Presidential sights in Nashville, Tenn.

When people think about visiting presidential sights, it’s easy to get caught up in visiting Washington, D.C.  However, there are a couple of presidential places in Music City people can visit.

The most famous presidential resident of Nashville is Andrew Jackson, who served as the seventh president from 1829 to 1837.  He moved to Nashville in 1788 following his appointment as a prosecutor in the Western District of North Carolina (historical note: Tennessee did not become a state until 1796, and was a part of North Carolina up until that time).  Jackson eventually married Rachel Donelson in 1794, and purchased the plantation that would become known as The Hermitage in 1804.

Main entrance to The Hermitage.

The Hermitage includes the mansion, gardens, numerous outbuildings, and Jackson’s tomb in a small family cemetery (see more here).  Admission pricing varies depending on the type of experience you want.  General admission provides access to the mansion, the grounds, the exhibit gallery, and the souvenir store.  You can upgrade to the president’s tour or the VIP tour for an additional price.  You are not able to tour the mansion on your own.  People wishing to visit the mansion are required to participate in a tour, which is led by a costumed guide.

The other president associated with Nashville was a protégé of Jackson, and was also born elsewhere before his family moved to Middle Tennessee in 1803.  Following his graduation from college James K. Polk moved to Nashville and began his career as a lawyer in 1818.  Polk eventually served as the eleventh president from 1845 to 1849.

Although Polk served in the Tennessee government in a variety of roles before becoming involved in national politics, he primarily resided south of Nashville in Columbia.  Following his departure from the White House, Polk and his wife Sarah toured the South en route to their recently purchased home, Polk Place.  However, Polk reportedly died from cholera a few months after moving to Nashville and was initially buried in Nashville City Cemetery before being interred at Polk Place per the instructions of his will.  Sarah was buried besides him in 1891, but both their bodies were moved to their current location at the Tennessee State Capitol in 1893.  The Polk Tomb is located on the northeast side of the capitol grounds (see more here).

The grave of James and Sarah Polk is on the grounds of the Tennessee State Capitol.

There is no fee to visit the grounds of the Tennessee State Capitol.  Tours of the building are also free, and run on the hour from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. from Monday to Friday.  Visitors can also take a self-guided tour of the building from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. during the week.  You can also take a virtual tour of the building through the Tennessee State Museum’s website.

The state capitol is also home to a statue of Andrew Jackson, which is located in the east plaza of the grounds.  The statue is a replica of the Clark Mills sculpture that was erected in front of the White House in 1853.  There are four versions of the statue with the most famous statue residing in front of the Saint Louis Cathedral in New Orleans.

The Clark Mills designed statue of Andrew Jackson sits on the east side of Capitol Hill.

Many people may be unaware of the connection between Jackson and Polk, but it is fitting that the connection between these two presidents is displayed virtually side-by-side in downtown Nashville.  If you want to see presidential sites closer to you, check out my Presidential Pathways page.

A pint at Mill Creek Brewing in Nolensville, Tenn.

As craft beer has grown in the Southeast, Nashville has witnessed exponential growth of microbreweries across the city.  The growth has spread so far that breweries are sprouting up in the suburbs like Mill Creek Brewing Company, which is located approximately 20 miles south of downtown Nashville.  Located on the banks of Mill Creek (hence the brewery’s name), founder and former guitar teacher Chris Going wanted to open a brewery that focused on approachable beers for the average beer drinker.  Driving up to the brewery also evokes an approachable feeling with its attractive rusted sign.

Main sign at the brewery entrance.

Even the entrance to the brewery appears quite approachable with glass doors that allow visitors to see the activity inside the taproom.

Main entrance to the brewery.

As evidenced from the photo outside the entrance, the bar and the friendly bartenders immediately greet visitors to the taproom.

A view of the bar with the beer menu.

Immediately behind the bar was the merchandise stand, which offered many staples people come to expect when visiting a brewery.

Merchandise display behind the bar.

By far the most unique thing at the brewery was the food truck.  Food trucks are a staple when visiting breweries because many do not sell food and having a food truck allows people to eat and potentially stay longer.  That’s not unique at Mill Creek.  What is unique about the food truck is its location…

The Chago’s food truck permanently stationed at the brewery.

