Sunday, January 8, 2012
I first visited this ballpark in 1996. I didn't do a good job at work hiding my obsession with baseball due to my manager catching me sorting his cards one day while he was at lunch. I noticed that all his Pat Watkin cards that I had pulled from packs the week before were signed. I had seen him powdering his cards several times in the past and never really asked what he was doing with the powdered cards. After my shift, he invited me to help him out that night with a top prospect that would be playing against the Barons: Derek Lee. Before he asked me to go to the Barons game with him , it never occurred to me to go to a Minor League baseball game to get autographs. I didn't even go to a Barons game to watch Micheal Jordan play baseball. Even at a young age, I realized the chance of making Major Leagues was small and didn't see the point in asking the players while they were in the Minors. I had always paid for my autographs at card shows. I have probably written about this ballpark on three blogs over the past 5 years never to finish the post or losing the pictures to make it worthwhile. This week I returned to the ballpark that started my obsession with getting autographs and write a review of the stadium. Just like 15 years ago, the Birmingham Barons are still associated with the Chicago White Sox and play in the Southern League. It's the second oldest ballpark in the Southern League and over their history the Barons have been one of the top five to ten draws in Minor League Baseball.
Random Fact: The city of Birmingham is trying to lure the Barons back to the downtown area in a new stadium by 2013.
Stadium Rating: C
The stadium is actually located in a subdivision of Hoover, Alabama and it is shocking to think that they have not built anything around the stadium that is worthwhile exploring on foot. For additional entertainment, you have restaurants and the Galleria Mall a couple of miles away. Even with my first visit in 1996, Regions Park was an old stadium. The stadium first opened in 1988 and was renovated after the 2006 season. The small basketball court that was located down the third baseline is not there anymore. It used to annoy me. The size of the parking lot still reminds me of the emptiness the Griswold family' experienced as they drove thru the empty parking lot of Wally World in the movie National Lampoon's Vacation. Outside of the stadium still looks like a dome and anything but a baseball stadium. The only thing that has remained the same is the vastness of the ballpark. The stadium is huge and has a lot of dead space. Regions Park offers a simple seating arrangement. The renovation of 2007 resulted in new seats for the seating bowl but the same aluminum bleachers since the parks opening in the last 2 sections of the bowl. A second deck was added on top of the press boxes which is used as skybox suites and a banquet area. The expansion also lead to a new ticket office along the third base side which was being used has a concession stand tonight. My seat was a general admission seat right behind home plate which in most stadiums is considered reserved seating. Some areas of the bowl can seem distant from the action on the field but offer no poor sight lines. Oddly, Upper deck is at street level. The stadium offers very little shade and day games can be brutal.. The concourse is the problem with the stadium. The lack of openness inside the concourse makes you feel like your inside a dome stadium and your going to miss a lot of the game as you explore the concourse. The concourse features several concession stands, some over sized team photo's featuring past Baron squad's and some posters featuring previous Baron's like Micheal Jordan and Bobby Jenks. This is it for the historic feel.
Scoreboard serves its purpose and provides all the information one would need if the PA announcer fails to do so. The concession stands offer a huge amount of options that one would expect in a Major League stadium. There is simply something for everyone. One thing that I didn't like about the stadium is the how limited your access is to some areas of the stadium. I remember that I use to be able to go up the elevator to the suite level to acquire merchandise like baseball card sets and hats. Now they have a small souvenir shop in the concourse.
The picnic areas that are named from past players in the Baron's long history were reserved for a function. I wasn't even allowed to take pictures from the small berm area on either side of the stadium. Generally, there is nothing wrong with the stadium yet it doesn't offer anything else then a great place to watch a Minor League Baseball game.
Back in 1996, I always tried to arrive early so I didn't have to pay parking but tonight I failed. Parking was $3.00. My general admission ticket was $7.00. I celebrated my return to the South by drinking 4 cups of sweet tea which I took for granted when I headed to the West. Each cup was a $1.00 and it was great. My program was a $1.00 and my regular hot dog which was fresh took another $3.00. Finally, I purchased a 2011 team set for a friend for $8.00. Not cheap when it add it all up.
Baseball Atmosphere: C
The crowd was small and for the most part they were there for Thirsty Thursday. I was expecting a huge draw due to the visiting team being affiliated with the Chicago Cubs. The crowd was quiet tonight and didn't turn into a baseball crowd until the Top of the 9th inning when the Tennessee Smokies were threatening to take the lead. Sound effects for the most part are entertaining however I was quickly reminded that I had returned to the South with the in between innings failing to promote the spirit of baseball with the art of throwing a football taking center stage. Didn't really understand the Fantasy Football Draft Part Night Promotion.
This stadium has always been great for graphs. Tonight the players were kinda hesitant about leaving the dugout until the last minute due to the rain clouds. You have access to both teams bullpen and there is little backstop netting preventing your access to either dugout. What makes this ballpark great for autographing is after the game. The visiting team's bus pulls up along the outside of the stadium on the third-base side. There are no gates and tonight there was no security. It's the same on the Baron's side. Zero fencing for the players parking lot and if it wasn't for the raindrops tonight, I would have gotten everything done.
It is going to be interesting what happens to this stadium and the future of the Barons. Two guys I was getting autographs with were not all that excited about the Barons leaving the Hoover, Alabama area. Traffic worried them. One female worker worried about her safety in a relocation downtown. Finally, one season ticket said he would not be going downtown for any reason. Even before I left, it was easy to forget about the Barons. My Dad asked me where they were located today. Hoover High School football out draws the Barons and you could label this an endangered affiliated ballpark and that's never good.