Over the past four years I’ve made ballpark travel resolutions based primarily upon seeing Minor League Baseball games, and each year I recap the goals and assess how successful I was in accomplishing my goals. So without further ado, here is how I did with my 2018 ballpark travel resolutions.
I had previously seen all of Alabama’s Minor League teams play at home, but never during the same season. More importantly, setting the goal of seeing all three Alabama teams at home in one season was about my wife getting the opportunity to see each of the teams at home. In turn, this goal was about us as a couple seeing each team play at their home ballpark.
We accomplished this goal pretty easily, as we built our Memorial Day weekend plans around this travel resolution (read about the trip here). We made a trip down to Mobile and visited some nearby craft breweries before attending a Montgomery Biscuits game, and finished the trip with my wife’s first time at the Rickwood Classic.
It wasn’t the easiest resolution to keep, but I did get to see the Lexington Legends and Louisville Bats at home with my wife this past year. For the past seven years I’ve participated in the AP Human Geography Reading in Cincinnati, Ohio, in early June. As my wife had never been to Ohio, we made plans for her to fly into Cincinnati at the end of my work week, and for us to drive back through Kentucky on our way home to Alabama.
So I created an itinerary that would allow us to spend a few days in Louisville and Lexington en route to Alabama. After a great weekend in Cincinnati, we caught a Bats games in Louisville (read about it here) and a Legends games in Lexington (read about it here) before our trek back to Tuscaloosa.
When I make my travel resolutions, I try to be fairly realistic about what I can and cannot accomplish. I don’t always go for easily attainable goals, but I don’t go for the nearly-impossible-to-attain goals either. When I set the goal of attending a Potomac Nationals game during the Beer Bloggers Conference, I felt like it was something I could make happen. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), I moved to Japan shortly before the conference and was unable to attend. Naturally this meant that I did not get to attend a Potomac Nationals games this past season.
I’ve been to several Major League and Minor League ballparks before getting married last year. So when my wife & I got married, I wanted to start something new with her as I (and ultimately we) continued to visit more ballparks. So after being introduced to the MLB BallPark Pass-Port a few years ago, we decided to purchase the large, leather-bound book to chronicle our journey to attend games at all 30 Major League Baseball stadiums.
As we made plans for her to meet me in Cincinnati in early June, it was easy to get a stamp in our “big book.” I hoped to visit at least one other MLB ballpark in 2018, but our July trip to Central Europe and move to Japan prevented us from traveling more in the U.S. So I count this as a resolution being kept. However, I would have preferred adding at least one more MLB park this past season.
Recapping the Resolutions
See all three Minor League Baseball teams (Birmingham Barons, Mobile BayBears, and Montgomery Biscuits) in Alabama with my wife.
Attend a Lexington Legends and Louisville Bats game with my wife. Resolution kept.
Attend a Potomac Nationals game during the Beer Bloggers Conference. Resolution not kept.
Visit a new MLB ballpark with my wife and get a stamp in our passport book. Resolution kept.
I upheld three of my four ballpark resolutions for this past year. In hindsight, I don’t feel like my resolutions were particularly difficult to keep. However, I am please that I accomplished most of my baseball travel goals this year. Now to contemplate my New Year’s Resolutions for 2019.
People who enjoy baseball, and especially Minor League Baseball, regularly plan their summer vacations around visiting ballparks. These trips are often based around individual goals, whether it’s to visit new states or new ballparks or to watch top prospects or even the most ambitious goal of seeing all 159 active, affiliated Minor League baseball stadiums.
With good timing, visiting all of the Minor League ballparks in Alabama can be done in a matter of four days. I undertook this adventure earlier this summer with my wife Katie.
Currently, Alabama has three Minor League Baseball teams: the Birmingham Barons, the Mobile BayBears, and the Montgomery Biscuits. From north-to-south, the drive from Birmingham to Mobile is about four hours (266 miles). The drive between Mobile and Montgomery is about two-and-a-half hours (172 miles), and the drive from Montgomery to Birmingham is about one-and-a-half hours (90 miles). So for any baseball fan, this is an easy drive whether you start in Alabama or begin your trip in a neighboring state.
Planning this trip is a bit more difficult because a few years ago the Southern League, the Double-A league all three Alabama teams play in, switched from the traditional structure of three-game series to five-game series. So when one of the Alabama teams hosts another team from the state it can be difficult to visit all three ballparks in quick succession. Everybody has their own method for organizing schedules to create travel plans. I am a BIG fan of putting everything into an Excel spreadsheet so I can look at what teams are at home side-by-side.
