ballparks,  Tennessee

My night with the Tennessee Smokies – May 18, 2016

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.

In right field, there is Pioneer Porch, which is sponsored by a local heating and air conditioning company.

The Pioneer Porch in right field.

In left field, there is Calhoun’s at the Yard, which is sponsored by a local restaurant chain that first made its name in BBQ ribs.  Calhoun’s is part of the same restaurant group as Smoky Mountain Brewery, the Copper Cellar Family of Restaurants.

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, 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.

Final Score: Birmingham 5, Tennessee 0
Box Score