The food truck at Mill Creek is inside the brewery!  In September 2017, Chago’s Cantina partnered with the brewery to open a dedicated location at the brewery.  Chago’s is a Mexican/Latin American eatery in the Belmont Hillsboro area of Nashville, but the food truck at the brewery offers a slightly pared down menu.  However, considering that the brewery is not immediately near any eateries the food truck is a great option for visitors.

So what do visitors see when they sit down to drink, assuming they don’t just sit at the bar.  Visitors get to enjoy a taproom in a massively expansive industrial building.

The brewery’s seating area.

Although the tables in the seating area hold in excess of 50 people, there is plenty of space to add more seating or to rearrange seating for other events like corn hole.  The bar has another dozen or so seats, so seating at Mill Creek is unlikely to be an issue.

Behind the bar is something that visitors don’t typically find at taprooms…

A view behind the bar with the brewery’s tap wall and cooler.

The brewery has a large cooler behind the bar, so visitors can purchase a six-pack to take home or get their traditional growler filled with beer on tap.  My wife Katie and I opted to pick up a sixer of SunSplash, which is a seasonal tart fruit beer.  There are three varieties in the six-pack: coconut, pineapple, and strawberry.

Mill Creek also has an informational sheet detailing its four core beers.

The brewery’s beer fact sheet.

Even seasoned craft beer drinkers have to appreciate the fact sheet.  In particular, I appreciated reading about all the flavors added to the beer.  For example, while I can detect the orange peel notes, I was unaware of the coriander in Lil Darlin.  I also like seeing these fact sheets at breweries because it allows novice craft beer drinkers to expand their knowledge without the potential awkwardness of asking the bartender about each beer.

Elaborating on the beer, I had tried three of the four core beers when Mill Creek expanded its distribution to Alabama earlier in the year.  So I only ordered two beers: Oktoberfest and Woodshed.  Woodshed is a session IPA with a pretty mild hop profile.  I’m not typically an IPA drinker, but really enjoyed this beer because it wasn’t super hoppy.  I expected to like the Oktoberfest because I generally enjoy maltier beers, and especially like drinking German-style brews.  It was precisely what I expected, and very enjoyable.

Back to the taproom and the brewing facility…

The brewery occupies a huge space, so it’s easy to see the brewing facility and all the areas used for storage.  For example, the company stacks pallets of can just behind the food truck.  So visitors can see the packaging used for Landmark, Silo, and Woodshed while exploring a bit of the facility.  Naturally, people can see the fermentation tanks and other equipment used in the beer-making process.  I did not ask for a tour nor did I explore extensively, but I enjoyed the setup of the taproom.

In the Metro Nashville beer scene, Mill Creek Brewing’s taproom is farther out from most of the touristy spots.  So if you’re going to visit, you have to plan accordingly.  It is not near other breweries, so you are unlikely to stumble upon it while in Nashville.  However, the taproom has a great amenity that many breweries do not offer: a dedicated food truck on site.  It certainly helps that the food truck is affiliated with a well-known area restaurant, too.  So if you’re exploring South Nashville, it is worth the drive to Nolensville to check out Mill Creek Brewing.

My night with the Tennessee Smokies – May 18, 2016

There are some advantages and disadvantages to having attended baseball games over the past 30 years.  The biggest disadvantage for me is that while I’ve visited many over the years, I have not always written about my visits to ballparks.  So my ballpark count is significantly higher than the number of stadiums I’ve written about visiting.

The biggest advantage is that I get to re-visit stadiums and share a new experience with the people who read my blog.  So after first watching the Tennessee Smokies play a home game in 2002 and 2005, I am finally writing about the stadium after attending a game in May 2016.  Like those other games, I was also travelling with someone.  This time my finacée Katie, who I wrote about my post previewing this trip (read it here).

Those who are familiar with the Smokies’ history know that the franchise used to play in downtown Knoxville, and moved to exurban Sevierville in 2000.  The stadium is immediately off Interstate 40 at Exit 407, which makes it easily accessible to Knoxville and Sevierville residents (plus visitors to Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg) and those passing through like myself.

So what do fans see when they turn to enter the stadium parking lot…

There is a lot going on at Smokies Stadium in addition to baseball.

If fans drive up or walk over to the main gate, they get a very different welcome.

Flagpoles with a Tennessee Smokies topiary logo welcomes fans to the main entrance.

As much as I enjoy a good photo of flags, I also enjoy directional signs showing where other Minor League affiliates are located.  So when I saw that the Smokies had a sign, I had to take a picture of it.