I was fortunate that my goal of seeing all three teams play at home came together over Memorial Day weekend. Once the dates were settled, I started working on booking hotels in each of the cities and what other sights my wife Katie and I could see along the way.
As we lived in Tuscaloosa when planning the trip, we headed south to Mobile and worked our way north to see each of the teams. Due to the Southern League having an off-day on Monday, May 28 (Memorial Day), we were unable to see all three teams on consecutive nights. However, if schedules align it is quite feasible. So instead of trying to cram three ballparks into consecutive nights, we added a few extras days to our trip.
Game One: Mobile BayBears
We visited two breweries (Fairhope Brewing Co. and Serda Brewing Co.) and checked into our hotel in downtown Mobile before heading to Hank Aaron Stadium west of downtown near the junction of Interstate 10 and Interstate 65. I had previously attended a Mobile BayBears game in 2015, but this was Katie’s first visit to the stadium.
The stadium is located on reclaimed marsh land and is surrounded by a variety of shopping plazas, so there are plenty of parking spots at the ballpark that opened in 1997. The stadium is named after Mobile-native and Hall of Famer Hank Aaron, but a plaque outside the park honors all of the city’s native sons who have been elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. The plaque notes that Satchel Paige (Class of 1971, Willie McCovey (Class of 1986), Billy Williams (Class of 1987), and Ozzie Smith (Class of 2002) are also enshrined at Cooperstown alongside Aaron (Class of 1982).
After walking under the gate that proclaim “Hank Aaron Stadium,” fans are immediately greeted with a dose of the team’s history.
Many fans may overlook the BayBears Hall of Fame because it is on the left-hand side of the entrance to the ballpark, but it is worth checking out in addition to the banners highlighting former players who have achieved notable levels of success in Major League Baseball.
The stadium has a unique design because the luxury suites are not elevated, as they are at most ballparks. Instead, the luxury boxes are on the field level and infield seating for the general public is elevated about 20-feet above the field. So the view for spectators is quite different from what fans experience at other baseball games. With luxury suites underneath the general seating area, concession stands face the luxury suites.
Each concession stand carries the same items, so fans don’t have to go in search of specialty items available at only one stand (as can be the case at some Minor League stadiums). Fans will find all the typical ballpark items at the concession stands ranging from sunflower seeds and peanuts to hot dogs and hamburgers. The most unique items with local connections are a foot-long Conecuh sausage and Conecuh jambalaya. As I had ordered the Conecuh sausage on my previous visit, I opted for the jambalaya.
The best sight lines in the stadium are in Sections 106 or 107, which are immediately behind home plate in the seating bowl above the luxury suites. My seats down the first base line were enjoyable, but the view of home plate was cut off by the luxury suites. So my recommendation for buying seats would be to find something in either 106 or 107, assuming you actually want to watch the game action.
There are a lot of reasons to attend a Minor League Baseball game, and attending a game at Hank Aaron Stadium offers a particularly unique reason.
In 2010, the City of Mobile relocated the childhood home of Hall of Famer Hank Aaron to the ballpark’s site and restored it as a museum (read more here). Visiting Aaron’s childhood home and museum should be on the must-see list for any baseball fan. The museum is open to visitors Monday through Friday on non-gamedays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission costs $5 for adults, and $12 for children under 12 years-old. However, the museum is open during ALL games and admission is free.
After seeing some sights in Mobile, Katie and I headed to Montgomery for the second game of our road trip. Due to the Southern League’s schedule, we would not get to watch a baseball game until Tuesday evening. So we enjoyed a couple of days in town seeing some of the city’s sights.
Montgomery had a long history of supporting Minor League teams before the Biscuits arrived, but the last affiliated team to call the city home, the Southern League’s Montgomery Rebels, left in 1980. So the community welcomed a downtown ballpark that incorporated part of an old train shed when the Biscuits arrived in 2004.
The downtown location of Riverwalk Stadium means there is limited parking, but it is great if you’re visiting from out-of-town. Depending where you stay in downtown, walking to the ballpark takes between five and ten minutes. If you aren’t staying in downtown there is parking on streets around the stadium, but there are a few dedicated surface parking lots explicitly for the stadium.
When Katie and I arrived the team’s mascot, Big Mo, was just inside the gate greeting fans. So we quickly stopped to get our photo with him.
