BY: MATTHEW PRESLAR
An unexpected day off umpiring on the front end of our July tour turned into a big adventure. That extra day led us to look at any stadiums remotely close to our planned trip to East Tennessee. Although we didn’t purchase tickets in advance...JUST IN CASE, we decided we could try to stretch ourselves out and make it to Nashville.
We knew nothing was definite until we got there. However, we wanted to give ourselves every chance for an adventure. I umpired some showcase baseball on Saturday afternoon then came home and napped for a couple of hours. We left the Charlotte area around 1:30 in the morning after a historic UFC PPV that we couldn’t miss. We filled up with gas in Asheville at 4:30 am, then saw the sun rise on the campus of the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.
We took in a few tourist sights in Knoxville before continuing the drive into Central Tennessee. After crossing into the Central time zone, we arrived to our hotel in Cookeville, a suburb about an hour outside of Nashville. To survive the long night ahead of us, we decided to nap a couple of more hours before finishing the drive into Music City. We estimated by the time the night was over, we would have only slept about 7 of the last 48 hours...but we are Ballpark ADVENTURES!!!
We finished the drive to Nashville, parked and walked the John Seigenthaler pedestrian bridge into the city to see what the “social” district looked like on a Sunday afternoon.
While the scene was a huge party, we had to leave to make it to our true destination: BASEBALL. Our game on July 8th was at First Tennessee Park, home of the Nashville Sounds.
On that day we found our 2018 STADIUM OF THE YEAR. For this distinction, we did not focus on our normal grading criteria. We solely focused on the stadium, wall to wall, inside and out, and all the features and amenities provided. What we found was a truly outstanding and outlandish attraction. I felt like I was at a theme park that was also hosting a baseball game.
The most notable amenity was the enormous guitar that served as the scoreboard/video board, extremely appropriate to Nashville (aka Music City). There were several other unique features of the park that I’ve yet to see anywhere in baseball. One is a full 18 hole putt-putt course. This attraction was available to anybody at the park for only $5. There is also a children’s play area with a full size inflatable slide. In sections that could be rented by groups were ping-pong tables and corn hole boards. You could host your outing (company party, birthday party, etc) and there were activities that anybody could enjoy... many attractions to get people to the park, even if they don’t love baseball.
For a true baseball fan such as myself, an important aspect of a stadium is the team store. The size and selection of the Sounds Pro Shop was impressive. It’s important to me that fans have great opportunity to identify themselves with the team. I feel that fans in team merchandise adds to the atmosphere of a ballpark. A home crowd SHOULD dress in a way that labels themselves as fans, making the visiting team feel extremely unwelcome. I always buy myself the current home hat at every stadium we go. In this case I bought the “N”. Also available was the “S” (Sounds), “MC” (Music City), several other alternates, “Batting Practice”, and throwback hats. There were many options to identify yourself as a Nashville Sounds fan.
Another important aspect to me is the team branding. Everywhere around the stadium, it was very obvious you were in Nashville, Tennessee. The team logo was found on trash cans, concession stands, the ends of aisles, drink cups, corn hole boards and bags, inflatables in the play areas, and so on. The logo on the team hat even featured a sparkly silver guitar pick, a detail we didn’t notice until we arrived at the park and saw the hats in person.
Aside from the amenities and brand identity, the building itself is something special. First Tennessee Park just finished its fourth season, still a very new facility. Per Wikipedia:
“The design of the park incorporates Nashville's musical and baseball heritage and the use of imagery inspired by country music, Sulphur Dell, and Nashville's former baseball players and teams. Its most distinctive feature is its guitar-shaped scoreboard—a successor to the original guitar scoreboard at Greer Stadium. The ballpark's wide concourse wraps entirely around the stadium and provides views of the field from every location.”
Wikipedia adequately summarizes the stadium. The wrap around concourse is a feature becoming commonplace at new stadiums. You can walk around with your drinks, stop anywhere in the stadium, enjoy the view around the park and utilize all the space the stadium has to offer. We also were very fortunate to meet another baseball fan, Sounds usher Bruce. He was very receptive to our love of baseball. He was working a section around the plate area and let us walk down low to take premium pictures close to the action. Stadium personnel really adds to the stadium and game experience, and we were grateful for his effort and hospitality.
Due to crazy luck and schedule changes, we were able to add this ballpark to our tour in July. Looking back afterward and comparing it to our other baseball stops, First Tennessee Park proved to be a special place. Even among other AAA stops this year (we live only 30 minutes from the Charlotte Knights), the Nashville Sounds put out an amazing product. They don’t just host a baseball game, they make each game seem like a special event. Like Jason Aldean says in his song about Nashville, “Crazy Town”, First Tennessee Park is also “Hollywood with a touch of twang”. This stadium has a lot of flare and the “it” factor. No other ballpark we have seen can compare.
For these reasons our 2018 BALLPARK ADVENTURES STADIUM OF THE YEAR is First Tennessee Park, home of the Nashville Sounds.