Tuesday, May 15, 2012
Hank Aaron Stadium is named after the former All Time Homerun King Hank Aaron and home of the Mobile BayBears, the AA farm team of the Arizona Diamondbacks. The BayBears franchise was originally located in Wilmington, North Carolina under the name of the Port City Roosters. From 1997 to 2006, the BayBears were the Double-A affiliate of the San Diego Padres. The ballpark opened on April 17, 1997. and can hold 6,000. I have been attending games at Hank Aaron Stadium since 2004 and the stadium really has not changed that much in the past eight years much less the past 15 years when it first opened. It is now one of the older ballparks in the Southern League.
Stadium Rating: 3
Hank Aaron Stadium is one of the more puzzling stadiums to review. Its location leaves you nothing to explore on foot, the backdrop around the stadium is bland, and movement inside the stadium is inhibited by a lack of access. Yet, no one will argue with you that once you enter Hank Aaron Stadium, the focus is on baseball.
The first thing you notice driving up to the Hank is the large of amount of parking and ask yourself why after fifteen years of baseball, have they not added more scenery around the park. The red brick and painted green steel gives the stadium a classic feeling on the outside exterior. One of the things I look for in the concourses of Minor League stadiums is anything referencing the history of the team or famous alumni of the team. Some stadiums have a small portion of references, if any, but inside the Hank you will find stadium seats from old MLB stadiums that Hank Aaron played in and concession stands named after retired MLB stadiums. If you like that kind of stuff, it starts outside the entrance of the Hank and continues in the concourse.
The stadium has a seating capacity of 6000 as well as 22 unique luxury suites. The Hank's biggest oddity is that those suites are at field level. From the VIP suites, you are closer to the catcher than the pitcher. That sounds nice at first, but a lot of the infield action during the game can be blocked by the home plate umpire. The seats from which the majority of fans will view the action on the field are on top of the suites or in the lower sections down the baselines. All seating is of the green fold down chair and the stadium features zero bleacher seating. Seating behind home plate is tight for my 6'2" frame but the rows get better the higher you go up in the sections. There’s too much netting altogether in the Hank which creates some terrible sight lines.
With the suites at field level, that means the Hank has an closed concourse. If you decide to visit the bathroom and concession areas, you're going to miss a lot of the game. My favorite place to sit is under the umbrella seating outside the Stadium Club Terrace during day games and under the press boxes behind home plate for night games. If you plan on attending a game with little kids, bring a blanket and watch the game from Baybear Mountain. They can burn off some energy rolling down the hill.
The stadium is starting to show its age. The white board they use to post the team lineups was a mess. Signs need to be repainted. The scoreboard is pitiful. It has seen better days and is inadequate when compared to its current Southern League counterparts. It doesn't even serve its purpose for the BayBears when they are doing in between inning promotions on it. I am not that picky about bathrooms at sporting events but the malodorous bathrooms at the Hank scare me. I don't see how "Going Green " relates to not addressing the bathroom altogether.
For kids, the Hank offers an area called BayBear Beach, which is a picnic area that comes complete with an inflatable water slide, a beach volleyball court and a field-level view. All the amenities to stop kids from watching the game. It is open to the public after the first pitch.
One of the newer additions to the Hank is the new "Hank Aaron Childhood Home and Museum" which opened in the spring of 2010. It alone is worth arriving to the Hank an hour early and taking a tour. It features artifacts and memorabilia from his career and childhood.
Baseball Atmosphere: 4
This rating really doesn't come from this visit. I have attended some games during the summer with only 49 people in house which is expected considering Mobile is a football first sports city. The majority of those 49 at times are scouts or work in baseball in some capacity. Some of the more interesting conversations I have listened to about baseball have come inside the Hank. However, today was a School Day game with the first pitch scheduled for 11:35 AM and these kids were quiet which made it very dull. The Baybears have been doing the same promotions what seems like forever. I always enjoyed the “Beat the Bug Race” which is now "Beat The Bear Race" which features the BayBears mascot racing a kid around the base paths. I actually missed Clarence "The Dancing Man " while out in Utah. Nothing like an old man pelvic thrusting three feet from a middle aged man at eye level to the beats of " Who let the Dogs Out". Seriously, I am jealous of how much baseball Clarence has actually watched and when he is not trying to get you to dance its interesting to hear some of the things that he has experienced inside the stadium. The BayBears do an excellent job of providing a superb mixed of old classic music hits and ballpark favorites you should know.
Hank Aaron Stadium is a pain in the ass to autograph. You're not going to be able to graph both teams before the game. The BayBears have a very short walk from their locker room to their bullpen to their dugout due to the first baseline being very short for a modern ballpark. You have no access to the BayBears bullpen area unless you get the attention of the players to come to you which is a good 20 yard walk for them. If the Baybears don't win the game, the bullpen players aren't coming any closer to you. You only have access to the Baybears dugout on the right side of the dugout. The visiting team enters the field from right field and has to walk across the field to the 3rd base side. Once they are half way across the field, they then can decide to either continue to their bullpen or to their dugout. You have great access to the visiting team’s bullpen if you are standing along the 3rd base side in the BayBear Beach area. Your only access to the visiting team’s dugout is on the left side of the dugout. After the game, the ideal place for autographs on the BayBears side is to the far right of the elevated terrace on the right side of the tarps. It is very hit or miss due to the small space, but it’s the best place. Both the visiting team’s bus and the BayBears parking lot are gated. If you can't call players out in street clothes or if you have large items, its going to be fruitless for you.
Ticket prices for a BayBear game still seem to be highest in the Southern League. Field Level seats are $15.00 and your basic box seat is $7.00. Parking is $3.00 and my general admission ticket today was $6.00. Concessions are not cheap with a 20 ounce drink being $3.50 and a one topping micro hot dog for $2.50. Concessions feature your standard baseball items: hotdogs, peanuts, nachos, and beer. I was planning on trying the Turner Burger but the vending station that sells it was not open on this visit. No items on the concourse menus are over $6.00 but the Stadium Club restaurant is expensive for what they have to offer. A tour of Hank Aaron's stadium is free with your ticket up to one hour before game time. One of the things that bothered me the most with this visit was with my scorecard purchase for a $1.00. I purchased one with the expectation that it would come with a printed roster for both teams. It didn't.
The Hank does not offer a whole lot to the non baseball fan who does not enjoy watching baseball. Set your expectations correctly and you will be fine. Even though I complain a lot about this stadium, I always find myself watching a game in it. The stadium's greatest amenity is the product on the field and that’s the best reason to visit The Hank.