Take me out to the ball game,
Take me out with the crowd.
Buy me some peanuts and cracker jack,
I don’t care if I never get back,
Let me root, root, root for the home team,
If they don’t win it’s a shame.
For it’s one, two, three strikes, you’re out,
At the old ball game.
– Jack Norworth
The stadiums are smaller, the talent is fresher with something to prove and the prices are generally more affordable. Such are a few of the advantages of taking in Minor League Baseball.
There are more than 160 Minor League Baseball teams throughout the country, and the Atlanta Braves minor league team, the Gwinnett Braves, play right up the road—a mere 39 miles from Decatur. Coolray Field in Lawrenceville is the home of the Gwinnett Braves, the only minor league team playing out of the metro Atlanta area.
The Minor League Baseball system is referred to as the farm system for the major league, and there are three levels: Triple-A, Double-A and Single-A. The Gwinnett Braves (AAA), the highest affiliate. Other minor league affiliates for the Atlanta Braves include the Rome Braves (A) playing out of State Mutual Stadium in Rome, which can accommodate 5,000 fans.; the Mississippi Braves (AA) who get down in the dirt at 8,400-seat Trustmark Park in Pearl, Miss.; the Lynchburg Hillcats (A), who are playing their 17th season at Calvin Falwell Field—which accommodates 4,000 fans–in Lynchburg, Va., and the rookie Danville Braves who take their swings, run and catch fly balls at Legion Field (capacity 2,588 )in Danville, Va.
Through the farm system, talented athletes are groomed and the most promising move up through the ranks. A fortunate few are tapped for the big leagues. For those who have a special appreciation for baseball, spending time at minor league parks is a great way to see young players develop and get close to the action.
Some of the stadiums where minor league ball is played are relatively new facilities with state-of-art technology, while others are historic sites where ball has been played for decades and which reflect local ties and place in the community.
Coolray Field, formerly known as Gwinnett Stadium, is a new ballpark. The 10,475-seat stadium opened in 2009. Tickets range from $6 to $35; parking is $5. Tailgating is permitted but open-flame cooking is not allowed. And according to one insider, “It’s a great environment to see a game with some seats as close as 40 feet to the action.” Fans can seek autographs from players before and after games.
For more information on the Gwinnett Braves or Coolray Field, visit http://gwinnett.braves.milb.com/index.jsp?sid=t431.
Opening day for Minor League Baseball is April 7, when the Gwinnett Braves take on the Durham Bulls.
For true fans of the game, incorporating a Minor League Baseball game into travel plans can turn an ordinary trip into something special. Here are a few stadiums in popular destinations that are worth a visit:
The Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville, which opened in 2003, features an old-fashioned design, brick facade and a grass seating berm. “The Baseball Grounds reminds fans of the days of yesteryear and preserves all of the wonderful tradition baseball has to offer,” according to the park’s website. “The vivid sightlines capture the action up-close while providing fans with comfortable seating and easy access to concessions and restrooms.”
This is home to the Jacksonville Suns, the AA affiliate of the Florida Marlins. The team notes with pride that 12 of the top 30 Marlins prospects played for the Suns in 2010.
The Grounds has 6,000 stadium-style seats and a capacity of 11,000. It also features 12 luxury skyboxes, four skydecks, a playground, and the “knuckle,” a nine-foot high mound for seating at the left field corner.
The Suns are in their seventh year playing at the Baseball Grounds. Tickets range from $7.50 to $22.50.
For more information on the Jacksonville Suns or the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville, visit www.jaxsuns.com.
McCormick Field in Asheville has deep roots. Ball was first played there in the 1920s and named for local physican Lewis McCormick. During the 1940s, it was also the home of the Asheville Blues, a Negro Southern League team. It was renovated in 1959 and rebuilt in 1991, however, much of the original layout was maintained.
This is where the Asheville Tourists, the A affiliate of the Colorado Rockies, play ball. And yes, that means that the score displays “Tourists” versus “Visitors.” Tickets range from $6 to $30. For more information, visit www.theashevilletourists.com.
Daytona Beach, Fla.
If Daytona is on your travel itinerary this summer, catch a game of the Daytona Cubs (A advanced affiliate of the Chicago Cubs) at Jackie Robinson Park, locally known as “The Jack.”
The park opened in 1914 as Daytona City Island Ballpark and went through a number of renovations and upgrades. It was renamed in honor of Jackie Robinson in 1989 as it was host to the first racially integrated game in baseball history. Seating capacity is 4,200.
Tickets range from $6 to $12. For more information on the Daytona Cubs, visit www.daytonacubs.com.
Details on all Minor League Baseball teams can be found at www.minorleaguebaseball.com.