Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Jackson Generals 8 at Jacksonville Suns 0 - June 11, 2012


With the memory of a Blue Jays' win keeping me upbeat, I left Atlanta and drove southeast through rural Georgia on my way to Jacksonville. Raging rainstorms slowed me down a bit, but I arrived in plenty of time to see the Southern League's Suns hosting the Jackson Generals.

Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville



Opened in 2003 as part of the Better Jacksonville Plan, the ballpark is part of the sports complex that includes Everbank Field (above, beyond right field) and the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena. Located just east of downtown, the park is easy to reach from I-95 via the Main Street Bridge, following the signs to Duval Street. There are a few free parking spots at the meters but they were all filled up by the time I arrived at 5:30, so I parked across the street for $5.



Tickets here are not cheap if you want to sit close, with the four rows of the dugout box section costing $22.50. These seats are at the same level of the dugout (above) and allow you to watch the activities inside and even chat with the players if you are right next to them, as well as providing great views of the action (below). There is no chance to get foul balls here though, as the entire seating area behind home plate is covered with netting.



The rest of the box seats are $13.50 while $10.50 will get you a reserved seat. There are also berm and general admission seats for $7.50. I found the ushers generally let you sit freely once the game started, as long as you avoided the dugout seats during the early innings. As you move down the lines, the seats are turned slightly so they face the mound, a feature not commonly found in minor league parks.






The Home Plate Gate (above) is the main entry point and from here you walk up a staircase to the main concourse. There is a single seating bowl that is asymmetrical in that there are full sections down the first base line while the third base seats are separated into upper and lower sections.



There is a second deck reserved for suites and skyboxes. The roof provided by this level covers the upper rows of the seating bowl which makes them the popular location as the Jacksonville area sees a lot of early evening showers, making the team's nickname less than fitting.



As you walk around the spacious concourse, you will note the typical food options at reasonable prices. There were two unusual items here, one being the pork rinds ($4) and the other being tornados (pronounced tor-nah-dohs), a baked tortilla rolled with filling, deep-fried, and served with salsa or sour cream. At two for $5, they are definitely the best option here and are available at the nachos cart just behind home plate. There are also several party areas that cater to groups, including one right on the concourse behind home plate. If you want to escape the humidity, the Sundowner Lounge on the second floor offers drinks in an air-conditioned environment but doesn't provide views of the field.



The Suns have had some success on the field, winning five Southern League pennants which are commemorated on the right field wall. You can just barely see them on the left side of the photo above, which shows the general admission seats. You can also see that the fence is not symmetrical, with left field at 321 and right field at 317, while centre is a challenging 420 feet away.



There are a couple of unique features here. Above is the "Knuckle", a general admission seating mound behind the Suns' bullpen. Below, you can see how the home plate area is actually in the shape of a home plate, a nice touch. Overall, I found this place to be highly enjoyable, with the fans being polite, knowledgable and watching the game despite their team struggling. There was a constant chatter and I though that the ballpark was the epitome of the minor league experience. Staff here were also extremely friendly, with everybody greeting me with a smile. I look forward to my return visit!



The Game

The Jackson Generals are Seattle's AA affiliate and have several top prospects, including starters  Danny Hultzen (2nd overall, 2011) and Taijuan Walker (43rd overall, 2010). On this day though, it was Brandon Maurer (below, 23rd round in 2008) who got the call and he was superb, going 7 1/3 scoreless innings giving up just 6 hits and a walk while striking out 7.



Meanwhile, his offense was solid, opening the scoring with 3 runs in the fourth frame, highlighted by a 2-run homer from Joe Dunigan (below, 5th round in 2007).



The Jacksonville bullpen was not particularly good as each of the four relievers gave up at least a run as the Generals stormed to an 8-0 victory. With the win, Jackson clinched the first half title in the Southern League's Northern Division. They are certainly a solid team and Mariner fans have something to look forward to in a couple of years.



Notes

The game was delayed a half hour by a thunderstorm which produced a rainbow over the Isaiah D. Hart Bridge.



During the game, a lightning storm passed well beyond centre field providing a nice show but fortunately the rain held off during the game. Below is Nick Franklin (27th overall, 2009) rounding first while the storm clouds dominate the centerfield vista.



At 747 square miles, Jacksonville is the largest city by area in the lower 48 states.

Next Up

I'm driving down to Cocoa to begin the Florida State League portion of the trip, starting with the Brevard County Manatees tonight. Check back tomorrow for a post on that game.

Best,

Sean

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