Major League Baseball is nothing short of an All-American spectacle.
The feel at minor league parks is different. With some of the major league pressure out of the way, it arguably frees up fans, the front office and perhaps some of the players from a bit of added stress. The minors replace some of MLB’s seriousness with cheeky revelry and imaginative promotions and a more relaxed atmosphere. It’s the minor league teams that often pitch even more of a party than the big leagues.
And the kicker is, minor league games are affordable. Tickets can be as cheap as $4. At that price, you can take grandma, gorge on hotdogs and lemonade, and bring back one of the always-cool minor league ballcaps.
Here’s the lowdown on minor league action in our region.
This Triple-A affiliate of the Atlanta Braves made its way to Lawrenceville in 2009 after more than 40 years of residence in Richmond, Va. Of course, you’ll see rising stars, but Atlanta Braves players sometimes step onto the Gwinnett diamond. Outfielder Jason Heyward recently showed up on a rehab assignment.
It all happens at Coolray Field, a ballpark with contemporary technology and old-school charm. As many as 10,000 fans are able to pack the place for games.
Some scrarf on grub at Niekro’s food stand, named after hall of famer and former Atlanta Braves pitcher Phil Niekro. That’s where you’ll find the Knucksie, a barbecue, cole slaw and corn muffin sandwich that bears the pitcher’s nickname. Others opt for burgers, hot dogs, fries, ice cream and other game day staples at various stands throughout.
Special events and promotions pop up the entire season. During the Braves’ upcoming home stand against the Louisville Bats, fans can score a variety of goodies, deals and entertainment opportunities. The G-Braves are ringing in their fifth season with its alumni bobblehead giveaways. On Saturday, the first 2,000 fans through the gates get the Freddie Freeman bobblehead.
Then there are things you can almost never do at a big league park. Before the game on Sunday, guests are invited to play a 20-minute game of catch in the outfield on Family Sunday. After the game, kids 12 and younger can run around the bases. That day is also Bark in the Park, which allows fans to bring their dogs to the game and sit in the lawn area.
Call or check website for schedule. $6-$40. Coolray Field, 2500 Buford Drive, Lawrenceville. 678-277-0340, http://gwinnett.braves.milb.com/index.jsp?sid=t431
Located a little more than an hour northwest of Atlanta, Rome’s State Mutual Stadium is home base for the Braves’ Single-A affiliate. The outfit moved from Macon to Rome in 2003 and has been luring fans each season since.
You can occasionally catch one of the big boys from the Atlanta club playing here too. All-Star catcher Brian McCann played here last month when he was coming back from an injured shoulder. Two lucky fans collected home run balls that McCann blasted over the fences in his first game. McCann also played a few games in Gwinnett before returning to Atlanta.
Amenities include the Yacht Club, a private area where fans of beer and Braves can indulge in both. Hand over $26 and you get an all-you-can-eat-and-drink experience from 6-8 p.m. We’re talking corndogs, chicken nuggets, popcorn, beer, water and lemonade. The Yacht Club is located on the third base side and it features a big-screen TV and its own designated bartender.
Once the party stops, Yacht Clubbers can move to a field level seat, which is included with ticket price. Upcoming games of note include the Friday’s battle against the Asheville Tourists. One ticketholder will drive away with a used truck after a giveaway at the end of the night. Faith Day, which arrives on June 9, showcases contemporary Christian musician Jonny Diaz with an unplugged concert following the 2 p.m. game. After the Braves face the Charleston RiverDogs on June 22, the latest version of ’60s rockers the Swingin’ Medallions performs. Keep an eye out for original Medallion Jimmy Perkins on bass and vocals.
Stars are often found on the field, too. Although you typically see up-and-comers on the roster, Braves legend Chipper Jones joined the team for two games in 2012. Other past Atlanta Braves players to play in Rome have included Julio Franco, Jeff Francoeur, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz.
Call or check website for schedule. $4-$12. State Mutual Stadium, 755 Braves Blvd., Rome. 706-378-5144, http://romebraves.com.
The Los Angeles Dodgers have its Double-A team located at AT&T Field in Chattanooga, Tenn.
This field is a little farther drive, about two hours north on I-75. But you can make a day trip out of it by going to the Tennessee Aquarium, Lookout Mountain or just spending time in the lively and delightful downtown, with its restaurants and shops on both sides of the river. The stadium faces the water also and is a short walk from the aquarium.
The Lookouts, named after nearby Lookout Mountain, became associated with the Dodgers in 2009, but they’ve been playing at this particular stadium since 2000. The place holds more than 6,000 fans who look forward to special events such as postgame fireworks on Friday nights and “Star Wars” night on June 28. The latter features characters from the enduring sci-fi film series mingling with fans.
The Lookouts have a surprise in store on May 25 when the team clashes with the Pensacola Blue Wahoos. The Atlanta-based Breakin’ BBoy McCoy, who travels to minor league ball parks all over the country, disguises himself as a bat boy. Later on in the game, he’ll likely suddenly shock fans by busting some fancy footwork on the field.
Call or check website for schedule. $5-$9. AT&T Field, 201 Power Alley, Chattanooga, Tenn. 423-267-2208, http://chattanoogalookouts.com.
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