Saturday, April 29, 2017

Tennessee Smokies 7 at Mississippi Braves 8 (Southern League) - April 28, 2017


Last year, I visited Trustmark Park on a short trip to complete the stadiums of the Southern League. Unfortunately, a brief rainstorm soaked the field, and the game was postponed, forcing me to return this year to finally add the ballpark to my tally. The best time to do so was on this trip to St. Louis, with Jackson, MS just under 500 miles south. So on Friday, I rented a car and drove 7 hours along I-55, leaving the cold, wet weather behind and arriving at the stadium happy to see that it was 30C with no chance of rain.



Trustmark Park is actually located in Pearl, MS, a suburb of the state capital. Opened in 2005, it sits next to a large outlet mall just north of I-20. Parking here is free in one of two large lots, both of which are located off Braves Way. The north lot is next to the left field entrance (below), which is slightly less crowded.



Tickets start at just $6 for general admission here and all you need to buy as ushers don't check outside a couple of sections behind the plate. There are also standing tables around the concourse that were perfect for me to stretch out after the long drive. If you want a guaranteed spot, the field box seats down the lines are $9.



The exterior of the venue does not look like a typical ballpark, but inside is fairly standard. One thing I noted is the advertising poster stating "This Is Where The Journey Begins". Actually, the journey begins in Rookie League or A ball for most prospects. Shown below is Dansby Swanson, who is currently struggling with the Atlanta Braves after being listed as the #8 overall prospect before the season.



Inside, the concourse goes around the entire ballpark and is open to the field, so you can still see the game while buying your food. The suite level also provides covering for the standing tables, and the concessions if you want to avoid the elements for a few innings. There are 5,550 seats and room for another 3,000 standing or on the berm.



There are party areas in both outfield corners, each named for a sponsor. The Farm Bureau Grill shown below is a full-service restaurant that is open to the public if it is not being used by a group for that game. Other food options are pretty typical; there was one Mexican-themed concession that didn't seem to have any food on this evening.



The concourse is plenty wide enough, with sections denoted by advertising. Minor league teams have to rely on local businesses to support them, and any open space can be used to generate revenue. One of the more creative sponsorships was the Umpire Walk, where the Darth Vader theme plays as the umpires stroll to home plate. I do not recall the sponsor though, so perhaps not the most effective use of their money.



There is a bit of history on display, including past titles and retired numbers on the fencing on the suite level.



Of course, a Wall of Fame is also present, dedicated to those M-Braves that went to to major league glory.



The other necessity is the starting lineups and standings boards that are just behind home plate. Other amenities include a small kids' area, and a Plinko board where inveterate gamblers can their luck for $2 a shot, with the top prize seeming to be a M-Braves hat.



The scoreboard is in left field and includes a 16-by-21 videoboard that shows live action and replays, along with detailed player stats.



The netting does go down past the dugout here, so you will have to sit beyond the bases if you want an unobstructed view of the action.



Overall, Trustmark Park checks all the boxes for me. Cheap tickets, free parking, and standing areas with tables are all I need to enjoy myself. There is nothing particularly unusual about the venue, but when you can see AA ball for $6, you should be more than satisfied.

The Game

The Tennessee Smokies (Cubs) were in town to take on the Braves, who sent Kolby Allard to the mound. I saw Allard, the 14th overall pick in 2015 and Atlanta's #3 prospect (48th overall) last July in Bristol, and the fact that he has jumped two levels to AA in such a short time is a clear sign that he is on the fast track. Tennessee countered with Preston Morrison (8th round in 2015, Cubs #29 prospect) so I was excited to see two top prospects do battle.

Allard gave up a 2-run homer to David Bote (18th, 2012) in the first, but the Braves tied it up in the bottom half on a walk, two singles, and a sac fly. Both pitchers were solid for the next couple of frames, but Mississippi broke it open in the 4th. Adam Brett Walker (3rd, 2012 by Minnesota) led off with a homer, and after a hit batsman and two walks, Dylan Moore (7th, 2015 by Texas) cleared the bases with a double, ending Morrison's night. Allard lasted six frames, giving up 2 more runs, both unearned after Travis Demeritte (30th overall in 2013 by Texas, now Atlanta's #9 prospect) booted two grounders in the sixth inning. Punsters could have a field day (unlike Demeritte) with his name and errors, I am sure.



With both starters out, the game dragged the rest of the way, with neither bullpen able to impress. Armando Araiza drilled a homer for Mississippi in the 6th, but the Smokies replied with a pair in the 7th to get within one. Demeritte walked and scored on a Walker sac fly to restore the 2-run advantage but Tennessee got that back in the top of the 8th. In the 9th, still down a run and with a man on first, Ian Rice (29th, 2015) battled, fouling off 6 straight before finally flying out as Evan Phillips (17th, 2015) collected his first save of the season. The game took 3:06 and I was just thankful extra innings were avoided as I needed to get back to the hotel to rest.

Notes

There was a small classic car show before the game, with about a dozen or so vehicles being driven along the warning track while players warmed up.





I have now completed the Southern League and have 26 ballparks left to complete all 160 active minor league venues. Hoping that the weather remains my friend this summer.

Next  Up

I'm heading back north to Memphis to see the Redbirds take on the Round Rock Express this evening, and the trip will finish up with a college game at Southeast Missouri State on Sunday. Check back for recaps next week!

Best,

Sean

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