The main office with a post showing directions to other Cubs affiliates from top to bottom:
Cubs (568 miles), Iowa (854 miles), Myrtle Beach (391 miles), South Bend (512 miles),
Eugene (2,559 miles), and AZL (1,821 miles).

After gawking outside and taking a few pictures, Katie and I finally headed inside the stadium.  We initially checked out the gift shop, but did not explore the concourse because we had arrived about 20 minutes before first pitch.  So we settled into our seats for the national anthem and watched a few innings of action.

Tennessee Smokies starting pitcher Brad Markey delivering the first pitch to Birmingham Barons shortstop Eddy Alvarez.

After watching a few innings of action, we wandered around the concourse to check out the beer and food options.  While walking around the stadium pondering our options, I took a few photos of the concourse, amenities in the outfield, and the game action.

A pair of specialty concession stands along the first base line.
Beyond the first base concourse is a kid’s play area.
By guest services, the Smokies have TV screens with the lineups and standings.
A view of the first base grandstand and suites from the third base line.

Perhaps the coolest place along the concourse was the Smoky Mountain Brewery Bullpen, which is a full-service restaurant that serves locally brewed craft beers.  Smoky Mountain Brewery is part of a larger restaurant group, and has multiple locations throughout eastern Tennessee.  There is a bar that opens onto the concourse, so fans can order a drink without entering the restaurant.  The coolest part of the restaurant is the wall that details the Smokies history, complete with photos of former players who made it to the Majors and logos of the Smokies’ former Major League parents.

Wall featuring the Smokies history inside the Smoky Mountain Brewery Bullpen.

Beyond taking some photos of the concourse, I also took pictures of the amenities in the outfield.  Like many Minor League ballparks, Smokies Stadium has a pair of patios/porches designed to accommodate larger groups.

In right field, there is Pioneer Porch, which is sponsored by a local heating and air conditioning company.

The Pioneer Porch in right field.

In left field, there is Calhoun’s at the Yard, which is sponsored by a local restaurant chain that first made its name in BBQ ribs.  Calhoun’s is part of the same restaurant group as Smoky Mountain Brewery, the Copper Cellar Family of Restaurants.

Calhoun’s at the Yard in left field, which hosts the all-you-can-eat seats.

Besides the two eating areas in the outfield, of course, there is a scoreboard.

Scoreboard in left field, which stands over the seating at Calhoun’s at the Yard.

One of the biggest changes from my last visit to the stadium, besides the tweaking of its name from Smokies Park to Smokies Stadium, is the departure of the KOA campground that sat beyond right field.  I never ventured up there, but it was fun seeing people watching the game from beyond the fences.  With the campground closed the vegetation has taken over, and appears to be overgrown and in need of maintenance.

So what game action did I see while exploring the concourse and pondering food and beer choices?  I saw a few top prospects for the Cubs (see list here) and White Sox (see list here).

Smokies shortstop Carlos Penalver at the plate.
Barons designated hitter Courtney Hawkins, ninth rated prospect in the White Sox organization.
Smokies starting pitcher Brad Markey, 29th rated prospect in the Cubs organization.

After walking around and getting multiple photos of the stadium, what did I finally decided to eat and drink at the game?  At the time Katie and I attended the game, MiLB.com was promoting its annual “Food Fight.”  The Smokies’ entry this year was the Homer’s Grand Slam, which is a foot long hot dog with Calhoun’s BBQ pork, mac and cheese, fried onions, and drizzled with Calhoun’s BBQ sauce.

For my beer, I opted to “drink local” and had a Smoky Mountain Brewery Helles Lager.  It was a solid lager, which is always a good style on a warm spring evening.  You can find my review of it on Untappd (profile here), which is an awesome app that allows people to record the beers they have drank and interact with other beer drinkers.

Homer’s Grand Slam topped off with nacho cheese.

If you don’t want a foot long dog with a lot of items piled on it, but you still wanted a unique food item at the game you could have the Chicago Dog available at the A Taste of Chicago concession stand.  However, you are not able to have an Old Style beer and sit in the bleachers while enjoying that hot dog.

Speaking of Homer, he is the newest Smokies’ mascot, joining the crew before the 2015 season.  As the game was almost over, Katie and I were able to get our picture taken with him as he passed by ours seats.

Katie and I with Homer the Hound.

