A GREAT view of the field at AT&T Park in Chattanooga during their pre-season open house!

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Huntsville Stars, AL

I know Huntsville Alabama is a good drive from Kentucky, but it is close enough. They have the rocket center, which is cool. They have the Stars too, but the town seemed to not be supporting it much. In the town's defense, the stadium is the oldest one in it's league. It is outdated. It is far from unacceptable though. Its older, it doesn't have all of the attractions that many newer stadiums have, but it is nice. Watching the game, I didn't stop and think once about the stadiums age. If this stadium, and this AA team were in my town, I would try to go out and support them every night I could. When we got to town for our game, we drove on over to the stadium. We roamed around a bit looking for a box office, or someone to ask about getting to see the field. The staff was very cool, informal and accommodating. We learned that last nights game was rained out, which meant extra baseball for us tonight! It was buy one get one free ticket night! We were glad we got there early too, as we learned gates open an hour early, and the game started an hour earlier too. The freebies didn't end there. It was also card strip night. In my opinion, the most underrated promotion in baseball. I love card strip night. Plus, all of the players on the cards were at a table to sign their image. On the way in, we talked for a while with the lady taking tickets. We were the 1st ones in, with another couple behind us.There was no crowd. We had plenty of time to chat with players and staff there. Oh, and there were more benefits to coming on this night. They were giving out free beef jerky! Seriously! I did not make this up!
They had a little souvenir stand selling the basics. No store, just a booth.
As the game began, there were maybe 20 people there for the 1st pitch. Seriously. I walked around taking pictures, checking the place out, etc. I felt like I had my own private ball game going on. Check out the picture I put up, thats during an actual game, not batting practice or anything! Count the people there.
I was setting in the upper area behind home plate trying to get a good, full picture of the park. The announcer had his window open. I was listening to the radio announcer calling the game live for about an inning. It was so quit in the park you could hear coaches instructing their players. Unfortunately, the rain came again on this night. The umps tried hard not to cancel or delay the game, but they had to. We waited it out for some time though.

Why should you go to a Stars game? If you are driving through Huntsville, you should see the Stars because nothing else is going on. These guys put a great product on the field, and they take care of their fans. They have fun promotions that I have mentioned before. If you have a couple of days in Huntsville, see a game one day, and go to the rocket center the next. I might be tempted to go the rocket center during the day, and try to hit 2 games in the evenings. If you are in Huntsville for 3 days, think of an excuse to go home early.

Why should you not go to a Stars game?
I didn't notice an on field announcer/MC. Wait. Let me put that in the "Why should you go" section.

Florence Freedom, KY

I have enjoyed the Frontier League for some time. This is a cool league that seems young, but it has been around for a very long time in terms of pro-baseball leagues. Sadley, the only original team in its original location (the Paints) from the leagues 1st day has moved for the 09 season. Thats sad, but it says a lot about the longevity of the league.

The Freedom started paying near Cincy in 03. In 04 they started playing their home games at Champion Window Field which is right off of I-75. They have a huge electronic billboard/sign that is visible from 75.
The team has had some notable managers (Tom Browning and Pete Rose Jr. for a very short period of time). Check out this great web site on the history of the team: http://flhistory.gofreeserve.com/

the team
Honestly, the Frontier League is considered to be about the same level as single A. The players are at the lowest level of pro-baseball. Many of them will get dropped quick too. A good FL player can stick around for up to 4 years, or, hopefully, they can get picked up to play in affiliated baseball. A player with a low batting average or high ERA can get booted very quickly. The games in Florence can get pretty sloppy at times, and I mean that in a very good way. These are scrappy players, with a lot to prove. They are eager to run, throw, and make big plays. They do not play as catiously as the guys in the big ball park up the road. You are going to see some errors, stolen bases, and some wreckless plays. For some reason, I have seem more managers tossed in this league too! I love that!

the stadium
Champion Window Field is a very comfortable park near Cincy and in Florence. I have never been hassled by the staff here, and the atmosphere is very relaxed. The young players are flattered when you ask for an autograph. Ushers aren't constantly telling people to get back to their seats. It's almost like a casual party here.
Lat year, the Freedom added a second mascot, Belle, who has been known to encourage kids to dance on the dugouts. Belle is a big pink oversized muppet (I love huge muppet mascots!). She is almost a show herself. She is extrememly animated, and may be just a little less showy than the Chicken or Birdzerk. Belle is worth the price of admission herself. Liberty, the other mascot has been around a bit longer. Plus, with the smaller minor league crowds, and the way Belle and Liberty work the room, there will be plenty of time for a photo op at the game you attend.
With the exception of the "Florence Ya'll" water tower, there is not much of a skyline view in the area. Thankfully, the park was built facing away from the city. There is a very nice, relaxing, green "skyline" over the oufield wall. You almost feel like you are in a much more rural area watching the game.
For $6 you can get a lawn seat. Bring a blanket and you are set for a very relaxing evening. You can get a great seat anwhere in the park for about $10 or less.
Something else that I really appreciate about this team is their gift shop. They have a nice selection of merch, with better prices than most lower level teams. I think a T-shirt is usually in the $12 range. They don't gouge here.