Big Mo may look like an aardvark or anteater or some other real or imagined animal, but he is NONE of these. The Biscuits call him, “A Biscuit Lovin’ Beast.”
Regarding biscuits there is NEVER a problem finding them at the park because there is a portable concession stand right behind home plate that sells biscuits, of course!
Maybe if for some unbelievable reason a fan doesn’t like eating biscuits, but instead wants to wear some biscuit paraphernalia then the team store is the place to go.
On the night I visited, I found some special “Greenbow Biscuits” gear for sale. The team did a special promotion and renamed themselves the “Greenbow Biscuits” in honor of the fictional hometown of Forrest Gump. However, I was more impressed by the biscuit-shaped “hat” you could purchase that was on display next to the Greenbow Biscuits jerseys. Naturally, there is a LOT of other team gear available in the store, too.
Like most Minor League baseball stadiums built since 2000, visitors to Riverwalk Stadium enter on the main level and walk down to the seating bowl. The concourse wraps around the ballpark, so Katie and I explored a bit before settling in to watch some of the game. The concession stands offer a variety of food options from the common ballpark fare like hot dogs and chicken tenders to the more unique like chicken wings (a special on Tuesday nights) and, of course, biscuits.
We didn’t get food on our first trip around the ballpark, but did find a great selection of craft beers. Down the right field line there is a bar with a large entertainment stage. The Club Car Bar is a full-service bar that offers liquor drinks and wine in addition to beer. There are over a dozen beers on draft in addition to several in cans and bottles. There is a solid representation of Alabama craft beers in bottles and cans plus brews from Fairhope Brewing, Ghost Train Brewing, Back Forty Beer, and Goat Island Brewing were on draft when we visited.
A portable stand by home plate also had a solid selection of craft beers with offerings from Alabama breweries like Back Forty, Fairhope, Folklore Brewing, Ghost Train, and Goat Island. Seeing these selections shows how much the craft beer industry has grown in Alabama over the past five years, as beer drinkers can support local breweries at the ballpark.
After picking up a beer at the Club Car Bar, Katie and I took our seats behind home plate and settled in to watch some of the game.
The design of the stadium is conducive to great sight lines everywhere, but it is particularly fun watching the trains pass by left field wall. The luxury suites are elevated above the seating bowl with six built into the old train shed and the remainder in a newer structure down the third base line.
Like my previous visit to Riverwalk Stadium in 2012 (read it here), it was a great time at the park. The stadium is beautiful with a great downtown location that makes it easily accessible to local fans and visitors alike. The promotions are unique, and fun. The food and beverage choices are diverse, and most importantly reflect location connections and options.
If you ask baseball fans what’s the oldest stadium in America many of them are likely to say either Fenway Park in Boston or Wrigley Field in Chicago, and both answers would be wrong. The oldest professional ballpark in the country is Rickwood Field in the West End neighborhood of Birmingham, Ala. It opened in 1910, two years before Fenway and four years before Wrigley.
Despite being the old professional baseball stadium in America, Rickwood Field hasn’t hosted a regular tenant since 1987 when the Birmingham Barons moved to suburban Hoover. However, since 1996 the Barons and Friends of Rickwood have hosted a throwback game at the stadium. The game usually takes places during the Barons’ first homestand in late May or early June immediately after Memorial Day weekend. I previously attended the 20th Rickwood Classic in 2015, but Katie badly wanted to attend the game so it was incorporated into our road trip plans.
Really ambitious baseball fans can attend a Barons’ game at Regions Field, which opened in 2013, in downtown Birmingham, and attend the Rickwood Classic on consecutive days. Usually the Barons’ schedule has them hosting a game at Regions Field the day before and after the Rickwood Classic, so it is possible to see all four Minor League ballparks in Alabama within a relatively short time frame.
Stories say that Rick Woodward, who owned the Birmingham Coal Barons in the early 1900s, used Philadelphia’s Shibe Park and Pittsburgh’s Forbes Fields as the models for his new ballpark.
Attending the Rickwood Classic is really like attending a game from another era. The starting lineups are written on a chalkboard shortly right as fans enter the park.
Beyond the chalk-written lineups, the game lacks many of the elements of a modern Minor League game. There are no promotional contests between innings and no walk-up music for batters or music between innings. The only music is played by a live band behind home plate that plays music fitting each year’s theme. The 2018 Classic celebrated the “Fabulous Fifties” when the Barons were affiliated with the New York Yankees (1953-56).
