My night with the Birmingham Barons – May 2, 2014

After playing in the suburbs for 25 years, the Birmingham Barons moved back to downtown Birmingham in 2013 when Regions Field opened.  I didn’t get to visit Regions Field during its inaugural season, but I put it high on the priority list for 2014.  It was also much easier to accomplish now that I live just an hour away.  A few days ago, I made the trek to Birmingham for my first visit.

The most unique aspect of the stadium is the steel facade that spells out “BIRMINGHAM.”  I walked past this as I approached the stadium, and made sure to get a picture.

The signature signage at Regions Field.

The stadium has three entrances, but the primary entrance is at the corner of 1st Avenue South and 14th Street South by the Serra Kia Auto Plaza.

Main gate at the Serra Kia Auto Plaza.

After getting a pair of seats behind home plate an hour before the game, my friend and I decided to walk around and check out the food options.  While we were checking out the concession stands, we came across something neither of us expected to see.  With the Aaron’s 499 running at Talladega Superspeedway just 50 miles away, the Barons celebrated with NASCAR Night.  The team had NASCAR Hall of Famer Bobby Allison throw out the honorary first pitch, and had his 1988 race car on display.

Bobby Allison’s car that he drove to victory lane at the 1988 Daytona 500.

After getting a photo of the race car, we continued touring concession stands.  I didn’t take photos of each stand, but I found two unique stands.  The first we ran across was a food truck.  MELT: A Grilled Cheese Truck has a title that says it all, but what it doesn’t say it that it offers a special take on the classic grilled cheese sandwich.  One example is the Flyin’ Hawaiian, which has smoked ham, Cajun grilled pineapple, and Monterey Jack cheese on a pretzel roll.

The food truck craze is growing nationally, and some Minor League teams have organized special nights around local food trucks.  However, the South has been very slow to catch onto the food truck craze, so I was shocked to see this inside the gates at the stadium.

MELT: A Grilled Cheese Truck was setup beyond right field next to the batting cages.

The food truck contrasts nicely with the next stand, something Southerners know and debate about a lot: barbecue.  There’s probably a master’s thesis about the spelling of said food item, too.  Without stirring up a debate about how to spell it or what kind of sauce to use, there is one name that is most often associated with barbecue in Alabama: Dreamland.

In addition to BBQ nachos, fans can get a half rack of ribs or a sandwich at this stand.  The BBQ nachos are a signature item, but I opted not to get them because I ate them in 2012 when I visited Regions Park during the Barons’ last season in Hoover (you can read about that visit here).

Dreamland Bar-B-Que originated in nearby Tuscaloosa, and has spread throughout the Southeast.

Continuing to walk around the outfield, I came across the Brobdingnagian video board.  Just how big is the video board?  So big, I couldn’t fit it all into the shot I took.

The appropriate American idiom to describe the Barons’ scoreboard is “big ass scoreboard.”

Not far from the video board is the Bright House Family Fun Park, where I found a giant inflatable bounce house in the form of the team’s primary mascot: Babe Ruff.

An inflatable bounce house is only part of the Bright House Family Fun Park, which has a variety of games for kids.

After walking around the stadium, my friend and I settled into our seats behind home plate to watch the start of the game.

Birmingham Barons right-handed pitcher Myles Jaye delivers the first pitch to Mobile BayBears center fielder Mike Freeman.

After watching the first three innings, my friend and I went to find food.  My friend had initially committed to getting the Dreamland BBQ nachos, but kept waffling on his decision as we walked around the stadium before the game started.  He thought about getting something at MELT, and then the Magic City Dog, and then Steel City Burger, and finally settled on getting a Chicago Dog at Piper’s Pub & Grill.

I opted for the Magic City Dog after reading about it last year.  Plus I generally try to get an encased meat when I visit a ballpark.  I’m not a picky eater, and really just want to try a signature food item.  However, hot dogs and baseball have been synonymous for decades.

The Magic City Dog, which is a sliced sausage with BBQ sauce, cole slaw, and spiced mustard.

If I hadn’t gotten the Magic City Dog I would have ordered the Steel City Burger.  The description says it is 1/3 lb. all-beef patty on a bed of grilled onions and topped with pepper jack cheese, bacon, a fried egg and Sriracha mayonnaise and served on a Ciabatta roll.

I did watch some of the game beyond the first pitch, so I have this photo from the first base line.

Birmingham Barons starting pitcher Myles Jaye on the mound.

Based upon my photos so far it may look like the stadium lacks a second deck and luxury suites, which is not the case.  So while I took this next photo primarily to capture the action, it shows off other facets of the ballpark.

More game action with a view of the luxury suites on the third base side.

And in case you didn’t get a clear view of the video board before, I made sure to take photo focused on it.  It certainly is a large video board.

The elephantine scoreboard in left field.

The team’s web site says that steel and brick are used to evoke the city’s industrial heritage, which you can see when you take a look back and view the entire third base seating area and its berm.

A view of the third base line from the right field foul pole.

My friend camped out in right field at the end of the game because we wanted a good seat to watch the post-game fireworks.  However, it was tied 1-1 at the end of the 9th inning.  We hung around until the 13th and decided to finally head out with the contest still knotted, and seemingly no end in sight as the pitcher’s duel continued into the extra innings.  Ultimately, the game went 17 innings and lasted 5 hours and 25 minutes.  It fell one inning short of tying the longest game in franchise history, but took the record for the longest game time in team annals.

I hate leaving a game early, but the temperatures were dropping and I was constantly yawning at 11 p.m. when we departed.  Sadly watching fireworks was as likely to happen as my photo with the team mascot: nonexistent.

Despite missing out on fireworks and my mascot photo, the ballpark experience was great.  There’s a wide variety of food items (signature and standard), beers, and entertainment options.  The area around the stadium is still undergoing redevelopment, but Railroad Park provides a great option for families and Good People Brewing Company, right across from the stadium provides an adult option.

Regions Field reminds me a lot of ONEOK Field in Tulsa.  Both are located in gentrifying areas.  Both brought baseball back to downtown.  Both are the envy of teams in their league.  Both are a great place to watch a game.

Final: Mobile 5, Birmingham 3 (17 innings)
Box Score

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