice fly brought home Omar Obregon to give Rome a 3-2 win.
|It’s always good when the home team wins.|
The day ended with the Braves celebrating a win and me fulfilling a New Year’s resolution a year late. Although I grew up in Georgia, it was odd to see that all the unique food items were connected to BBQ, which isn’t particularly a food the state is known for producing. However, the BBQ sundae was tasty, and the kitchen sink nachos looked delicious. The craft beer selection needs to be improved, especially as that market has grown in the state over the past few years. Overall, I had a great experience at the ballpark and would definitely return for more games.
Final Score: Augusta 2, Rome 3 (10 innings)
Following the announcement in late May that the Savannah Sand Gnats are moving to Columbia, S.C., for the 2016 season (read the story here) I set a goal of seeing the Sand Gnats before they left town. With the goal of seeing the Sand Gnats before they moved, I made a three-day trek and saw the Augusta GreenJackets (read about it here) before catching the Sand Gnats at Grayson Stadium.
So when arriving at Grayson Stadium for the rest of the 2015 season fans are greeted by this image…
The Sand Gnats fenced off the entrance plaza to create more entertainment space, so it’s difficult to see the stadium marquee until fans are about to walk into the ballpark.
|Closeup of the stadium marquee.|
Originally built in 1926 and named Municipal Stadium, the ballpark was devastated by a hurricane in 1940. Spanish-American War veteran General William L. Grayson helped raise the funds to rebuild the facility, which with the aid of Works Progress Administration (WPA) workers underwent a renovation in 1941. The newly rebuild stadium was renamed in honor of Grayson’s efforts, and commemorated with a plaque.
|Plaque renaming the stadium for William Grayson.|
As I entered I asked employees for suggestions and the most common answer was to hit the grill in the plaza. However, as I was attending a game on a Wednesday the grill was closed. Apparently it is only open on the weekends, but the menu did not look particularly unique so I didn’t feel liked I missed out on anything great.
Nor was I particularly hungry because I had a delicious hamburger and a flight of beer at Moon River Brewing Company in downtown. So I opted to walk around the stadium a bit before settling in to watch the first few innings of action.
While exploring I got photos of the first half standings, as the Sand Gnats were in the hunt for the division title and playoff berth when I was there.
|The kind of blurry and tough to read South Atlantic League Southern Division first half standings entering play on June 17.|
Nearby the standings were the starting lineups, so I got a photo of them as well.
|The starting lineups are important, but money wins out.|
The obstructed view of the starting lineups kind of illustrates some of the issues with Grayson Stadium. There’s no doubt a stadium needs an ATM, but it needs access to a phone line to complete transactions so other important things like the starting lineups have to take a backseat to taking care of fans.
After exploring the stadium some, I took my seat behind home plate. As usual, I got a picture of the first pitch from behind home plate.
|Savannah Sand Gnats starting pitcher Martires Arias delivers the first pitch
to Asheville Tourists center fielder Omar Carrizales.
After exploring the food options and consulting a few employees for feedback I decided to get a bite at the Philly Cheese stand, which is just past the gift shop on the first base line.
|The Philly Cheese stand.|
Savannah is not known for its Philly cheese steaks nor are the Sand Gnats a Philadelphia Phillies affiliate, so I don’t have a good rationale for why they have the stand except that it’s a popular food item with mass appeal.
What made my choice unique is that I did not opt for just a standard Philadelphia cheese steak. The Sand Gnats offer a steak and chicken option, and something called The Godfather. I opted for the latter, which consists of an Italian sausage topped with either the steak or chicken variety. I went for the traditional choice and had my Italian sausage coated in a steak variety.
|The Godfather cheese steak.|
The Godfather may have nothing to do with Savannah, but it was a delicious surprise. The seasonings used to cook the steak mixed well with the cheese and Italian sausage, which I chose to top off with yellow mustard and ketchup. Even “if” the grill had been open I would still choose The Godfather over those offerings. It is definitely the best food item at Grayson Stadium.
Shortly after finishing my Godfather, the Sand Gnats mascot Gnate the Gnat came by. So I quickly had my photo taken with him.
|Me with Gnate the Gnat.|
One plus and minus of Grayson Stadium is the net that extends all the way around the seating bowl. It means fans are protected from any bats or balls entering the stands, but it also means taking clear action photos is incredibly difficult. So I did not take many action photos and had to venture far down the right field line to the colossal party deck called the Southern Comfort Station.
|View of the Southern Comfort Station from the third base side.|
So what did I get to actually see from the SoCo Station? The home team bullpen abuts it, so I got to see some young kids asking some Sand Gnats for their autographs. I also got a nice view of the scoreboard…
|View of the scoreboard from the Southern Comfort Station.|
and a decent view of the picnic area along the third base line, which is cordoned off from the field of play by a chain-link fence and netting.
|View of game action and the picnic area along the third base line.|
After my photos from the SoCo Station I walked over to the picnic area so I could get some more photos. Aside from the photo of the Southern Comfort Station, I was able to get a picture of the seating bowl and the elevated press box.
|View of the elevated press box and seating bowl from the third base line.|
After taking pictures to show off the seating bowl and the amenities at the stadium, I returned to my seat to watch the action. Although Savannah threatened in the bottom of the 9th, the game went to extra innings. Sitting right behind the net, I got one last action photo in the bottom of the 12th with Asheville reliever Yoely Bello on the mound.
|Asheville Tourists reliever Yoely Bello facing Savannah Sand Gnats center fielder John Mora in the 12th inning.|
Ultimately the Tourists pushed across two runs in the top of the 13th inning and held on for a victory. I missed the final inning because I had sightseeing plans early the next morning, but thoroughly enjoyed my time as Historic Grayson Stadium. The craft beer selection covered a wide spectrum that included local beers like Southbound’s Scattered Sun Belgian Wit and SweetWater’s 420. There was not a huge variety of food, but The Godfather was delicious and assuredly the items off the grill would be equally good.
Grayson Stadium definitely shows some wear it is still a great venue to watch baseball. Despite reports that a collegiate-wood bat Coastal Plain League team will move to Savannah in 2016 (read more here) fans should go out and watch the Sand Gnats this season. If I lived in the vicinity I would definitely check out the Sand Gnats on a regular basis.
Final Score: Asheville 4, Savannah 2 (12 innings)