Munsey on Ballparks

Off-season ballpark visits

by Paul Munsey (archive)

February 19, 2005

I have been doing a lot of driving lately. This week was spent driving from Houston to Boston. I visited several ballparks and the Baseball Hall of Fame along the way.

When I visit ballparks this time of year, it usually means that I pull up to a nearly empty facility and figure out how to get on the grounds to take a few pictures. Most of the time, there is someone there and I will ask them if I can take a look around. Occasionally, there's no one there and I have to hop a fence, which isn't always easy and has resulted in an occasional minor injury.

I started my journey on Sunday morning. My first ballpark-related stop was in Metairie, Louisiana, near New Orleans. That is the location of Zephyr Field, home of the New Orleans Zephyrs AAA baseball team. The ballpark is situated next to the NFL Saints' training facility, just a few miles from the airport. I was pleasantly surprised, as it is a very nice facility.

Monday morning I drove through Birmingham, Alabama, but didn't stop to see Hoover Stadium, the home of the Birmingham Barons AA team. When Michael Jordan tried professional baseball in the 1990s, this is where his team played their home games. I had limited time and I had already attended a couple of games there a few years ago. My recollection of the place is that it was adequate, but the food was terrible.

Another reason why I don't get very excited about visiting Hoover Stadium is because the Barons use to play in Rickwood Field. The oldest ballpark in the country, Rickwood Field still exists and is kept in good condition. The Barons play an annual game there in June. Visiting this ballpark is like stepping back in time. I highly recommend visiting it.

Later that day, I drove through Chattanooga and Knoxville. Tennessee is a beautiful state and the mountains and trees make a fantastic backdrop for anything one would visit there.

Chattanooga built BellSouth Park for their AA baseball team, the Lookouts. It is on a hill near the river, and there are many new hotels next to the ballpark. My only complaint is that the freeway runs parallel to the 3rd base line and is visible and audible from the field. I wondered why they didn't turn the field ninety degrees so the freeway was behind the stands and the outfield overlooked downtown.

Knoxville opted for a suburban venue. Smokies Park, in nearby Kodak, is the home of the Tennessee Smokies AA baseball team. In the building there is a visitor center adjacent to a team store. They let visitors enter the grandstand through the team store and walk around. It is an exceptionally nice facility.

On Tuesday, I visited Lackawanna County Stadium, home of the Wilkes-Barre Red Barons. It is in Moosic, Pennsylvania, between Wilkes-Barre and Scranton. It's a large facility for AAA baseball team. It was set up for football when I was there. I assumed that the multipurpose status of the facility is why they still have artificial turf. The turf was partially covered with snow, by the way.

Wednesday morning, I woke up early and drove into downtown Binghamton to take a look at the ballpark there. New York has many small cities which prospered in the 19th century, but fell on hard times in the 20th century. Binghamton is one of those cities. The abundance of historic treasures is countered by the poverty that is all around in the downtown area. NSYEG Stadium looks like it was built to withstand some harsh circumstances, be it the climate or crime.

Until Wednesday, I had never been to Cooperstown. The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum are wonderful, although I had expected that to be the case. What I didn't anticipate was how beautiful its locale was in the village of Cooperstown. When driving into town, most people come in on Chestnut Street, which is lined with dozens of Victorian mansions. The village is chock full of wonderfully preserved turn-of-the-century structures.

To get to the Hall of Fame, you then turn right on Main Street, which is lined with shops, many of them with a baseball theme. Cooperstown's downtown is as fine as any I have seen. The village is situated on Otsego Lake, which completes the package. Cooperstown is the kind of place that people would go out of their way to visit even if the Hall of Fame wasn't there.

While I was in the Hall of Fame, I noticed that they were finishing up some large scale renovations. The place looked and smelled like it was brand new. Make no mistake; this is a world class destination. I would share more with you, but I don't want to spoil it.

At the end of the day I arrived in Boston. I look forward to sharing a story or two about what I learn about the ballparks there.

Paul Munsey is the editor of

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Munsey on Ballparks © 2005 by Paul Munsey.

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