Shortly after this picture, the game ended as the Smokies were unable to mount a rally.  The pros and cons of visiting previously ballpark shone through for me this trip.  I didn’t feel in awe of the experience because the ballpark had not changed much since my previous visits.  The best parts were subtle changes like the specialty concession stands down the first base line, accentuating the team’s affiliation with the Chicago Cubs.  The other great improvement was the Smoky Mountain Brewery Bullpen.  I love craft beer, and it was great to try some locally brewed beers at the ballpark, although it was disappointing that I was not able to find any beers from the nearby breweries in Knoxville.

Overall, the Smokies put on a great experience, offer a variety of unique food items plus the staples, and have some good local beers to drink.

Final Score: Birmingham 5, Tennessee 0
Box Score

Previewing my trip through the Carolinas

Since this past December, my girlfriend and I have been planning a trip to North and South Carolina once the school year was over.  She grew up in Texas and Oklahoma, so she has not visited many of the states in the Southeast.  She loves to travel, and thankfully appreciates and supports my desire to visit baseball stadiums – Major League and Minor League.

So when I thought about places we could visit in the spring after we both wrapped up the spring semesters, I had two suggestions: the Carolinas or the Mississippi Gulf Coast and New Orleans.  As Katie has visited Louisiana before, and made a brief stop in Mississippi last summer, she quickly said she would prefer to visit the Carolinas.

Next came the more difficult task of figuring out a schedule.  As Ben Hill or Malcolm MacMillan or Craig Wieczorkiewicz and countless others can tell you, it is difficult pulling together a schedule where you see a new ballpark every day.  I can’t attest to how others compile their schedule, but I usually put multiple teams’ schedules into an Excel spreadsheet and highlight dates where the home schedules overlap or are at least contiguous, which would allow me to visit one team on Wednesday, travel the next day, and visit another team on Thursday.

The biggest goal I laid out for this trip was to limit driving each day to 3-4 hours.  Considering the distribution of MiLB teams (see map) in the Southeast this was an easy goal to accomplish.  However, considering that my girlfriend lives in Nashville, and we are departing from there to begin our journey I had to make an exception and we’ll make our first stop at a Tennessee ballpark.

So without further back story, here is our schedule:

Wednesday, May 18: Birmingham Barons at Tennessee Smokies, 7:05 p.m.

Thursday, May 19: Kannapolis Intimidators at Asheville Tourists, 7:05 p.m.

Friday, May 20: Lexington Legends at Greenville Drive, 7:05 p.m.

Saturday, May 21: Lynchburg Hillcats at Myrtle Beach Pelicans, 7:05 p.m.

Sunday, May 22: Day Off

Monday, May 23: West Virginia Power at Charleston RiverDogs, 7:05 p.m.

Tuesday, May 24: August GreenJackets at Columbia Fireflies, 7:05 p.m.

If you prefer a visual perspective with the list, you can follow along with the map below.

Map of upcoming baseball stadium visits.

I may not have the staff of MiLB.com like Ben Hill to Photoshop stuff for me, but this former SID still has a few Photoshop skills.  You’ll be able to follow along via my Twitter handle (@geoSteven) or my Instagram (@geo_steven).  If you want a woman’s perspective, you can follow Katie’s Twitter handle (@DJKati).

Katie and I have traveled together before, but never for such a long period of time or to so many baseball stadiums.  We also share a common interest in craft beer, so we will incorporate our visits to local breweries into the blog as well.  We have not come up with a name for our brewery visits, but we will create a dedicated page on the blog for these visits.  So along with visits to a number of baseball stadiums with my usual write up, you’ll be able to read about some of the South’s craft breweries.

Reviewing my 2015 ballpark resolutions

Since 2014, I have posted baseball-related travel resolutions.  If you want to see how I did meeting my 2014 resolutions, read about it here.

Starting off January 1, I made four resolutions relating to visiting Minor League Baseball stadiums.

I started the year off on a good note, as I did in fact attend a Kane County Cougars game, and I got to meet Craig Wieczorkiewicz.  Craig operates The Midwest League Traveler, which covers appropriately enough, the Midwest League.  The first day I was in Chicago I got a rental car and drove from downtown Chicago to the West Suburbs (specifically Geneva).  It was a chilly evening, but I got to hang out with Craig, drink a Raging Cougar Ale, and talk about baseball.  You can read about my visit here.

