Saturday, August 20, 2016

Hagerstown Suns 4-2 at Rome Braves 2-6 (South Atlantic League) - August 18, 2016

Thursday saw a relatively short drive from Sevierville, Tennessee to Rome, Georgia. Google Maps suggested a rather roundabout route back through Knoxville and down I-75, 196 miles total that would take just over three hours. Or, if you wanted to drive 34 miles less in much more relaxing conditions, you could take US-411 and GA-25 most of the way, at the cost of 22 extra minutes. Seems like they should suggest the shortest route before the fastest when the mileage difference is so big, but hey, most people can think for themselves and figure out what is in their best interest, right?

Anyway, after a severe storm passed overhead just as I was leaving Sevierville, the rest of the drive was in good weather and I arrived in Rome a couple of hours before the 5:00 first pitch. The odd start time was due to a rainout the night previous, so I had two 7-inning games to look forward to.

The Braves play at State Mutual Stadium, their home since they moved here from Macon in 2003. It is located just north of downtown next to the Oostanaula River and the remote location allows them to charge $5 for parking, ridiculous for low Class A ball. As I arrived, the rain from which I had escaped earlier in the day began to reappear. I turned on the radio broadcast to hear that the tarp was on the field as a storm was expected to pass overhead shortly. The stadium has no covered seats, so I walked across the street to Bella Roma Grill, an Italian restaurant that has a roof, a small bar, and a happy hour from 3-6 with pints for $1.75. Sure enough, the rain came and thankfully departed before happy hour was over. I made my way back to the stadium, picked up a ticket and entered just a few minutes before the first game was scheduled to start at 6:00. As an aside, you might be able to park at Bella Roma and enjoy a happy hour pint or two before walking to the stadium; just confirm with the bartender or manager to avoid being towed.

The stadium has a couple of unique features: directions measured in steps (above), and a number of detailed history displays about baseball in the area that are well worth reading.

There are two seating levels here with a small walkway between them. The seats in the sections behind the plate are Club ($13) and allow admittance into the Three Rivers Club, a restaurant just inside the main entrance. Dugout seats ($20) are obviously found behind the dugouts, while field level seats ($11) are further down the lines. Box seats ($9) are those on the second level outside the club area, while a GA ticket is $6 and allows you to sit in any of the public areas. Of course, ushers don't bother checking, so you can safely use this option when the ballpark is not crowded. Note that you can save $2 by purchasing in advance.

There are a couple of special seating areas: an All-You-an-Eat suite for $35 (I'm guessing you'd need a group to enjoy this) and the Captain's Chair, reserved seats in a "marina" next to the left-field berm that include a drink and a bucket of popcorn, not a bad deal for $15. You can see two boats in the middle of the shot below that mark the marina.

There is a small roof but it only seems to cover the suites; something to keep in mind should you visit on a rainy day.

Next to the suites on the first base side is a terrace with a full service bar that is open to all fans over the age of 21. The views from here are pretty good (below) and if you get a foul ball, you don't have to worry about giving it to a kid. One thing I found interesting is that the netting only extends partway down the dugout as you can see.

There is a picnic area down the left field line with a good selection of food and tables that are protected from the elements. It was Thirsty Thursday, so $1 beers were also available, but only about 8 ounces of Budweiser and the like. Better to visit Bella Roma beforehand.

The Braves Brigade is a group of eight ladies who help with promotions and occasionally dance on the dugouts. They were quite busy on this night as the team does put a lot of effort into entertaining fans, even when there were only about 200 in the stands for the first game.

The sun sets behind third base, not so much of an issue on this night but it could be a problem in the middle of summer.

Overall, I liked the design here as it is slightly different from most new ballparks. Many fans dislike  the main concourse lacking a view of the field, but that doesn't bother me in this case as the space is not wasted with the unique touches mentioned above adding to the experience. Staff was quite friendly; particularly the oddly-dressed dancing salesman that talks to pretty much every fan in an attempt to sell toy bats and caps and the like. Parking is the only issue; at this level it should be no more than $2 to park, but that should not dissuade you from paying a visit to Rome to see their version of the Colosseum.

The Games

I did not pay much attention to the first game as I was moving around from section to section, hoping to snag a South Atlantic League ball to commemorate complete all the ballparks in this league (which I did when a foul landed just behind me). Hagerstown won 4-2 for what it's worth.

The second game started at 8:37 and was excruciating to watch. I don't want to mention any player names because everything about the game was crap - crap pitching (8 walks and 6 wild pitches), crap managing (Rome manager Randy Ingle was ejected in the first, lucky for him), crap umpiring (the base ump called a line drive that was trapped by the shortstop an out, leading to Ingle's ejection), and crap fielding. Rome scored in all but the first inning but still only managed 6 runs, nickel and diming themselves to a 6-2 win. The game lasted 2:37 for 6 1/2 innings, absolutely intolerable for the second game of a delayed doubleheader. The majors are bad enough with their interminable games but I fear now the minors are following suit. The Pitches Per Minute in this one was a molasses-like 1.48. To compare, the Nashville game I attended the previous day took 2:33 for 8 1/2 innings, a great pace of 1.73 PPM. I used to hate fans that left early, now I can't blame them.




  1. Do they still have the bucket of shrimp?

    1. I didn't see it there, but I didn't go to the Marina area either. Given the rain delay and middling crowd, it is possible that certain elements of the game day experience were curtailed as other reviews of State Mutual are very positive.