The game usually starts at 12:30 p.m. with gates opening at eleven o’clock, so visitors are provided ample time to wander around the ballpark and bask in its history. It is been painstakingly restored, including the manually-operated scoreboard in left field and the advertisements on the outfield walls that feature vintage-style ads of current companies and one dedicated to Woodward Iron Co. paid for by descendants of Rick Woodward.
After exploring the park, Katie and I settled into our general admission seats near home plate under the roof that was added to the ballpark in the 1920s.
One possible short-coming of attending the Rickwood Classic is the lack of unique food items at the game. The most “unique” items available would be the Polish or Italian sausage available at a tent outside the seating bowl where a grill cooks up a variety of encased meats. That’s not to say the food is bad because it is quite delicious, but fans will not find as many options at the Rickwood Classic as they would attending a Barons’ game at Regions Field. One modern convenience is that fans can find personal-sized pizza from Papa John’s at the park. Beer choices are limited to either Miller Lite or Yuengling, so sadly none of Birmingham’s delicious craft beers are available at the game either.
None of these limitations should affect the enjoyment of the game because the purpose of attending the Rickwood Classic is to bask in the essence of “old timey” baseball before technology became integrated into our enjoyment of the contest. Watching a baseball game in America’s oldest professional ballpark is about watching the sport in virtually its purest form.
Perhaps the greatest aspect of attending the Rickwood Classic is that fans are allowed onto the field after the game. At many Minor League stadiums only kids are allowed onto the field to run the bases after certain games. As part of being a “living museum,” fans are allowed onto the field to play catch, run the bases, or just lay down in the grass and reflect on the history that has occurred at the ballpark.
So after an extended weekend, Katie and I got to see all three of Alabama’s Minor League Baseball teams play at home. It took us five days to see all three teams, but the additional days provided us the opportunity to see and experience a bit more in each city. Whether you’re from Alabama or visiting from out-of-state there is a lot to see and do in each city, even if you’ve been to the cities before there is something to explore in each downtown area. There are several craft breweries and award-winning restaurants in Mobile, Montgomery, and Birmingham, along with a bevy of historic sights and contemporary museums to keep baseball fans of all ages engaged on a road trip to see Alabama’s Minor League teams.
As the summer travel season is almost upon us, my wife Katie and I will be making our first extended trip of the year over the Memorial Day weekend. The inspiration for our upcoming trip is baseball and craft beer, as we are setting out to see every Minor League Baseball team that plays in Alabama while also visiting more of the state’s craft breweries.
Our schedule is built around attending MiLB games, but we will assuredly be visiting craft breweries and seeing other local sights. Here is our schedule…
In addition to seeing games at every Minor League ballpark in the state, Katie will get to attend the Rickwood Classic. We regularly attend Barons games at Regions Field in the Southside District, but she has never been to the annual game at Rickwood Field. So this year, we are making it happen.
In addition to the baseball games, we plan on visiting the following breweries…
For good measure, we’ll also be exploring some Civil Rights sights in Montgomery and Selma, too.
To see everything together, you can check out the Google Map I created that combines two of my favorite interests and some of the other sights we plan to visit during our trip.
You can follow along with our trip on the usual social media accounts. I’ll be posting regularly on Twitter (@StevenOnTheMove) and Instagram (@StevenOnTheMove). If you enjoy craft beer, you can follow my check-ins on Untappd (StevenOnTheMove) by sending me a friend request.
Since 2014, I have posted travel resolutions for each new year. They typically related to traveling to see new Minor League Baseball stadiums. As I rung in the new year, I sat down and posted my resolutions. So here are my resolutions for the upcoming year.
Over the past six years, I have managed to see all of the MiLB teams in my current home state of Alabama. However, I have not seen them all with my now wife Katie. Since she moved to the Yellowhammer State just over a year ago, she has stated how much she wants to see all the teams in the state. In fact, it was a resolution I made last year, hoping to see all three teams in 2017. We’ve seen the Birmingham Barons on multiple occasions, as Regions Field is just about an hour away from our home. However, she wants to attend the Barons’ annual game at Rickwood Field.
So our goal for this year is to visit all three teams over Memorial Day weekend. Tentatively we’ll start our trip with a game on the Gulf Coast in Mobile, and then work our way north through Montgomery, and conclude our trip with the Rickwood Classic in Birmingham.