In hindsight I’m not sure how you quantify the success/failure of this resolution.  I made it to First Tennessee Park for a Nashville Sounds game at their new ballpark.  That is obviously a success.  However, I did not get another photo with Ozzie because he was replaced by Booster the Hot Chicken.  Considering that I did get a photo with the mascot, I’m counting this as a win.  You can read about my visit here.

Somewhere along the way we all fall short of fulfilling our resolutions, and I can report that I did not attend a Lexington Legends game with my friend Dr. Michael Bradley.  I wasn’t swamped with writing my dissertation, but due to car repairs I did not drive to Cincinnati, Ohio, for the AP Human Geography Reading and therefore failed to drive through Kentucky on my way back south.  I’m optimistic that I will be able to attend a game in 2016.

Last year I hoped to visit all four of Georgia’s Minor League Baseball teams, but only visited one of them.  I visited the Gwinnett Braves with my Oklahoma State Grad School classmate Bill McBrayer for Back to the Future Night.  I did not blog about my visit because I had visited the G-Braves in 2014 (read about that visit here).  On the same road trip I did visit the Augusta GreenJackets and Savannah Sand Gnats, who were in their final season.  You can read about my visit to Augusta here and my visit to Savannah here.  I made a daytrip to watch the Rome Braves play about a week after my trip to Augusta and Savannah.  You can read about my Rome visit here.  So I can definitely mark my Georgia-related resolution as a success.

Of my four resolutions, I completed three.  From an individual component perspective I completed six of seven resolutions for a 0.857 average in baseball terms.  From an overall vantage I went 3-for-4 for a 0.750 average.  Either way you look at my baseball resolutions for 2015 I consider myself a winner.  I’d like to go 4-for-4 with my resolutions one year, but I will definitely take a 3-for-4 day at the plate.

Now to consider my baseball travel resolutions for 2016…

My night with the Nashville Sounds – Aug. 6, 2015

For the second year in a row I was in Nashville for a baseball game, but this season the Sounds were playing in a brand new ballpark instead of 36-year-old Herschel Greer Stadium (read about last season’s visit here).  Although I was visiting a brand new stadium in First Tennessee Park, my visit was quite different because I attended the game with my girlfriend and two of her friends.

Another wrinkle to my visit was that the previous day’s game had been suspended due to rain in the bottom of the first inning, so instead of a single game starting at 7 p.m. the Sounds hosted the completion of the previous day’s game before hosting a seven-inning game afterward.  So instead of arriving around 6 p.m. to secure my 1940s Nashville Vols bobblehead, we arrived around 5 p.m. to get our giveaway items and settle in for the resumption of Wednesday’s game at 6 p.m.

With it’s location just north of downtown, First Tennessee Park does not have a lot of designated parking.  However, there are multiple parking lots and street parking spots around the stadium.  So after parking in one of these lots, the first view of the ballpark was not the main entrance but instead I got to see…

My first view of First Tennessee Park, which was a view of the “big ass” guitar-shaped scoreboard.

The back of the guitar-shaped scoreboard may have been my first view of First Tennessee Park, but the main entrance looks like this…

Main entrance.

Moments after walking into the stadium at the Home Plate Entrance I got my Nashville Vols bobblehead and lucked out finding the Sounds’ new mascot Booster.  So I got my photo taken with him before the setting out to explore the ballpark.

Me with Booster in a throwback Nashville Vols jersey.

With my bobblehead in hand and a photo with the mascot done, our group went about exploring the stadium, which almost immediately led us to the souvenir shop.  With two people who had never visited Nashville in tow we stopped and explored the shop for quite a bit.  I bought a coloring puzzle for my friend’s 5-year-old son, but the most interesting scene in the souvenir shop was the display around the Nashville Vols items.

A sign above the t-shirts commemorates the history of baseball at the site.

As someone who appreciates history it was really cool to see the signage above the throwback t-shirts to help educate fans who might not know about the baseball teams in Nashville before the Sounds came into existence in 1978.

In addition to the signage in the souvenir shop fans who walk around the entire concourse will see something especially unique on the back of the batter’s eye.

Signage commemorating the history of baseball at the site that First Tennessee Park now occupies.

Immediately across from the batter’s eye and the historic signage there is a fence with netting featuring the First Tennessee Park logo, which creates a compelling juxtaposition between the past, present, and future as you can see the construction underway in the area immediately surrounding the ballpark.

A fence with the First Tennessee Park logo just behind the batter’s eye.

