My night with the Montgomery Biscuits – Aug. 8, 2012

On my way back to Stillwater for the school year I took a somewhat scenic route to watch some baseball games, and see some sights along the way. My first stop on the way from Georgia was Tuskegee, Ala., where I saw Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site and Tuskegee Institute National Historic Site. Both sites were especially compelling because of the role they played within American – especially African-American – history.  However, back to one of the primary reasons I took circuitous route to return to graduate school: attending a Montgomery Biscuits baseball game at Riverwalk Stadium.

The stadium is built into a former railroad building, which is clear from the signage at the corner of Coosa and Tallapoosa streets. The building still bears decorative signage dating from 1898 as home of the Western Railway of Alabama.

Main entrance to Montgomery’s Riverwalk Stadium incorporates part of a former train shed.

The view from home plate does not provide fans with a spectacular view, but there is a nice scoreboard in left center and fans get a nice, open view of the field.  The signage in the outfield isn’t obsessive, so fans can watch the game for the sake of watching a game without being inundated with advertising.

Montgomery Biscuits right-handed pitcher Merrill Kelly delivers the first pitch of the game to Jackson Generals third baseman Francisco Martinez.

The crowd was almost nonexistent when I went to the game, and I’m not sure why.  It was a Wednesday night in August, so it’s not a prime game-night but I expected the crowd to be better than what I saw.  Official attendance listed the gathering at 1,681.  I won’t argue about attendance figures, but there were not that many folks in the stands from what I saw.

Anyway, onto the food.  With a team called the Biscuits and being in the South, I had to try the biscuits at the ballpark.  The biscuit stand is on a wide concourse immediately behind home plate, so you can’t miss it.  I had a few options for my biscuits, but settled on plain biscuits for a handful of reasons.  #1: I didn’t want to eat JUST biscuits, so I couldn’t get chicken biscuits or biscuits and gravy and feel like I could eat something else.  #2: I almost went for the strawberry shortcake biscuits, but passed when I learned that the strawberries were not fresh and came from a can.  By default that meant I had to get plain biscuits and cover them with butter and either syrup or jelly.

Biscuits with butter and syrup.

Growing up in the South I’ve had biscuits with honey or jelly quite often, but I’d never had biscuits with syrup until this night.  I faced a difficult decisions: Alaga syrup or Yellow Label.  After taking into consideration some sage advice from the veteran biscuit seller and sampling the two varieties, I opted to mix and match.  So I combined the yellow label with the original cane flavored syrup for a delicious treat.

For my sustenance I opted for a foot-long red hot sausage at the Sausage Shack.  I love encased meats, so I had to go for the locally-made sausage.  I’ve never heard of Conecuh before, but I was very pleased with their meat.  Yes, insert inappropriate meat joke.  I got my sausage topped with grilled peppers and onions and added sauerkraut before topping it with just a touch of yellow mustard.

A foot-long Conecuh red hot sausage.

I also tried another beer from Back Forty Beer Co., which is based in Gadsden, Ala.  I tried their Truck Stop Honey Brown Ale previously (read my visit to Regions Park for more details), so I decided to stick with the local craft brew and branched out with their Naked Pig Pale Ale.  It was a good pairing with the spicy sausage, and I’m glad I stuck with a brand I already knew.

The food I missed out on were Dreamland BBQ nachos, but I had them at Regions Park in Hoover, Ala., a few weeks prior to this trip.  So I didn’t feel the need to sample them again, but many folks told me to try something from the South of the Border cart because it was the best bang for my buck.  So maybe next time I’ll experiment with Mexican food at an Alabama ballpark.

Food is always great, especially when it’s unique to the ballpark or region.  However, I think the best moment of the game was getting my photo taken with Biscuits mascot Big Mo – the biscuit lovin’ beast.  I don’t know how to describe him, and some friend said he looked like an anteater.  I guess it just goes to show you that some creatures are beyond description, and you just have to love them for what they are.

Me with Montgomery Biscuits Big Mo.

The game moved along fairly quickly as the Biscuits rallied in the 9th to claim a 2-1 victory over the stunned Jackson Generals.  A dribbler down the first base line left the pitcher and first baseman confused as to who should cover the base and who should field the ball, so the runner on second raced around the bags as the batter dove head-first and under the tag of the first baseman to give the home team the win.  It was a great finish to the game!