For the past few years, I’ve been made resolutions to see all three MiLB teams in Kentucky. Specifically, I made the resolution in 2016 and 2014, and resolved to see the Lexington Legends in 2015. I’ve fallen short each time, and so far have only seen the Bowling Green Hot Rods. I first saw them in 2014 by myself (read about it here) and next saw them in 2016 with Katie (read about it here), and enjoyed the game from the club level.
The plan this year is to see the Legends and Bats on the way back to Cincinnati, Ohio, after the A.P. Human Geography Reading, which is the first week of June. The game schedules line up to allow us to visit both ballparks after spending a few days in Ohio, so I’m pretty optimistic that we will get to visit these two ballparks.
Last year, I learned that there was a conference/convention for people who blog about beer. It was in the fall in 2017, so I was unable to attend because of my other commitments. However, I followed closely the announcement of the dates and venue for 2018, and decided that I would attend it this year. So while I will be going to Loudoun County, Va., primarily to network and learn more about beer blogging, I’m going to arrive a few days in advance of the Beer Bloggers & Writers Conference to visit a few MiLB teams in the area. There are a LOT of teams within a two-hour drive or so from the conference hotel. So I am not 100% sure what teams I will see just yet, but I felt like I should visit the Potomac Nationals because of the continuous rumors about the team moving into a yet-to-be-built stadium or potentially relocating.
Last summer, I started a new “collection” with my wife Katie. In an effort to keep us traveling and visiting new cities, I purchased the MLB BallPark Pass-Port. There are a variety of books you can purchase, but I opted for the “big book” that contains a set of pages for each of the 30 Major League Baseball stadiums. A friend I met through participating in the A.P. Human Geography Reading has been using the passport for years to track his family’s quest to visit all 30 parks, and finally last summer I decided to join the craze. It functions like a standard international passport that is stamped each time you enter a new country. The idea is to “stamp in” at each stadium and journal about your visit as a way to preserve your memories of visiting a new place. There is also a book that focuses on Minor League Baseball ballparks, which I purchased for Katie and I to chronicle our visits to MiLB stadiums since getting married. So we now have something new to do when we visit stadiums together.
My resolution about visiting a new MLB park this year is that Katie and I have planned our summer around a variety of events, and have tried to find a time to visit a new ballpark. Unfortunately, we have not been able to figure out a time to visit a new stadium. So I am hoping that making this resolution will set us on a path of making the time to visit a new park together in 2018. As much as I’d like to plan a long trip around visiting a new ballpark, I will be content to visit over a weekend for the sole purpose of getting another stamp in our “big book.”
Do you make travel resolutions for the new year? Are they about visiting countries, states, sports venues, or something else? I’d love to hear what others resolve to do related to travel each year. Share in the comments, and let’s keep each other on point to fulfill our travel resolutions for 2018.
As 2017 comes to a close, it’s time for the annual review of my New Year’s resolutions. Unlike people who resolve to lose weight or be kinder to others, which are all great goals, mine focus on travel and more specifically they focus on baseball travel.
While attending the American Association of Geographers (AAG) Annual Meeting in Boston in April, I organized a field trip to see the Portland Sea Dogs and got to meet Josh at the game. It was great getting to talk baseball and our travel experiences during the game. I wrote about my experience at Hadlock Field, too (read it here).
In addition to attending a Sea Dogs game, I also made it to a New Hampshire Fisher Cats game during the AAG Annual Meeting. Josh did not join me at the game in Manchester, but it was still a great visit. I stopped at Stark Brewing before going to the game, and got to watch a doubleheader because of bad weather that canceled the previous night’s game (read about it here).
It’s easy to assess whether I accomplished my first resolution, which is a resounding yes.
Although I did not blog about my trips, I did attend a few Birmingham Barons games this past season. My first visit was in April to celebrate my bachelor party with some friends. I also attended a game later in the season with my now wife Katie. Unfortunately, I was unable to make it to Mobile or Montgomery for a baseball game. So I can clearly acknowledge that I did not accomplish this resolution.
When I made the resolution to see the Biloxi Shuckers with Katie, I had no idea when I was going to make that trip. However, Katie and I were both intent on making it happen because we had planned to visit in 2016 to celebrate her birthday, but we had to cancel those plans at the last minute. But this year, we made the trip to Biloxi in mid-July after returning from our honeymoon to Southeast Asia. We spent a long weekend on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and visited a number of breweries in addition to attending a Shuckers game. I blogged about my brewery visits (here) and wrote about my visit to MGM Park (read it here). So clearly I accomplished this goal.
