My night with the Memphis Redbirds – Aug. 10, 2012

After two games in two nights on my way to Stillwater, Okla., I capped my road trip with a stop in Memphis, Tenn., to take in a game at AutoZone Park.  I got to see the Memphis Redbirds host the Tacoma Rainiers at the start of the 35th anniversary of Elvis Week.  Beyond attending a game at a great ballpark and enjoying some delicious food, I went to the Friday night game because I wanted an Elvis bobblehead.

Not surprisingly, there was a large crowd waiting outside the gates to claim their own mini Elvis.

Main entrance to the ballpark.

The Redbirds run a block party on Friday nights, which featured a band performing covers of Elvis songs.  With $2 Coors Light drafts and good music, it’s a fun way to start the weekend.

A band performs in the entry plaza before the game.

The block party also featured an Elvis impersonator who took photos in front of a Graceland backdrop, so naturally I had to get my picture with him.

The King lives on!

If Elvis wasn’t enough, the Budweiser Clydesdales greeted fans outside the stadium.

The Budweiser Clydesdales along Third Street.

Like many ballparks constructed during the late 1990s to early 2000s, AutoZone Park opened in downtown in a previously rundown area.  City officials hoped the ballpark would revitalize the surrounding area, which from what I can see had mixed results.  The warehouses and other previously abandoned buildings provide a great backdrop for the ballpark.  However, it does not appear that much new construction has occurred around the ballpark.  Thanks to the warehouses beyond the outfield fans get an enjoyable view from behind home plate.

Memphis Redbirds left-handed pitcher Tyler Lyons delivers the first pitch to Tacoma Rainiers center fielder Darren Ford.

The grub

It was extremely difficult deciding upon food at the ballpark.  I had to choose between BBQ nachos (which I’ve now learned is way more common at Minor League stadiums than I expected), the BBQ bacon hot dog, the Big Dog, and chicken on a stick.  Many people around the stadium suggested the BBQ nachos, but I declined because I had eaten some a few weeks ago at Birmingham Barons game (read about it here).

After much debate and introspection, I opted for the Big Dog.  The Big Dog is a foot-long hot dog covered in chili, shredded cheddar cheese, topped with three large onion rings, and served with a fork and knife.

The appropriately named Big Dog.

Upon further review, this camera angle may not give the Big Dog its due respects.  The fork and knife were extremely useful in consuming the Big Dog because I would have otherwise ended up with a giant mess down my t-shirt.  I debated upon getting a dessert item afterward, but I was too full from the Big Dog.

Mugging with the mascot

I had quick success getting a shot with Memphis’s Rockey the Rockin’ Redbird.  Immediately after first pitch I found him on the concourse, and got my picture.

Me and Memphis Redbirds mascot Rockey the Rockin’ Redbird.

Ballpark atmosphere

The Redbirds did a great job with in-game presentation, as Memphis players had their headshots converted into Elvis-style headshots for the game.

The scoreboard in right field with special player headshots in honor of Elvis Week.

Elvis may not resonate with everybody, but he is still clearly a fan favorite in Memphis and an Elvis bobblehead helped drum up a big Friday night crowd.

The King is in the ballpark.

The sightlines are great from every seat in the ballpark, as I was easily able to capture a couple of action shots during the game.

A very minor downside of the stadium design is that the concourse does not wrap around the entire park.  As has become more common, the bullpens are beyond the outfield walls, which assuredly affected the ability to build a concourse that connected all the way around the park.  Fans are able to walk far enough around in left field that they can see the entire grandstand and some of the city’s skyline.

A view of the grandstand with the historic Peabody Hotel overlooking the ballpark.

Recapping the night

From the beginning to the end I enjoyed my experience at AutoZone Park.  The block party is a great way to start off Friday night, especially because I was just passing through and didn’t have to wake up early the next morning.  The music was great and the drink specials were worthwhile, so much so that I didn’t buy another beer at the ballpark.

I cannot rave enough about the delicious food at AutoZone Park.  As a matter of fact, there were almost too many tempting food options.  I wanted to sample the BBQ bacon dog, but I was too full from the Big Dog to even consider it.

In addition to the delicious food, the night’s promotion was outstanding.  Instead of just giving away an Elvis Presley bobblehead, the team incorporated Elvis into the entire night with the block party, the Elvis-themed player headshots, and more.  I know I missed something special the following night when the Redbirds honored the Negro Leagues, but I was thrilled with my Elvis bobblehead and the entire evening.

Final: Tacoma 1, Memphis 3
Box Score

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