Monday, August 19, 2013

Smokies Park

All photos of Smoky Mountains and Smokies Park available on Flickr.

I stopped at one more game on the way home from Phil's wedding - the Tennessee Smokies of the Double-A Southern League in Kodak, Tennessee, a suburb east of Knoxville.  After a quick stop at Waffle House #2 of the trip, the drive was a scenic 5 1/2 hours from North Carolina through the Smoky Mountains into Tennessee.  The last 100 miles of North Carolina in particular were very pretty and I snapped as many pictures as I could through my windshield while still maintaining control of my vehicle during the scattered downpours.  It was quite a contrast to the horrible 11+ hour drive I would experience the next day.  Just as exciting as the beautiful mountain landscape were all of the baseball towns I drove through on the way to Kodak - Greensboro, Asheville, Winston-Salem, and Hickory, to name a few.  My mind couldn't help but wander to all of the future visits of Josh and Phil I would be making to con them into taking me to see these ballparks.  Pulling off the exit, Kodak looked and felt like Wisconsin Dells.  Similarly to the Dells, it's less a city than it is a conglomeration of tourist attractions stuffed near the freeway exit.  My hotel for the night was across the street from a winery, a fireworks store, a bus depot that ran to nearby Dollywood, and several other hotels and shops, and I could actually even seen the ballpark from my hotel room up on a hill on the other side of the interstate.  I rolled into town pretty early, so I bought some cheap beer at the gas station across the street and pounded one on my wonderful Motel 6 balcony before heading to the park.

I got there about 6:45 for a 7:15 first pitch, and came to find out the first game of a doubleheader was ending upon my arrival.  I was pretty upset because I had checked my MiLB app a couple times in the morning and it said nothing about this, and I was especially upset because I was in town so early; I would have had plenty of time to watch both games had I known it was a doubleheader.  I made the best of the situation and just decided to walk around the park and grab food while the final outs of game #1 were being recorded.  Smokies Park is not unlike any other minor league ballpark of its size built in the 2000s.  It has the same cookie-cutter setup I have grown accustomed to seeing at many a minor league ball field - 25 rows of seats, open concourse, and upper deck for suites and pressbox made out of cheap and drab materials.  Making this park additionally unspectacular are its location outside of the city, the generic concessions menu, the lacking of even one unique design feature, and even a boring generic name.  I'm not necessarily complaining about the park's simplicity or conformity, but more just the fact that there is really nothing that makes this park stand out.  I've certainly been to many stadiums that were much dumpier and much more basic than Smokies Park, yet still had some sort of memorable feature, whether that be an architectural gesture, the food menu, or something else - Community Field in Iowa is an excellent example of this.  I don't want to just bash Smokies Park for this entire post, so I will say that I did like how the building is used year-round, as in Fort Wayne.  The Smoky Mountain Visitor Center is housed there in such a way where it can be accessed when there isn't a game, and there is also a lot of public conference room space that can be rented.  The stadium also has a 360ยบ circumnavigable concourse and a bar area open to the public, both of which I am always an advocate of.

The plus side of being at a very ordinary stadium is that you tend to focus on the game more, but even the prospect of that was put out of reach early in this contest.  I was barely settled in my seat before the home team had put up a 6-spot on the Montgomery Biscuits, which normally would be a good thing but the Smokies are a Cubs affiliate, so I was quietly rooting against them.  Biscuits starting pitcher Marquis Fleming did not even make it out of the 3rd, surrendering 9 runs in total on 8 hits and 3 walks.  The Smokies starter was not really that much better but was able to pass on a lead to the bullpen because of his counterpart's poor performance, which they maintained for the 9-4 victory.  Tennessee's Christian Villanueva was the star of the game to me.  He is a 3rd baseman acquired in the Ryan, Dempster trade last year at a time when the Rangers were very deep at that position.  He's only hitting about .260 right now but he went 2-3 with a homer and looks to have really good power to all fields without really having a loopy swing; he keeps his bat in the hitting zone a long time.  Amongst the murmuring of the dull crowd, he also seemed to be kind of a fan favorite, so that leads me to believe he plays hard and is exciting to watch.  Matt Szczur also seems to have a cult following, probably for no other reason than the marketability of his name (pronounced "Caesar").  I was hoping to see Jorge Soler play, but it looks like he is still in the Florida State League.

On top of the bland park and game that was pretty much over in the 1st inning, I didn't even get to see a full 9 innings of ball!  For some reason, the first game of the doubleheader was 9 innings but the second game was 7?  I had never heard of that before.  Maybe it was merciful that it was a 7-inning game given the thrashing, but this meant I unfortunately had two less innings to take advantage of a weekday minor league staple - Dollar Dog Night.  My evening ended with an early night back at the hotel room spent wondering why in the world I thought buying three 24-oz cans of Natty Light was a good idea.  Smokies Park was far from being great, but it is very conveniently located and near a lot of activities and cheap hotels, so all in all not a bad place to stop if you find yourself on a roadtrip along I-40 as I was.

park rankings and statistics:
aesthetics - 3
views from park - 6 (built into a wooded hill)
view to field - 9
surrounding area - 7 (Dollywood, Douglas Dam, various tourist attractions)
food variety - 2
nachos - 6 (served in actual sized helmet)
beer - 7 (bonus points for Old Style)

vendor price - 7 (would normally be lower, but it was Dollar Dog Night)
ticket price - 4 ($9 GA)
atmosphere - 2
walk to park - 3
parking price/proximity - 6 (adjacent screwy lot $3)
concourses - 7
team shop - 8

best food - Dollar Dogs
most unique stadium feature - Smoky Mountain Visitor Center
best jumbotron feature - movie trivia gone horribly wrong
best between-inning feature - mascots hold empty potato chip bags with "prize" inside

field dimensions - 330/400/330
starters - Marquis Fleming (MON) v. Yeiper Castillo (TEN)
opponent - Montgomery Biscuits
time of game - 2:19
attendance - 2,177
score - 9-4 W
Brewers score that day - off

Brewers 54-70, -18.5 (3 v. Cardinals, 3 @ Reds)
Reds 70-54, -2.5 
(4 v. Diamondbacks, 3 v. Brewers)
Twins 54-68, -18.0 (1 v. Mets, 3 @ Tigers, 3 @ Indians)

Erik - 10 (+28 worked)

Peter - 35

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