Following the trip to the Mississippi Gulf Coast, Katie and I visited family in Atlanta and made it to an Atlanta Braves game. Although we spent several hours exploring The Battery Atlanta and having drinks at the Terrapin Taproom & Fox Brother BBQ, we did not get to explore much of the ballpark because of an extensive rain delay. So I have opted not to blog about my visit to the ballpark because I feel like it was an incomplete visit. However, I firmly feel that I accomplished my resolution to attending a Braves game at SunTrust Park.
Recapping the Resolutions
Unlike previous years, it is pretty easy to determine the success of accomplishing my 2017 resolutions.
#1: See a New Hampshire Fisher Cats or Portland Sea Dogs game with Josh Pahigian. Goal accomplished.
#2: See all three Alabama MiLB teams (Birmingham Barons, Mobile BayBears, and Montgomery Biscuits). One of three stadiums visited. Goal unaccomplished.
#3: See a Biloxi Shuckers game at MGM Park with Katie. Goal accomplished.
#4: See an Atlanta Braves game at SunTrust Park. Goal accomplished.
On a grand scale, I accomplished three of four resolutions (0.750). If I measured each individual component of my resolutions, I accomplished four of six objectives (0.666). Either way, I feel good about upholding my resolutions for the past year.
The newest stadium in the Southern League opened nearly two years ago to much fanfare, as the stadium endured numerous construction delays and the team played its first 25 home games on the road at a number of different ballparks (read more here). So I was thrilled when I finally got to attend a Biloxi Shuckers home game this summer. However, I did not plan the date to attend the game. My wife Katie scoured the Shuckers promotional scheduled picked the date because the team was giving away a bobblehead commemorating outfielder Brett Phillips chasing away an opossum (see video here).
So after visiting Biloxi Brewing Company, which is just a few blocks from the stadium, we walked over to the ballpark to make sure we were in line to secure our bobbleheads. So while we waited, I got a few pictures of the main entrance.
There were significantly more people at the north entrance to the ballpark, but the more interesting view on that side of the stadium was the outfield gates that were adorned with images of former players.
Once we entered the stadium and claimed our bobbleheads (more on that later), we walked around the concourse checking out food options. However, I was most concerned about getting a photo of the game’s starting lineups.
After having some beers before walking to the stadium, neither Katie nor I were particularly hungry. So we checked out the team store and I took advantage of the opportunity to capture a few pictures of the visiting Birmingham Barons and the home Shuckers warming up before the game.
While watching warm ups we opted to get a beer at the Buena Vista Beer Garden, which is along the right field line close to the home team’s bullpen. There are 24 beers available on draft there, which is the most available at any one location in the stadium. Half of the 24 taps are dedicated to local and regional craft breweries with Abita, Lazy Magnolia, and Biloxi Brewing each having four taps at the stand.
There are other spots in the stadium where you can get beer, and specifically craft beer. For example, the True Blue Brew Crew stand and The Sand bar both feature a selection of macrobrews and craft beers. These two spots are along the first base line close to the team store. So with drinks in hand, we ventured to our seats and I waited to take my usual photo of the game’s first pitch.
After capturing the first pitch, I decided to capture a few more photos of game action before returning to my seat.
After watching a few innings of play, Katie and I decided to consider our food options and decided to examine the concession stands along the concourse. While we opted to visit each stand to find out what they offered, the Shuckers also have a flip board with a map of “Food Finds” that helps fans find specific items.
So what did we see as we explored the concourse and checked out our food options…
When it comes to food, the Shuckers do a superb job. As you can see from the previous photos, they ballpark has all the baseball staples like hot dogs, chicken tenders, and even pizza. Fans can also find more local flavors like po’ boys and local BBQ. My wife and I asked people before we went to the game what we should eat and we asked some of the employees for suggestions, and we got a LOT of recommendations. So it was difficult to decide what to eat because we didn’t keep hearing the same chorus of eat at a particular stand or order a particular item.
Considering that we came for the weekend to enjoy the beach, Katie and I felt like the natural choice was to order seafood. Choosing seafood led us to the Aw Shucks Gulf Grill, but then the choices got more difficult. The menu includes garlic butter oysters, jambalaya, red beans and rice stuffed Cajun sausage, beer brats, and grilled boudin. We struggled to choose just ONE item, but thankfully we didn’t have to pick just one. We ordered the Grand Slam Gulf Grill!
