There is something to be said for returning to places you have visited before. If you haven’t been to that place in a number of years you may get to see how it has changed since your last visit. Sometimes the more you visit a place the more you notice different characteristics. That was the case this summer when I returned to Louisville, Ky., to attend a Louisville Bats baseball game.
I had previously attends a Bats game in 2005. So some things had changed and some things had relatively remained the same since my last visit 13 years ago. The Bats still play at Louisville Slugger Field just east of downtown Louisville. However, the team’s color scheme changed dramatically ahead of the 2016 season. The team switched from a purple and black color scheme to a red and blue color scheme, and overhauled their logos. However, the exterior of the facility appears the same as it did when I visited several years ago.
Fans walking from downtown will see the former Brinly-Hardy warehouse first, but the “real” entrance to the ballpark is adorned by one of Louisville’s favorite sons: Brooklyn Dodgers shortstop Pee Wee Reese.
Although the statue of Pee Wee Reese serves as the welcome to fans attending a Bats baseball game, but it is really a facade before fans get to enter the seating bowl. The stadium’s incorporation of the Brinly-Hardy warehouse allowed the stadium to enclose all the entrance ways on Main Street, and create a restaurant at the end of the building that is now occupied by Against the Grain Brewery & Smokehouse. The space between the building and seating bowl also allows the team to decorate with pieces of the franchise’s history.
Fans walking into Louisville Slugger Field will find that they enter the stadium concourse and walk down to their seats unless they’re in the more posh luxury suites upstairs. As my wife Katie and I arrived at the ballpark just a bit before the first pitch, we took a moment to hang out behind home plate so I could capture the official start of the game.
With the seating bowl below the concourse there are numerous concession stands around the level, which wraps around the entire field. As is my habit, I walked around the entire concourse to peruse the food and beverage options and get a feel for the stadium.
In addition to the concession stands and portable stands between the first and third base bags, Katie and I saw some food options down the left field line and on the outfield concourse. However, it was just beyond the gate in left field that struck my attention during our stroll around the concourse. So I investigated and found something I did not know existed at the stadium.
A statue of famed Green Bay Packer and Notre Dame Fighting Irish running back Paul Hornung. I was stunned to see this statue outside the stadium because it featured a football star outside a baseball field, but also because until seeing the statue and doing some research I had no clue that he grew up in Louisville. In hindsight, it still seems a bit odd to see a statue of a famous football player outside a baseball stadium, but it is also cool to see the city commemorate its star athletes.
After capturing a photograph of the Paul Hornung statue I returned to the ballpark to snap shots of the view from the outfield concourse. One of the first things I saw was an empty chair reserved in honor for POWs.
After capturing the Chair of Honor, I turned my attention back to the stadium and the downtown area. The stadium’s location on the eastern edge of downtown provides a lot of great views of the downtown Louisville skyline.
As Katie and I continued walking around the concourse, we were dwarfed by the scoreboards. In fact, the primary scoreboard in right field loomed over us so much that I had to capture of photo standing beneath it.
The concession stand beneath the scoreboard is aptly named because the scoreboard overlooks everything around it, including the kid play zone nearby.
After finishing our walk around the stadium, I started to contemplate my food and beverage choices for the night. While walking around the stadium, I saw the usual ballpark food items (hot dogs, hamburgers, nachos, pizza, etc.), but nothing screamed, “You must eat this food at a Louisville Bats baseball game!” So while continuing to think about my food choices, I remembered that the Bats had partnered with Against the Grain to create a beer specifically to be served at the ballpark. After asking a few people working at stands serving alcohol, Katie and I ended up behind home plate at the Diamond Drinks concession stand.
In addition to offering a variety of beers, including some craft beers, Diamond Drinks is notable because the stand serves liquor and wine. So if you’re not a beer drinker, you can still find a quality drink at the ballpark. We each ordered our 16-oz. cans of Bats Win! and took our seats.
The beer is a golden ale that checks in with 4.9% ABV. It is a light, crisp, and clean beer that is great for summer and baseball. It is among the growing trend of collaborations between Minor League Baseball teams and local craft breweries, which I wrote about in a guest piece for MiLB.com’s Ben Hill (a.k.a. Ben’s Biz). You can read the piece here if you want to learn more about the trend.
Soon after finishing our beers, Katie and I started discussing food options. As I try to avoid the “usual suspects” at the ballpark, I remembered that a few years prior the Bats had entered a grilled pork chop sandwich in the annual MiLB Food Fight. We also happened upon a sign advertising the delectable treat, and decided that was the right choice to fill our bellies. We located it at the outfield grill in center field.
The sandwich did not come with the advertised lettuce, tomato, or onion, which would have really complimented the deliciously grilled pork. However, the sandwich was filling and definitely a unique food item that I’ve not seen or read about being served at other ballparks.
With my stomach full and my thirst quenched, I turned my focus to capturing the sights of the ballparks. I realized that during my walk I had photographed much of the park except for a closeup of the seating bowl and the scoreboards in the outfield.
As I took pictures of the scoreboards, I got to witness one of the between-innings contests put on by the Bats. As is common practice at baseball games, teams have people race around the bases or sometimes around the warning track. Often times these races incorporate a local connection to make it more unique. In Louisville, home of the Kentucky Derby, the team has people dress as horses and race around the bases. It was a nice twist to a classic ballgame contest.
Although my focus was not as much on the game at hand, I did get to enjoy watching Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Homer Bailey make a rehabilitation start with the Bats. Additionally, I got to watch some of the top prospects for the Cleveland Indians like catcher Eric Haase and infielder Yu-Cheng Chang and some of the top prospects for the Cincinnati Reds like infielder Nick Senzel, who is the fourth-rated prospect in all of Minor League Baseball, and reliever Tanner Rainey.
Although ogling over star prospects and rehabilitating Major Leaguers draws some people out to the ballpark, my focus is always on the experience. I come to the stadium to eat some great food, drink some good craft beer, and enjoy the atmosphere. Without the doubt, I got to do all of those things at Louisville Slugger Field. The stadium does not show its age, despite opening in 2000. Most importantly, the Bats do a great job of keeping fans involved in the game with some local twists on the between-inning contests.
Final Score: Columbus 7, Louisville 4
Disclosure: My admission to the Louisville Bats baseball game was provided by Louisville Tourism. I received a media rate for my two-night stay at the Aloft Louisville Downtown. Be assured that all words and opinions contained here are 100% my own.