the area
I love the area around the park. They have the famous Florence Mall, which is a fun place to kill time before a game. There's a cool craft store and Toys-R-Us there too. I love the Qdoba in the area. I walked up to the door about 15 minutes after they had closed, and turned around to leave. The manager came out and told me and my friend that he would be happy to help us out, even offering to let us stay in the dining room. The Barnes & Nobles has a nice selection of regional books.

why go
Going to a Freedom game is very affordable. Plus, these guys appreciate your support. This can be said of any minor league team, but especially of ones in the Frontier League; you get a LOT more for your money at a Freedom game than at a Major League game.

why not go
My wife can think of some reasons not to go, but she is wrong! Wait, don't tell her I said that. Seriously, Florence is a nice family day trip.

Lexington Legends, KY

The Lexington Legends have been around for several years now. They have been a single A team for the Houston Astros the entire time.

The Stadium
Applebee's Park is a very nice, clean place to see a game. It has a bit of a horse stable theme going on. It feels very Kentucky. There are plenty of concessions. I personally like the guy cooking the pulled pork sandwiches near the batting cages. Kettle corn is big here too.Outside of the park before games usually has a festive feel to it. More festive in general than a single A park. Cornhole and live music are common. Chipotle has given out chips and salsa before games in the past.
The park is comfortable. There are very affordable bleacher seats in the outfield. There are some grassy lawn seats, but the lawn areas aren't as big as I have seen in many other parks.
The park can hold 6-7,000 people. It does have a bit more of a formal feel to it than some parks. Some may like this. There is the Maker's Mark Club. It is a nice restaurant that tries to sell itself in an exclusive way. You need a special sticker to walk through. There are a ton of ushers too who are generally friendly, but they can get in the way. I appreciate ushers getting people to their correct seat, and asking people not in the right one to move along. I have had one tell me TWICE that I was setting in the wrong seat and ask me to move. I had to pull my ticket out to show her that I was indeed in my correct seat.
The park also has staff walk around holding up add signs during the game.
The Legends have their main mascot, Big L. He is very likable, and has been known to pull pranks on unaware fans. Big L is a bit more mischivious than most mascots.

The area
There is not a lot going on around outside of the park. If you are coming in from out of town, I would suggest staying downtown.

Why go
The Legends offer a very nice, family friendly atmosphere. I know a lot of people who go to games who aren't even baseball fans. They have some fun, affordable promotions too, like quarter hot dog night (lines can get long for these promotions though). When UK is not playing basketball, a Legends game is about the most exciting thing going on in town.

Why not go
I am a bit biased here. The Legends are my home team, and I love them. This is my team. I probably went to more than 30 games last year. I almost hate to say anything bad about them. If you hate the loud announcer DJ types you might not want to go. Their announcer is more likable than most, but he will be talking/announcing in between half innings. They have an obnoxious crew that helps host between inning contests. There is the very annoying "which section can scream the loudest" contest.
Oh, I love Big L, but the team needs a big muppet mascot too. You know you love them!

Dayton Dragons, OH

The Dayton Dragons are a single A affiliate of the Reds. They are, without a doubt, one of the coolest teams in sports. They're model should be ripped off by every other minor league team everywhere. I love my former home teams, the Scrappers, the Captains, and others. I love my current home team, the Lexington Legends. I must take my #21 Roberto Clemente hat off to the Dragons though. These guys HAVE PERFECTED minor league baseball.

The Stadium
Fifth Third Field was built in 2000. It hold over 8,000 people. It is packed every game. Seriously, check their web site. These guys sell out every season. They sell out BEFORE the season starts!
This is a great park too. Perfect. It is in a cool downtown setting.
Its a nice park, they keep it clean and orderly. The fans are in to the game too.
The team has 2 mascots, Heater and Gem, male and female dragons. They are all over the stadium. They look cool too. No raggedy costumes here. You will want a photo opp. They also have the one-eyed ogre, Wink. He is in an inflatable suit, like a Zooperstar. My favorite though is "Roof Man." A very non-traditional mascot, he is a guy in a super hero type costume who throws t-shirts off the roof.
Check out the score board too. It is amazing. It is big, and those Dragons breathe fire when one of the home team hits one out.
There is a ton of merchandise in their gift shop too. I think other teams are starting to realize cool logos and mascots sell well. Is there anything more cool than a baseball player dragon t-shirt?

The area
I think Dayton is a cool city. The park is near the riverfront. I think this is a nice, older downtown area, though some improvements are needed.
I love the air force museum here too. It is huge! A nice day at the Air Force Museum, and an evening at a ball game sounds perfect.

Why go
Unless the Air Force Museum has an astronaut speaker, or something really exciting going on, the Dragons are the thing to do in Dayton. You are going to have fun.

Why not go
Because you can't get tickets! Seriously, does anyone have a hook up?? I have had a heck of a time scoring tickets to games here. The stadium is perfect and cozy, but I wouldn't mind if they added more seats so I might be able to get tickets!