Everything in the Grand Slam Gulf Grill was fantastic. We probably ordered AND ate way too much food, but it was by far the best food option at the park to split between two people. By far the best part of our dining experience was that we ate something that is genuinely unique to Biloxi.
After eating and becoming stuffed on all that great seafood, I felt like it was appropriate to walk around a bit and get a few more pictures of the stadium to show off the luxury suites, kids’ area, and the grandstand.
After walking off some of the food, I remembered that I had not taken a picture of the item that Katie and I claimed when we walked in the gates: the Brett Phillips and opossum bobblehead.
The bobblehead itself is great, and I’m excited to have it in my collection. However, it’s also cool because the bobblehead includes an audio recording of Brett Phillips laughing. Phillips’s laugh is so notorious that it has been the focus of multiple articles (read one here).
Shortly after photographing the bobblehead, we got to watch a staple of Shuckers’ games: the Crawfish Boil Race. It features a race between Spud (a potato), Kernel Cobb (an ear of corn), and Crawford (a crawfish).
But something different was afoot this night…
As we watched the end of the Crawfish Boil Race, I hoped to get a picture with the team’s seagull mascot, Schooner. Sadly we remained elusive until we were leaving the stadium.
It’s the first time I’ve taken a picture with a mascot outside the stadium after the game had ended, but getting that photo with the team mascot is always an important part of enjoying the full gameday experience.
There’s no doubt the Biloxi Shuckers provide a great gameday experience at MGM Park. From the start of our visit with free parking at the parking deck next to the Beau Rivage Resort & Casino to a unique giveaway item to excellent local beer and food options to fun in-game entertainment like the Crawfish Boil Race to getting our photo taken with the team mascot at the end of the game, we enjoyed the quintessential Minor League Baseball experience along the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
I’m now into year three of writing baseball-travel resolutions (read 2015’s resolutions here; read 2016’s resolutions here). These resolutions/goals mostly focus on attending Minor League Baseball games, but sometimes I add a Major League Baseball goal.
I’ve previously aimed to see all the MiLB teams in Alabama, and setting the same goal this year. I have seen the Barons (read post here), BayBears (read post here), and Biscuits (read post here) at different times since I started blogging about my stadium visits, but have never visited all three ballparks during the same season. My fiancée Katie has been keen on the idea of seeing the Biscuits and BayBears, so I decided it would be a good goal to try and see all three teams during the upcoming season as we hopefully visit more of Alabama’s craft breweries.
Last August, Katie and I had hoped to visit the Mississippi Gulf Coast and attend a Biloxi Shuckers game, but we were unfortunately unable to accomplish that trip because of other commitments. As she loves the beach and thankfully enjoys baseball, too, I’ve pitched the idea to her that we could visit Biloxi this summer for some beach time while also watching the Shuckers and visiting some of Mississippi’s craft breweries.
Last year, I resolved to see the Atlanta Braves play a game during their final season at Turner Field. So it seemed appropriate and kind of obvious that I’d resolve to see the Braves play a game during their first season at SunTrust Park this year.
Now that I have my four baseball travel resolutions set for 2017 I have to start planning and make them a reality. I accomplished two of my four resolutions for 2016, and hopefully will be more successful this year.
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.
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.
In 1996, a tradition was born that returned baseball to downtown Birmingham, Ala. The Friends of Rickwood and Birmingham Barons staged the first Rickwood Classic, which brought the team from its suburban home at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium (read about my visit here) to downtown for a single game. Since 2013, the Barons have played in downtown at Regions Field (read about my visit here), but have continued to play the Rickwood Classic.
This year marks the 20th Rickwood Classic, but my first time attending the game. Each classic commemorates a different era of Barons history with this year’s event commemorating the 1948 Barons, who won the Southern Association title and their fourth Dixie Series crown.
Rickwood Field opened in 1910 after Barons owner Rick Woodward built a concrete and steel structure to mimic the grandeur of Philadelphia’s Shibe Park, and incorporated elements of Pittsburgh Forbes Field. The stadium was placed on the Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage in 1991, and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1993.
After getting some photos of the exterior I entered the gate with my friend to see this scene…
Once fans are through the turnstiles they quickly encounter the starting lineups, which you can see a glimpse of in the preceding picture. The complete lineups are below.
In addition to hosting the Rickwood Classic, the Friends of Rickwood maintain the field as a “living museum” that is open during the weekdays for fans to explore. To aid fans on their self-guided tour on weekdays there are pamphlets at the ballpark.
