The second stop on my trip through the Bluegrass State for baseball and beer was Lexington, Ky. It is a city that I used to know really well because I attended the University of Kentucky for two years as an undergraduate, but it has been nearly two decades since I was last a student at UK. So returning to Lexington to explore its budding craft beer scene (yes, BEER not bourbon) while also visiting another Minor League Baseball stadium has been on my “to-do” list for quite a few years. Finally this summer, I got to make it happen.
So on a Tuesday afternoon following some visits to the city’s local craft breweries, my wife Katie and I made it to Whitaker Bank Ballpark, home of the Lexington Legends. When I was a student at UK in the mid-1990s there was regularly talk of Lexington seeking a MiLB team, but none of it came to fruition until 2001. Unlike many other ballparks built during the early-2000s, the Legends’ stadium is not in downtown, but instead northeast of downtown off a ring road (New Circle Road) across from a strip mall.
I didn’t know it at the time we planned our visit, but it was a mystery giveaway night. It turned out that the Legends were giving away a bobblehead of University of Kentucky head football coach Mark Stoops. So I neglected to capture my customary stadium entrance photo, as we hurriedly entered to secure out bobblehead. However, I went back outside to capture the view the typically greets fans arriving at the ballpark.
There was a LOT going on after entering the ballpark, but in a good way. Fans see a lot of branding in multiple places, so you have to be oblivious to the environment to be unaware that you are attending a Lexington Legends baseball game.
For fans interesting in scoring the game, you find the home team’s lineup and the South Atlantic League standings.
Although Katie and I hurried through the gate, we had plenty of time before the game started so we wandered the concourse checking out the food options with a brief pit stop at the team gift store.
We didn’t get any food before the game because I wanted to get a picture of the night’s bobblehead honoree, UK head football coach Mark Stoops throwing out the ceremonial first pitch. So we headed to our seats that were just to the right of home plate.
Following Stoops’s ceremonial first pitch we watched the beginning of the game, which pitted the Columbia Fireflies against the host Legends.
With seats almost immediately behind home plate, we also had easy access to the Kentucky Ale Taproom. It has a full-service bar and kitchen with many ballpark staples, but also some of the signature food items available at the ballpark like the Larry Mac Burger (more on that later).
After watching some of the action, I went exploring the concourse again. Along the way I found something most Minor League teams incorporate into their ballpark, and something I had never seen before at a baseball stadium. Near a display case showing off the team’s current uniform set, I found plaques commemorating all of the players who played for the Legends and made it to the Majors. The unique item I found was artwork created to commemorate the team’s 15th season in 2015, which was made from signed mini baseball bats.
Speaking of unique items at the ballpark, the Legends feature a collection of wall decals featuring two prominent groups of people: former Legends who made it to the Majors and former University of Kentucky basketball players throwing out ceremonial first pitches.
I’ve seen all sorts of ways Minor League teams commemorate their former players who reach “The Show,” so seeing a collection of generic Fathead decals wasn’t surprising. It was different, but certainly not surprising. However, it was very surprising to see wall decals of former UK basketball stars (Patrick Patterson, Willie Cauley-Stein, and others) throwing out ceremonial first pitches. Wildcat basketball may make the world go ’round in Kentucky, but it was not something I expected to see incorporated into a Minor League stadium in Lexington, even if it is the university’s home city.
The concourse does not wrap around the ballpark, but I was easily able to photograph the bleachers in left field and the Pepsi Party Deck in right field.
There are also multiple spots around the stadium to keep kids entertained. Down the right field line is a basketball court, which seems unusual at a baseball stadium but also seems completely natural in Kentucky.
Down the left field line is the more traditional kid zone. The team’s kids club is sponsored by Jif peanut butter, which is produced in Lexington at the world’s largest peanut butter production facility.
At Whitaker Bank Ballpark, the bullpens of both teams are in play. The home team’s bullpen is down the right field line and the visiting team’s bullpen is down the left field line. While exploring I was able to capture photos of both bullpens and some other scenes of the ballpark.
Although I walked around the entire stadium to capture the surroundings, I did manage to watch some of the baseball game. Katie and I literally had front row seats, so there was no shortage of baseball watching this night. In fact, the Legends starting pitcher Janser Lara, first baseman Nick Pratto, right fielder Seuly Matias, and catcher MJ Melendez are among the Kansas City Royals’ top-30 prospects.
Eventually watching all of these top prospects made Katie and I hungry, so we settled upon the aforementioned Larry Mac Burger, which we found at the Ballpark Favorites concession stand along the third base line. The burger is a third-pound Kentucky Proud burger topped with either original or jalapeño Larry Mac’s beer cheese, Applewood-smoked bacon, lettuce, tomato, and onion.
The version I received was a two quarter-pound beef patties smothered in jalapeño beer cheese. Unfortunately there was no lettuce, tomato, or onion in sight. It was a deliciously, gooey, and messy meal though. In hindsight, I might have opted for the original beer cheese, as the jalapeño-version remained with me throughout the night.
I did not have any beers at the ballpark, but that was not because of any shortage of craft beer options. The Kentucky Ale Taproom is sponsored by Alltech Lexington Brewing & Distilling Co., which produces the Kentucky Ale line of beers and the Town Branch Distillery spirits. Craft beer choices are available throughout the stadium, but The Handle Bar (along the first base line) has the largest selection of beer.
The biggest deterrent to having a beer at the ballpark to compliment my Larry Mac Burger was that shortly after ordering my food the skies opened and the tarp came out to cover the field. Following a 37-minute delay with one out in the bottom of the fifth inning the game was called. When the game was called the skies had started to clear, but apparently the field was too wet to continue the game and it had progressed far enough to be an official game.
Despite an abbreviated game, I had a great experience at Whitaker Bank Ballpark watching a Lexington Legends game. There is plenty of parking at the stadium, which is a benefit of its outside of downtown location. The stadium has been well maintained and updated since its opening in 2001.
Most importantly the experience at the ballpark checked off all of the boxes I expect when visiting a Minor League ballpark. The stadium had a pleasant setting and was well-maintained. The food and beverage choices were unique and included locally-produced products. The team offered unique promotions during the game. The staff was friendly and helpful. I wish the game had resumed so I could’ve enjoyed the atmosphere at the ballpark more, but it was an enjoyable experience and definitely a family and fan-friendly place.
Final: Columbia 1, Lexington 2 (Five innings)
Disclosure: My admission to the Lexington Legends baseball game was provided by the Lexington Convention and Visitors Bureau (VisitLEX). I received a media rate for my two-night stay at the Lexington Hilton/Downtown. Be assured that all words and opinions contained here are 100% my own.