Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Jacksonville Suns 7 at Mobile BayBears 3 (Southern League) - June 14, 2016

The reason I choose this week to do a quick trip to the Gulf Coast was a day-night doubleheader in Mobile and Pensacola. These cities are less than an hour apart, so it was a perfect chance to knock off two ballparks in one day. About 70 miles of Alabama lies along the coast between Florida and Mississippi and Mobile is right in the middle of it. The city has a storied baseball history, with its most prominent son being Hank Aaron, so it should be no surprise that the AA Mobile BayBears play out of Hank Aaron Stadium. That's mascot Bay B. Bear greeting me below.

The ballpark is located just north of I-10 at the I-65 interchange, in a rather nondescript neighbourhood quite far from downtown Mobile. Parking here is $5, but you have no choice as there are no other spots within walking distance. Fortunately tickets are half price on Tuesday so I got a seat for $5. This place draws very poorly so you never have to pay more than the minimum, though for day games, you might want to ensure that you are sitting in a shaded seat.

Despite being opened in 1997, this is an old-style stadium, with a single entrance that leads to a concourse with no view of the field. Go up the stairs to enter the seating bowl, which is separated by a walkway. The seats are not that comfortable; in fact I thought the stadium was 50 years old as I wandered around. As you can see below, the roof covers the top five rows of about three sections. Suites and  party areas are located at field level, so any seats between the bases are elevated.

If you want to sit at field level, you have to go down the lines, which doesn't provide the best view. You can see those seats in the photo below.

There are a couple of features inside the concourse that are worth noting. First, seats from County Stadium in Milwaukee (below), Fulton County Stadium in Atlanta, and Wrigley Field are on display, along with a poster highlighting historic happenings at the stadium in question, with particular focus on Aaron's accomplishments.

There is also a small Wall of Fame just inside the main entrance that emulates Cooperstown and has about six inductees, including Buddy Carlyle, who played in Japan while I was there.

However, the most impressive attraction lies outside the stadium. In 2010, Aaron's childhood home was moved here and turned into a small museum that provides an extensive look into his life and baseball career. Admission is free and the house is air conditioned, so it makes a great place to visit before the game.

There are many pieces of memorabilia here and quite a bit of text that details his home runs year by year. Definitely a must see for any baseball fan. I'm only showing the trophy awarded for his 500th home run, but there are many other things on display. Do not miss this if you visit Mobile; it is one of the best on-site features at any minor league ballpark.

It is these extras that make a visit to Hank Aaron Stadium rewarding. The stadium gets a lot of poor reviews as it doesn't compare well to all the new ballparks dotting the minor league landscape, but it isn't that bad. I can see why the BayBears struggle to attract local fans (the team is last in the league in attendance at 1,600 per game) but as a stadium traveller, this is one of the better places I have visited for seeing a bit of baseball history.

The Game

Jacksonville (Miami) was in town to take on the BayBears (Arizona) on camp day, which saw several groups of rambunctious youngsters and a few tired counsellors in the crowd. The Suns scored first when Brian Anderson (3rd round, 2014, Miami's #12 prospect) launched a 2-run shot to left field in the top of the third off Luke Irvine (27th, 2011 by Tampa Bay). In the next inning, while showers were falling, Jacksonville added 3 runs on 4 hits and a walk, but Mobile responded with 3 of their own in the bottom half, including a 2-run homer from journeyman minor leaguer Travis Denker (21st, 2003, Dodgers), who had a cup of coffee with the Giants in 2008 (think about that - he's playing AA 8 years after making the majors).

After that the rain stopped and so did the runs. The Suns added one in the 7th and another in the 9th to win 7-3 in a game that lasted 3:05 due to 13 walks issued by both teams. Patrick Johnson (25th, 2011 by Colorado) got the win, yielding just 3 hits in 6 innings, along with 3 walks. Not a very interesting game, but at least there were no errors.


Attendance was 2,026, exactly 2 less than the previous night's game in Biloxi. About 90% of that number was kids.

I met a couple of fellow sports travellers in Jack and Dave from Philadelphia, who I had seen in Biloxi as well. It was Jack's 100th minor league park, so congratulations are in order! Always good to meet others chasing ballparks, and sure enough, they were in Pensacola that night too. More on that in the next post.



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