Thursday, July 14, 2016

Bristol Pirates 4 at Kingsport Mets 7 (Appalachian League) - July 13, 2016

I'm back on the road for another minor league ballpark tour, this time finishing up the stadiums in the Appalachian League. The first stop was in Kingsport, Tennessee, about 90 miles east of Knoxville and just south of the Virginia border. I flew from LGA to Charlotte and grabbed a nice air shot of Citi Field and the new roof at Arthur Ashe Stadium. As Kingsport is home to the Mets affiliate, I was kind of taking a reverse trip of the Road to the Show.

In Charlotte, I avoided the overpriced rental cars at the airport and took public transit to an agency that was charging just over half the airport rate, quite significant for a rental of eight days. The ride cost $3 and took about 40 minutes, well worth the savings in my mind. From there, I drove up through the hills of North Carolina and Tennessee, reaching Kingsport at about 5:30. After a quick stop at my hotel, I headed over to Hunter Wright Stadium to see the Mets hosting the Bristol Pirates.

Located west of I-26 just off US-11W, Hunter Wright Stadium was opened in 1995 and named for a long-time mayor of Kingsport. There is a free parking lot that should be more than enough on most nights, but when I visited, a Little League tournament was finishing up and the overflow gravel lot was being used. So instead of 30 seconds, I had to walk for a full minute to get to the box office. In other words, this is not a big place. The stadium is built on a small hill, with the first base seats requiring a walk up this hill. There is a paved path that many kids choose to ignore (above).

At the box office, I was sold a General Admission ticket for $2. Later I found out it was senior night and only those over 55 were supposed to get in on the deal. I guess I have aged poorly in recent years as I was sold a $2 ticket without being asked for ID or anything. Just inside the main gate is the Wall of Fame (above) with every Kingsport player who made the big leagues. You can see many different teams have had players here over the years, but from what I can tell, all those since 1980 were drafted by the Mets, who traded them away before they made the majors. A Kingsport franchise has been around since 1921 (though there have been several years where no team existed) so there are many more names that could be on here. The one I found most interesting was John Gibbons; the current Jays manager began his pro career here in 1980. Other more notable names include Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden.

With a capacity of 2,500, the stadium is more than adequate for the crowd as the Mets are averaging about 1,200 per game so far this season. With 34 home games, the total attendance for one season is about the same as one game at Citi Field.

There are a few sections of plastic box seats behind the plate as you can see above, while the rest of the seating is benches. The third base side is in the sun for the first few innings (below), so it is much emptier as most fans sit in the shade on the first base side.

Concessions are pretty basic here, with shrimp and fries the only unusual item. A single concession stand underneath a breezeway serves all the heavier fare like hot dogs and mozzarella sticks, while other portable stands provide smaller items like shaved ice (below). This breezeway is also where you will find the starting lineups and updated standings.

Draft and canned beer is available for $5 ($1 on Thursdays) in a picnic area atop the hill, but you have to remain around there to enjoy it. Booze is not permitted in any of the general admission sections along third base as well as a couple of them along first base. Some of these are clearly marked as family sections with no alcohol permitted, while others are not. I happened to be unknowingly sitting in an unmarked section with a can of beer. I noticed that I was the only one drinking, but there were no obvious signs forbidding it and nobody around me said anything, so I continued to sit there, sipping away happily. I guess someone reported me though, because in the bottom of the third, a cop approached me and asked if my beer can was alcohol. Um, yeah. He then politely informed me that beer was only allowed at the top of the hill. Jokes on them, I had already finished! I decided to move anyway, and as I got up the fans behind be muttered something about "finally caught". If you know I am violating a rule, just let tell me; it is not like I was causing any trouble. I remember when I saw a game in Pulaski last season that fans were not particularly friendly and I guess that is a characteristic in Appalachia that will take some getting used to.

Anyway, there are clear views of the field on both sides, another reason that GA seats are preferable, as long as you don't mind not having a beer. You can see that the field is a bit rough in spots, something not unusual at this level.

This is the view from first base; you can see those empty sections along third during the pregame, though they do fill up after the sun sets. You will also note that there are no signs forbidding alcohol.

Overall, Hunter Wright Stadium is a nice enough ballpark for this level, and very affordable. Just remember that beer stays on the first base side and you should be fine.

The Game

It didn't take long for me to realize that this was really rookie league baseball. Jake Simon (11th round, 2015) started for the Mets and promptly hit Victor Fernandez to get things started. Fernandez was sacrificed to second and Adrian Valerio followed with a grounder to short as Fernandez bolted for third. Mets shortstop Cecilio Aybar decided to throw to third rather than get the sure out at first and of course, chucked it wildly. Fernandez scored and Valerio jogged into second. Later, Valerio scored from second on a when Mets catcher Jose Maria didn't hustle after a passed ball. That's 2 unearned runs on no hits, something that rarely happens at any level.

The Mets were not fazed by their poor defensive start though. With Blake Cederlind (5th, 2016) on the hill for Bristol, the Mets started with singles from Ian Strom (22nd, 2016) and Ricardo Cespedes (no relation to Yoenis). A walk loaded the bases for Maria, who atoned for his laziness with a 2-RBI single to tie the game. Jose Miguel Medina grounded to Cederlind who threw to second for the force, only to have Raul Siri drop it. Another single gave the Mets the lead before Cederlind struck out Jeremy Wolf (31st, 2016). And that was it for Cederlind, who was replaced by Mike Wallace (30th, 2015) who promptly gave up a bases-clearing double to Franklin Correa. But Correa was caught off second on a strikeout, ending the inning with the Mets on top 6-2.

The first frame took 37 minutes, but after that, both Wallace and Simon were on their game and the pace improved quite nicely. The Mets did add another run in the second, but that was all until the top of the ninth, when Bristol scored a couple of runs behind more shoddy Kingsport fielding. Ronald Guedez was brought in to retire Jhoahn Herrera to finally end things as the Mets prevailed 7-4 despite making three miscues on the evening.

The scoreboard was turned off before I could snap a shot, so all you get is a picture of the Mets congratulating each other. Let's Go Mets!


Did you notice a lot of Latino names in the recap? Out of the 19 players who batted in the game, only three were acquired through the draft, the rest are undrafted free agents, with 15 of them out of Latin America. It is these foreign players that allow low level minor league ball to operate; there isn't enough homegrown organizational filler these days for teams to maintain seven clubs in the minors. It has to be tough on them to be sent to small town America at age 20. Most of them will serve their purpose as filler for a few years before being sent back home; none seemed to be prospects though it is probably too early to judge that accurately.

This was my 121st active minor league park out of 160, meaning I am over 3/4 of the way through. I have 15 more this season and then the remaining 24 will be done in 2017 and possibly 2018 should the three W's (work, weather, wife) come into play, not to mention relocations.

Next Up

I'm in Charleston, WV for the only non-Appalachian League stadium on the trip, though it happens to be named Appalachian Power Park so it keeps with the theme. Check back tomorrow for a recap.



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