Pure Game: Ten Minor League Teams Make their Homes in Tennessee
Here in Tennessee if you want college sports, few states have better bragging rights. Looking for major league football and hockey? Go to Nashville. Want NBA pro basketball, there is Memphis. As for baseball, the state is conveniently located between the Washington Nationals, Atlanta Braves and Saint Louis Cardinals. But there is more to the state and our national past time don’t write off Tennessee and the national past time TOO quickly. Ten minor league teams – some in places many Tennesseans, have never heard of – play ball in Tennessee and though Hunter-Wright Stadium ( home of the Kingsport Mets) 2,500 seats will never be confused with Turner Field ( home of the Atlanta Braves with just over 50,000 seats). The feel is still there – ice cream out of a plastic helmet, free fly balls to the lucky fans and John Fogerty’s “Centerfield” over the loudspeaker.
And of course, there is the game. First, a primer on the minors. The larger communities have “Double A” teams. This is the Nashville Sounds and Memphis Redbirds, which are affiliated with the Milwaukee Brewers and Saint Louis Cardinals, respectively. They each have about stadiums of about 15,000 seats- roughly a third the size of the major league fields and represent large metros without a major league team. Though often the minor leagues are referred to as “farm teams,” cities such as Indianapolis, New Orleans and San Jose have AA teams- hardly small towns.
What Major League is to Double A, Double A is to Triple A. Five thousand-seat Pringle Field is home to the Jackson Generals. The Chattanooga Lookouts and Tennessee Smokies ( who play in Kodak, TN – just East of Knoxville ) are also in this group.
Much smaller are the Rookie Teams which are phenomenal perhaps because of their numbers. In Tennessee five rookie teams – all in the Tri Cities area- play in a short season from late June to late August. The Johnson City Cardinals ended last season winning 66.2 percent of their games. The Elizabethton Twins were close with 61.8% of their games won.
Thursday, April 6 was the first day of the five month long season for the Double A and Triple A teams. Nashville and Memphis opened with away games- The Sounds were defeated by New Orleans and Memphis was the victor over Oklahoma City.
In Jackson the temperature was 60 degrees and breezy as the mayors of several West Tennessee towns threw out the first pitches. When the sun set on Pringle Park, the jackets and blankets came out making some of the fans look like they were there for a football game. It was 56 degrees when the Generals beat the Birmingham Barons 3- 2. In a couple months, the fans will be nostalgic for temperatures in the 50s. Jackson is a city small enough to where it seemed everyone in the park knew someone. For most of the crowd them game was as much about being a social get together as hard core Generals fans rooting to open the season with a win against the Barons.
And for baseball fans, this may be a way to see players on their way up. Today’s players in the minors could be at bat or on the mound in a few years at the World Series.
At Chattanooga’s AT&T field, the season opened with Tennessee against Tennessee- Lookouts versus the Smokies- for five days in a row.
Perhaps the scarcest thing at Pringles Field in Jackson was someone watching the game alone. The vast majority of the fans came as families or as couples. It is hard not to see why. Tickets to the minors- good seats at that- can be less than the price of most movies. Season tickets are going for twelve games at $99. That is $8.25 per game. A single reserved adult ticket for the game Monday night is listed at $10. Opening day for the Memphis Redbirds advanced ticket is $20 on level 2. However being in the middle of downtown one will probably need to pay for parking. But good seats without needing a loan from the 401k is an obvious plus of the minor leagues.
In the end if it is the game one loves it can be found in Tennessee, be you at New York’s Yankee Stadium or at Johnson City’s Howard Johnson Field. So you may not see Alex Rodriguez, but you will see the love of the game, the competition and a little bit of home town pride.
Hear the parking is better, too
Season opening at Jackson’s Pingle Park
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