The most popular feature in the outfield is by far the concession stand and bar area known as The Band Box.  The concession stand features a farm-to-table approach to ballpark dining, which results in some unexpected ballpark food items like a quinoa chopped salad or a hot dog produced in town by Porter Road Butcher.

Additionally there is a picture perfect photo opportunity, so I took advantage and had one of our friends take a photo of me and my girlfriend.

Me and Katie at The Band Box.

Despite the great photo opp, people come to The Band Box for the bar and other entertainment like ping pong, cornhole, shuffleboard, and the foosball table.

A view of the bar before the game started.

Later in the game I wandered back to The Band Box, and it was jam packed with urban-dwelling millenials enjoying the craft beer selection.  On that note, The Band Box has a good beer selection with popular national brands, notable regional brands, and some awesome local beers from breweries like Black Abbey, Little Harpeth, and Turtle Anarchy.

The Band Box during the game.

After getting a drink at The Band Box we migrated to our seats on the third base line to watch the start of the previous day’s suspended game.  The August 5 game was suspended before the Sounds came to bat in the bottom of the first inning, so I opted not to get a photo of the first pitch because it wasn’t really the “first pitch.”

So from my view along the third base line I took some photos of the game action, but started with probably the most notable feature of First Tennessee Park … the guitar-shaped scoreboard.

The scoreboard with a throwback motif with the Sounds batting in the first inning.

I also took some photos of the game action.  Notably I took some pictures of former Major Leaguer Barry Zito toiling for the Sounds.

Nashville Sounds pitcher Barry Zito delivering a pitch to Memphis Redbirds second baseman Dean Anna.

I also captured Memphis Redbirds second baseman Dean Anna at the plate facing Zito.

Memphis Redbirds second baseman Dean Anna at the plate against Nashville Sounds pitcher Barry Zito.

One of the coolest things I saw on Throwback Thursday was the outfits worn by the on-field emcee and the accompanying spirit girls (or cheerleaders or whatever is the appropriate term).  The emcee wore a baseball uniform that mimicked an old New York Yankees uniform with the number “3” adorned on his chest while the spirit girls wore uniforms reminiscent of the Rockford Peaches of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, and immortalized in the 1992 film A League of Their Own.

A between-inning trivia contest during the first game.

One of the great improvements with the Sounds relocating from Greer Stadium to First Tennessee Park is the view.  Greer Stadium, which is still standing, is removed from downtown and does not provide fans with an aesthetically pleasing backdrop.  By comparison, First Tennessee Park is located just north of downtown facing south with great views of the downtown Nashville skyline.  So fans are easily able to get a picture of downtown like the one I took that night.

A view of the left field berm and a snippet of the downtown Nashville skyline.

When it comes to food, Nashville has cultivated its own tradition that has yet to be copied elsewhere in the country.  That unique dish is known as “hot chicken.”  The dish is what it sounds like, but you can read more here.  It is fried chicken that is spiced to make it extremely hot.  So when I sought out something unique to eat at the stadium it was a no-brainer to try some hot chicken, especially considering the team’s mascot Booster is a hot chicken.

A basket of hot chicken with waffle fries from the Hot or Not Chicken stand.

After finishing my hot chicken, which was tasty, but not nearly as spicy as I expected considering that two people in the group said it made their eyes water, I sat back to watch the Sounds complete their come-from-behind victory over the Redbirds.

In the suspended game from Aug. 5 that was completed on Aug. 6, the Sounds scored eight unanswered runs to win 8-3.

After the first game concluded the grounds crew took about 30 minutes to prepare the field for the second game, which I decided was the appropriate time to get my usual photograph of the first pitch of the ballgame.  Unfortunately first pitch wasn’t until almost 9:30 p.m., so my picture may not have turned out as good as usual.

Nashville Sounds starting pitcher Dan Otero delivering the first pitch to Memphis Redbirds left fielder Rafael Ortega.

After getting a photograph of the first pitch I walked around and to the first base line to get some photographs of the game action.

Memphis Redbirds center fielder Tommy Pham takes a lead off first base in the top of the first inning.
A closeup of Nashville pitcher Dan Otero on the mound.
A closeup of Memphis Redbirds starting pitcher Tyler Waldron on the mound.

After picking up another beer at The Band Box, I made sure to capture a view of the field from the outfield looking over the grandstand.

A view of the stadium from the outfield.