So after grabbing a brochure with about 45 minutes before the game was to start, I explored the ballpark and took some photos.
One of the best features of the Rickwood Classic is seeing the Barons, and usually the visiting team, dress in period uniforms matching that year’s theme. For the 20th Rickwood Classic, the Barons wore replica uniforms from 1948, which was also the theme of the 1st Rickwood Classic in 1996.
After exploring for a bit, my friend and I took our seats and I got in position to get a shot of the first pitch.
In addition to the period uniforms the outfield walls are adorned with retro advertisements, which adds a unique touch to the setting.
After watching the first inning from behind home plate, my friend and I moved to a spot down the first base line. It was a great spot that provided some great angles for pictures of the pitchers and batters.
I explored down the third base line and got some pictures of the grandstand and the outfield walls, too.
Finally my friend and I decided to get something to eat, just as the 7th inning began. One plus and minus of the Rickwood Classic is the limited concession items. It’s nice that you have much simpler options that many newer ballparks, even the Barons’ regular home – Regions Field. However, it means some people’s taste buds don’t get to explore quite as much. Down the first base line there was a large grill featuring hot dogs, Polish sausage, and Italian sausage. So my friend and I opted to head there when our hunger finally forced us to eat.
Despite thoroughly enjoy the stadium, the atmosphere, and the experience the Barons were not able to deliver with a win. The Suns prevailed 8-2 as first baseman David Adams went 5-for-5 with three runs scored while second baseman Danny Black went 2-for-4 with three RBIs.
After the game fans are allowed onto the field, which is not something that usually happens at any baseball stadium. Yes, many Minor League teams allows kids to run the bases, but that is usually controlled and often limited to one day a week. At the Rickwood Classic, all fans are invited down to the field.
As my friend and I were leaving the stadium we saw the home team locker room was open, and were invited in to check it out. The team had already left, which allowed us to explore the entire space and see the manager’s office recreated from 1948.
Without a doubt, the Rickwood Classic and Rickwood Field itself definitely deserve all the praise they receive. It’s a well-preserved historic field, and the game recreates that nostalgic experience. Attending the Rickwood Classic has been on my baseball bucket list for a few years, and I’m extremely thankful that I was able to experience it. Whether you live near Birmingham or not, it’s definitely worth the trek to the West End neighborhood to explore the ballpark.
I visited the Gwinnett Braves in July (read about my visit here), but did not succeed in visiting the other three teams. I spent a majority of my summer working on my dissertation, and did not get to visit Augusta, Rome, or Savannah. So I was only 1-for-4 in completing this resolution. Now that my dissertation is completed, I hopeful will visit those teams during the 2015 season.
I was 2-for-4 with my goal of visiting all the Minor League teams in Alabama. I visited the Birmingham Barons in early May (read about visit here), and visited the Huntsville Stars in August while meeting up with a gang of former Stars coworkers (read about visit here). I did not make it to Mobile or Montgomery though. Again, working on my dissertation prevented me from fulfilling some of my travel goals for 2014.
I actually accomplished this resolution. On the first day of the AAG Annual Meeting, I made a trek from downtown Tampa to Clearwater for a game between the Threshers and Tampa Yankees (read about visit here). The game and meeting Phinley lived up to expectations. I went on a Tuesday night, but the Threshers had a beer special so I enjoyed a few Yuengling lagers.
I was 1-for-3 on completing this resolution. I saw my first Bowling Green Hot Rods game (read about visit here), but did not get to visit the Lexington Legends or Louisville Bats. I had hoped to visit the Bluegrass region before going to Cincinnati for the AP Human Geography Reading, but at the risk of sounding like a broken record I did not get to do that because I was working on my dissertation.
Of my four resolutions, I only completed one. Maybe I was too ambitious with my resolutions, but at least I tried. Tallying up the individual components of my resolutions, I was 5-for-12, which depending upon how you look at it is amazing or decidedly mediocre. It means I accomplished 41.6 percent of the tasks to complete all four resolutions. By normal standards of excellence that’s not good, but by baseball standards I’d be batting .417 which is Hall of Fame caliber stats.
Ultimately, I’m disappointed I didn’t complete more of my resolutions, but I knew that some of them were overly ambitious. Regardless of my results, I am glad that I set some travel resolutions to keep myself motivated and my mind churning with ideas of places to visit. I will set some travel goals for 2015 and post about those within a few weeks.