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Monday, April 4, 2016

43 Parks in a Year: August

August had two trips which were born out of my determination to get to all the minor league parks in North Carolina and Tennessee. The first took me all the way across Tennessee to get Memphis and then back through Jackson, Nashville, and finally Elizabethton (already covered - the night it flooded). The second took me to the last two Appalachian League teams I had to get (already covered them) as well as Durham and Greenesboro.

Let's start with the Memphis Redbirds. Much like I said about Johnson City, the Cardinal sin of the Redbirds is that they are affiliated with the Cardinals. This, combined with the fact that they are waaaaaaaaay over on the other side of an extremely long state, probably means I won't go back to see them any time soon. However, I can't wave anyone else away. The stadium was very nice and was the best lit stadium I saw all summer. In fact, I'm not sure how the players were able to see fly balls with that much light glaring down on them. During the pregame, I went around to several souvenir shops they had set up looking for a logo baseball. All any of them had was a ball with pink flowers and curly-que script Red Birds on it. I want you all to know that I truly tried to find a better ball, but in the end that's the one which ended up in my display case. It wasn't hate for the Cardinals - No really it wasn't. Really.

The Jackson Generals are a rebrand of the horribly named West Tennessee Diamond Jaxx. It's AA and a nice little stadium the holds about 5-6,000. The mascot is a big bulldog with a WWII helmet that has three stars on it. The kids loved him and chased him all over the stadium. This is the only park all year long where I caught a foul ball. I was walking down the concourse when a foul flew past me. I turned and it bounced off the wall right into my hands. And, I almost got a second one in the 9th inning when it happened again, but a kid came running out of nowhere and leapt right in front of me to snatch it away.

The Nashville Sounds have a really sweet stadium. There's a big out door bar out on the right field fence (no last call at the 7th inning stretch here) and they have a monster scoreboard in the shape of a guitar which must be seen to be believed. The staff was extremely friendly and helpful and I spent a good portion of the game chatting with an usher whom I believe mainly had the job of keeping us hoi-palloi from sneaking into the better seats - not that I had a bad seat; there were just really nice seats down behind home plate which were all sold out by the time I bought mine. I've heard a lot of talk over the years throwing out Charlotte and Nashville as possible locations for MLB franchises and this visit convinced me that Nashville is the better option.

Everybody knows about the Bulls because of the movie, but it's not a single-A team anymore. Now, it's a AAA team in a really nice stadium. The place is decked out and they play up the movie connections in a big way. They have a bull above the outfield wall that promises a free steak if hit and the big screen on the outfield is constantly playing clips and purpose made audio is piped in done by actors in their movie roles. On top of that, the crowd wasn't your typical AAA crowd. It felt (at least where I was) a lot more like a lower level team where the fans knew the players personally and took it all seriously. And, the local fans are extremely loyal to their concessions people. Some poor guy came down pretending to sell peanuts (as what turned out to be part of a skit) and I thought for a second that they were going to ride him out of town on a rail for poaching. Not surprisingly, the souvenir store was the busiest I've seen short of an MLB park. And, I admit it, I bought a hat and jersey. All around, it is one of the better experiences I had that summer.

The Greensboro Grasshoppers had a decent stadium and were giving away a free hat to anybody who brought in a receipt which proved he had bought honey. I bought a $4 bottle of honey and got a $15 hat. Greensboro has a pretty good logo when it's just the grasshopper, but the intertwining of the "G" with it on most of their logos makes it mediocre. By the end of the game I was watching from an area down the right field line where there were some tables set up and I enjoyed the experience.

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