After scoring three runs in the first, the Sounds never looked back and coasted to an 8-0 win over the Redbirds.  The impromptu doubleheader ended around 11:30 p.m., so it was a much later night than expected, but I had a great time on my first visit to First Tennessee Park.

The architecture is unique.  The views are magnificent.  The food is delicious.  The beer selection is plentiful.  And all of that makes for an awesome experience at a ballpark.

Final Score: Memphis Redbirds 3, Nashville Sounds 8 – suspended game from 8/5
Box Score – suspended game
Memphis Redbirds 0, Nashville Sounds 8
Box Score

Revealing my 2015 ballpark resolutions

Last year I made resolutions to visit some Minor League Baseball stadiums and wrote about those resolutions on this blog (read the post here) and recapped my success-failure, too (read post here).  So I decided that I would make some resolutions for 2015, and detail them here, too.

Without further ado, my 2015 MiLB travel resolutions are…

Annually since 2010, I attend the Annual Meeting of the Association of American Geographers.  The 2015 conference is in Chicago, and I plan to attend a White Sox game while in town.  Finding an MiLB game nearby is a bit more difficult, but the Kane County Cougars are only about an hour drive from downtown Chicago.  So I’m planning to rent a car and make the drive out there, and hopefully meet a blogger I’ve been following during the past year.

Over the past year I’ve started to read more blogs about Minor League Baseball, and now follow Craig Wieczorkiewicz.  Craig writes The Midwest League Traveler blog, and tweets extensively about former and current players with connections to the league.  I have only interacted with him via Twitter, but look forward to watching a game with him and discussing our mutual interests of attending Minor League Baseball games.

In 2014, I attended a Nashville Sounds game at Greer Stadium during its final season (read the post here).  After years of negotiations and many failed efforts, the Sounds will finally move into a new stadium this season.  I’ve never specifically trekked to a stadium during its opening season, but Nashville is one of my favorite cities so I am looking forward to planning an excursion.

Since 2010, I have traveled to Cincinnati to participate in the AP Human Geography Reading, and twice I’ve been lucky enough to get together with my friend Mike Bradley, who is a leisure studies professor at Eastern Kentucky University.  He’s invited me to spend a few days in Lexington, where he lives, so I’m aiming to spend a few days in the Bluegrass region after completing my work before I return to Alabama.  I attended the University of Kentucky for two years in the mid-90s, and rumors circled about Lexington getting a Minor League team but it did not come to fruition until the 2000s.  So I’ve never seen a Lexington Legends game.

Last year I resolved to see all four Georgia teams, and succeeded in only seeing one of them – the Gwinnett Braves.  I’m optimistic that I can accomplish this resolution because I will not be held down working on a dissertation this coming summer.  I’ll probably work on some kind of research this summer, but I’ll feel more free to travel without the weight of a dissertation hanging over my head.

My night with the Chattanooga Lookouts – Aug. 1, 2014

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.

Walking up to the main entrance of the stadium, fans pass signage for the AT&T Field Hall of Fame.  The hall has two members: Cal Ermer and Tommy Lasorda.

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”

My prize for winning: a Powerball ticket courtesy of the Tennessee Lottery.  Unfortunately, I did not win the lottery.

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.

Jumbo dog.
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.

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 Nashville Sounds – June 10, 2014

The first baseball game I attended at Herschel Greer Stadium was in March 2002, when the Georgia State Panthers visited the Belmont Bruins in a three-game Atlantic Sun Conference series.  The first minor league game I attended was in July 2006 between the Round Rock Express and the Sounds, when I was attending the CoSIDA Convention in Nashville.  Both events were long before I started blogging about my visits to MLB and MiLB stadiums, so when the Nashville Sounds announced that 2014 would be the last season at Greer Stadium I wanted to be sure to visit for “the last cheer at Greer.”

Unlike MiLB.com’s Ben Hill, nobody had my name marked on a calendar.  Although I had been to the stadium before, it had been several years and, as always, I read up on food suggestions and the gameday experience from Hill’s piece when he visited during the 2013 season.

The main entrance to the stadium is one of my favorites in Minor League Baseball.  The stone wall and wrought-iron fence are distinctive, and the baseball diamond on the ground lets any observer know he is entering a baseball stadium.

Exterior of the main concourse with sky boxes in the background.

It may not be clear in the photos, but there are banners of former Nashville players who have reached the Major Leagues with a picture of them as a Sounds player and with their current club.  For example, a banner shows Prince Fielder with the team in 2005, and in his current uniform with the Texas Rangers.