Regardless of how the game’s score, I loved my experience at Riverwalk Stadium.  It is a great location in downtown with ample street parking nearby, and it wonderfully incorporates an old building into a newer structure.  To top it off, the Biscuits’ staff plays up the aspects that make people fall in love with Minor League Baseball.

Final: Jackson Generals 1, Montgomery Biscuits 2
Box Score

My night with the Birmingham Barons – July 21, 2012

For the first time in 19 years I went to a minor league baseball game in Hoover, Ala., and saw the Birmingham Barons host the Montgomery Biscuits in Southern League action.  My first visit to the stadium now known as Regions Park came in August 1993 with my dad, and sadly I don’t recall that visit to the park.  Except for some souvenirs I have little recollection about that game.  However, I made sure to document my most recent visit to the stadium previously known as Hoover Metropolitan Stadium.

I got great seats on the day of the game right behind home plate an hour before first pitch.  I don’t know if sales are slow because it is the last season the Barons will play at Regions Park or a reflection about the team’s overall attendance trend.  Regardless, I had great seats on a humid night.

Main entrance to Regions Park (formerly Hoover Metropolitan Stadium).

The stadium opened in 1987, which is obvious from the massive concrete grandstand, and lacks any special charm despite attempts to renovate the entrance.  The flags were at half mast because of the shooting in Aurora, Colo., the previous day.  Whether at half mast or not, the flag poles disrupt a fan’s ability to read the name of the park at its main entrance.  The souvenir shop is just feet past the gate, but is very small and has just the minimal amount of novelties for sale.  I purchased a Babe Ruff doll for my friend’s two-year-old son, which I know he’ll enjoy.  However, I was disappointed that the store did not have the replica wooden bat I wanted.  I hoped to find a natural-colored mini bat for my collection, but the store only had red and black varieties.  The team did the best with a not-so-good situation, but it certainly lacked the usual appeal that other souvenir store possess.

After finding our seats, we settled in for the start of the game as I wanted to be sure to capture the first pitch.

Birmingham Barons left-handed pitcher Spencer Arroyo delivers the first pitch to Montgomery Biscuits shortstop Hak-Ju Lee.

I had mixed results with the food and drink selection.  Three concession stands had the same items, except for the Stadium Pub & Grill.  The decor was the same as the other stands, but it featured Dreamland BBQ nachos.  The nacho chips were covered in melted cheese, pulled pork, bbq sauce, sour cream, onions, diced tomatoes, and jalapenos.  I’ve seen BBQ nachos at other ballparks (Dickey-Stephens in North Little Rock and Pringles Park in Jackson, Tenn.), but these were something to brag about.  I complemented the nachos with a 16-oz. Shock Top, and felt full but not stuffed.

Dreamland BBQ Nachos, which are nachos topped with pulled pork, Dreamland BBQ sauce, queso, pickled jalapeños, salsa fresco, and diced onions.

There were a few specialty stands like Mojitos Mexican Grill and Barber’s (an ice cream stand), but the thing that stood out for me was the premium beer stand along the first base line.  It has a variety of local microbrews, but the most shocking thing was the inclusion of Rolling Rock as a premium beer.  I’ve had Rolling Rock on many occasions, but I’d never classify it as a premium beer!  At least the Truck Stop Honey Brown Ale I drank hit the taste buds right.

As I watched the game, I made sure to capture a few photos of the seating bowl.  Although the stadium has undergone numerous renovations, as it regularly hosts the Southeastern Conference’s annual baseball tournament, the ballpark clearly does not have the amenities of newer parks.

The in-game entertainment was nothing special, but the postgame fireworks show compensated for any shortcomings of the in-game crew.  The entertainment was not bad, but nothing stood out about the promotions or contests.  It was also difficult to hear the public address announcer, so my friend was not clear on the name of the female mascot.  The mascot names were cute, but Babe Ruff and Lillie Mays could have contributed more to the entertainment experience.

Despite some of the shortcomings of my experience, the fireworks were a great finish to the game.

Fireworks finale on a summer night.

Granted it is difficult to leave a ballpark unhappy after watching a fireworks display.

Final: Montgomery 5, Birmingham 1
Box Score