Smokies Park, Kodak, TENNESSEE
Number of states: 18
States to go: 32
Number of games: 1
First game: July 27, 2006 (Tennessee Smokies 6, Carolina Mudcats 5)
(Click on any image to see a larger version.)
“Hi, Paul,” the friendly email, subject line “Continuing Your Quest,” began. “I was searching the internet for promotions ideas and I came across your website…I see that you have not been to Tennessee yet. I am not saying
With that email from the Smokies’ Dan Blue, I was hooked. The idea that a guy in the front office of a minor league club
With that, the fun began. Rob had to get his arm in gear for the first pitch. We snuck past a “no admittance” sign
Next, Rob made it to the field. He was one of about eight “first” pitches. Included in that group was the Shoney’s bear and a boy celebrating his tenth birthday. Here’s where we learn Rob is a fairly sick man. The birthday boy didn’t know why he was on the field–I guess his parents wanted
What a gorgeous ballpark Smokies Park is. The outfield is surrounded by hills. They’re not quite as gorgeous as the nearby Great Smokies, but they provide a lovely backdrop. In fact, just past the right-field wall, there’s what
The Smokies did well balancing the wacky promotions with the baseball. There were some promotions between innings–a three-legged race which caused a pair of siblings to become exceedingly angry with each other, for starters–but for the most part, they let the baseball take center stage. Dan came by to hang out with us for a couple of innings, chatting about his past experiences in baseball with me and my wife–a veteran of the minor league baseball milieu. He addressed the unique challenges of promoting the Smokies; since they play so close to the most-visited national park in the USA (in fact, there’s a National Park office in the stadium building), about 25% of their visitors are
Next came my big moment. In the fifth inning, I headed up to the box with Dan and awaited my big moment announcing a batter.
This was no consolation prize to Rob’s throwing out of the first pitch. I wanted to do this. Big time. I serve as the PA announcer for the football team at the high school where I work. The key to it, as I see it, is to avoid cheerleading for the home team, and to keep the voice under control. In fact, during high school games, when I give credit to the chain crew, spotters, and scoreboard operator, I finish by saying: “And IBob Sheppard.” So to avoid the sins of some other PA guys I’ve heard, I knew what I would do. Take it easy. Take it slow. Give the number, position, and name. Savor the syllables. But at Smokies Park, I actually felt a little bit guilty taking a batter away from George Yardley, the PA announcer. He may well be the best PA guy I’ve ever heard at a minor league ballpark…a deep, deep voice with just enough of a gorgeous pecan-pie Southern accent to remind me where I was. George: you’re the man.
I didn’t expect to enjoy being in the press box as much as I did. The guys–mostly good ol’ Tennessee boys–made me feel exceedingly welcome. They clearly loved doing what they did for a living. They have the best view of the game of anyone. The scoreboard operator was even wearing a glove. They were enjoying a conversation with me about my ballpark travels as Mark Reynolds came to the plate…
and that conversation was soon
Unfortunately, I had to follow that up, so it’s possible nobody heard my big moment. George said: “And now, to announce the next batter, here is V.I.P. Paul Hamann.”
All I wanted was a batter with a kick-butt name; ideally a Hispanic one (I, like Sheppard, love pronouncing those Latino players’ names). And I got it. Complete with pregnant pauses, and without a hint of homerism:
“Now batting…the first baseman…number thirty-one…Augustin…Murillo.”
Sheppardesque? Yardleyish? Maybe not. But damn fun. (For the record, Murillo popped to the catcher.)
Ever wonder how they figure
I don’t have anything bad to say about Smokies Park, and that is reflected in its very high score. Does the score have anything to do with the fact that Dan bumped up his VIP package to include getting me onto the microphone? Absolutely! This isn’t Congress. This isn’t Consumer Reports. Bribery is completely acceptable here. (Minor league salespeople everywhere: take note!).
Regional feel: 7/10
Could do a little better here: perhaps it’s hard to feel local-Tennessee when one is surrounded by so many tourists. But the surrounding hills help this score.
Lovely architecture and nice surroundings.
My VIP experience was filled with baseball-centric spectacle.
Team mascot/name: 4/5
Three mascots. The top one is from Shoney’s: he threw out a first pitch after Rob. In the middle is a shark from Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies. At the bottom is Slugger with the annoying promotions guy. The team name is great, and I like the multiple mascots, who were fun while never interfering with the game. But I’m not a big fan of the generic name “Slugger” (or of his sister’s name, “Diamond,” not pictured).
Pavilion area: 4/5
Just tremendous. A great VIP night with fellow baseball-lovers. One of the best nights I’ve ever had at a ballpark.
BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:
Mark Reynolds is the difference-maker, hitting a three-run homer as far as you’ll ever see a ball hit.
Augustin Murillo went 2-for-4 with two runs.
Brett Carroll his a 2-run home run for the Mudcats to make it closer.
Ria Cortesio serves as the first-base umpire, making this the first baseball game with a female umpire I’ve ever attended–at any level.(Written August 2006.)