Ticket office and main gate.

Although I walked around the concourse once I entered the stadium, I wasn’t particularly hungry and I could not find a beer to drink.  So after checking out the gift shop, I decided to take my seat and just watch baseball.  So I took in a lot action during the first inning.

First pitch between the Reno Aces and Nashville Sounds.

In addition to the first pitch of the game, I got photographs of both starting pitchers.

Sounds starting pitcher Ariel Pena.
Aces starting pitcher Zeke Spruill.

I also got a photograph of the Sounds third batter, which isn’t significant unto itself.  However, I wanted to capture a shot that showed the Milwaukee Brewers patch on the shoulder of the uniform.

Sounds second baseman Elian Herrera.

I also took a photo of the seating bowl, although Ben Hill’s piece details the age of the facility much better than my one shot.  Knowing that he took a ton of pictures highlighting the age of the seats, I opted to take a simple overview of the seating bowl with the press box and sky boxes.

A view of the press box and sky boxes from the third base side.

I may need to seek professional help, but getting my picture taken with MiLB mascots has become a bit of an obsession for me.  So instead of exploring more of the stadium, I waited for an inning or two along the third base line so I could get my picture with Ozzie.  I’m wondering if there’s a “Mascot Addicts Anonymous” or something I could join.

Anyway, while I waited I had a Ruby Red from Fat Bottom Brewery.  For beer connoisseurs, the color was a deep red and it was a very tasty amber ale.  While waiting I started talking with a professional photographer who was shooting for a local web site.  He agreed to take my picture with Ozzie whenever the big cat came by.

Me with Ozzie in a blurry photo taken by a professional photographer.

When I entered the stadium, I noticed the paw prints on the concourse as documented in Ben Hill’s piece.  At the risk of being overly critical, I really don’t understand why the paw prints exist.  The team isn’t called the “Cougars,” and it seems like something a high school would do.  In fact, I’ve seen stuff like that at a high school stadium where team was called the “Wildcats.”  Granted, maybe the young kids like following the prints to the funnel cake stand, so who am I to judge.

Ozzie prints leading you to the food.

Like many ballparks built in the late-’70s and early-’80s, Greer Stadium has the concourse and concession stands sitting beneath the seating bowl.  So fans are cutoff from the action, and the stands themselves are rather commonplace.  Surprisingly, the team never added TVs to keep fans connected to the game.

A standard concession stand beneath the seating bowl.

Due to my lack of hunger, I checked out all the concession stands trying to find a signature item and never found one that appealed to me.  Most employees said there wasn’t a particularly unique item, but that I could visit Slugger’s Restaurant on the 4th Floor.  I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I decided to check it out.

The food menu was nondescript.  It had the usual ballpark food like burgers, hot dogs, and chicken tenders.  Nothing particularly appealed to me, so I opted to get a beer and watch some of the game from upstairs.

Viewing the action from Slugger’s Restaurant.

For my beer choice, I opted for the locally brewed Southern Wit from Tennessee Brew Works.  It was a nice alternative to the nationally-available Shocktop Belgian White that was also on draft.  After an inning or so upstairs, I headed downstairs to find something to eat.

Eventually I settled on getting BBQ Nachos from the Whitt’s Barbecue stand along the first base line.  The nachos looked good covered in nacho cheese with a good serving of pulled pork, but I was surprised that it wasn’t topped with any sauce.  Instead, I had to add sauce from the condiment stand.  It got weirder when the sauce at the condiment stand was Sweet Baby Ray’s.  I really like Sweet Baby Ray’s sauce, but it’s odd that a sponsored concession stand wouldn’t have BBQ sauce from its provider.

Regardless, the Sounds re-tweeted the picture I posted on Twitter of the nachos.

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Late in the game after finishing my nachos, I opted to watch the remainder of the game from my seat behind home plate.  In the bottom of the 9th, Jeremy Hermida singled to center field to bring home Elian Herrera and give the Sounds a 2-1 win.

The legendary guitar-shaped scoreboard with the final score: Sounds 2, Aces 1.

Many people have written about the guitar-shaped scoreboard, which is truly one of most unique sights in Minor League Baseball, so there’s not much I can add to that conversation.  However, fans should enjoy a “Last Cheer at Greer” with the old guitar scoreboard before the Sounds move onto their new digs.