Thursday, June 29, 2017

Tour 2017: Montgomery Riverwalk Stadium

All photos of Montgomery and Riverwalk Stadium available on Flickr. 

Following our relatively relaxing weekend in Atlanta, we got into the crazy part of our trip on Monday - 2 ballgames, 1 day, 2 states.  This was a throwback to the old Tour days but not something we have done to this degree in a long time, so I was curious how the mid-30s versions of ourselves would hold up.  After picking up probably the worst car I have ever driven at the Atlanta rental car terminal (an Audi A4), we headed southwest to our first stop - a noon start in Montgomery, Alabama.  It was a 2-hour uneventful drive.  One thing that hasn't changed in the decade since our roadtripping days began is that Erik slept about 90% of the drive.  We grabbed a pint at a brewery/BBQ place across the street before the game but otherwise didn't see much of Montgomery.  It was surprisingly quiet and run down for such a historic downtown in a city of over 200,000 people. 

The ballpark was completed in 2004 and has exclusively hosted the Biscuits since they moved from Orlando that same year.  It is called "Riverwalk Stadium," but had it not been called that I never would have noticed there was a river behind the stadium.  I assumed with a name like that it would have been more integrated into the water, or at least have a view to it, so that was pretty disappointing.  What it lacked in natural scenery it made up for in history.  The entire eastern edge of the park along the 1st base line is a repurposed century-old train terminal.  A freight line actually still operates and passes beyond the outfield wall.  As I mentioned in the last paragraph, Montgomery is made up of a ton of old historic buildings, so this adaptive reuse project helped the ballpark really blend in with the area without having to build a kitschy brick wall in a style that would be obviously fake.  The park doesn't even really look like a ballpark from that side, as much of the train terminal's original character is well maintained.  Inside the terminal is the main gate with a bar on one end and restrooms on the other.  The 2nd floor of the terminal was converted into private suites.  Given the long form of the building it kind of reminded me of the B&O Warehouse in Baltimore on a lesser scale.  It really helped give the ballpark that "enclosed feel" like Camden Yards and helped defines the street at a pedestrian level. 

The other 3 sides of the stadium are not unlike any other ballpark of this size.  There is an expansive area behind homeplate with a team store, customer service desk, and some concessions.  Moving down the 3rd base line are more concessions on a wide concourse, with the main feature of course being a biscuit stand.  Erik got the pimento cheese biscuits and I got chicken biscuits and both were outstanding.  Counting the McDonalds one I had for breakfast and the free one I caught during the game it was a 4-biscuit day for this guy.  Beyond the left field foul pole is a gazebo-type area and a wraparound concourse back to the other side.  The outfield concourse goes behind the batters eye and well beyond the outfield wall in right so it kind of defeats the purpose of having an outfield concourse.  The only real place to watch the game from the outfield is in right field by an odd wall that bumps out.  One of the ushers told us the reason for the anomaly is that there is an old cistern buried there and it would have cost more to move it than to build the entire stadium.  As a result the wall was simply built around it and creates a memorable asymmetrical outfield feature.  After our lap around the ballpark we made our way to our 9th row seats behind the 3rd base dugout for first pitch.

It was Kids Day and Businessman Special Day at the ballpark - two standards at any weekday matinee ballgame.  A little twist on this particular game was it was also Splash Day, so there was a guy who basically just hosed down the crowd between every half-inning.  For the most part the kids enjoyed it and I even made my way over there a few times to catch some relief from the high sky and hot sun.  The Biscuits won 2-1 behind a strong AA debut from Rays prospect Genesis Cabrera.  He tossed 7 innings striking out 8, and gave up just one unearned run on a dropped popup in the 4th.  The Biscuits were able to regrab the lead in the 7th on a fielders choice to secure him the victory.  Cabrera's counterpart for the Barons was nearly as strong, also giving up just one run in 5.1 innings.

Overall I was not surprised with how quick and low scoring the game was in the afternoon heat.  Erik and I were happy to get out of there fast and escape into the confines of our air conditioned car in route to stop #2 of the day - Biloxi, Mississippi.

park rankings and statistics: 
aesthetics - 8 (repurposed train station)
views from park – 3

view to field - 7 (no obstructed views but extended netting)
surrounding area – 3 (not much going on in DT Monty)
food variety - 6
nachos - 5
beer - 6 (bonus points for souvenir cups)
vendor price - 8
ticket price - 8 ($11 box seats)
atmosphere - 5 (splash day salvages this category)
walk to park – 3 (kind of sketchy)
parking price/proximity - 8 (free street parking 2 blocks away)
concourses - 8 (train terminal plus, outfield minus)
team shop - 9 (bonus points for biscuit hats)

best food – biscuits, of course
most unique stadium feature – repurposed train station
best jumbotron feature – Monty dancing
best between-inning feature – spraying kids with hose

field dimensions – 314/400/333
starters – Jordan Stephens (BIR) v. Genesis Cabrera (MGY)

opponent – Birmingham Barons
time of game – 2:32
attendance – 2590
score – 2-1 W

Brewers score that day – off

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