July 7 - At The Ballpark: BellSouth Park, Chattanooga, TN
It is a beautiful city, a city that is home to 155,000 residents, along with
such landmarks as Lookout Mountain, Rock City, and the Tennessee
River, among others. Chattanooga is also home to a proud 75-plus year
tradition of professional baseball.
The Lookouts spent 70 years in Engel Stadium in downtown
Chattanooga, a ballpark that has since been designated as a landmark.
They have been the Southern League (AA) affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds
since 1988, and moved into BellSouth Park in 2000. BellSouth Park is framed by the riverfront a couple
of blocks away, US Highway 27 behind the outfield fences, and downtown Chattanooga just outside the
Can BellSouth Park capitalize on all this surrounding scenery? Let's find out.
Concessions are dirt cheap in Chattanooga, and, for the most part, are an incredible value. A large
soda is $2.50, and comes with a souvenir cup. Nachos are also rather inexpensive, but could stand to
come with a little more cheese. I also tried a slice of pizza, which was very good. Another perk is that
the game program is 25 cents, which is unheard of in any other ballpark I have attended.
Between-innings entertainment: D
There is a video board in Chattanooga's park, which, while a great idea,
shows a lot of commercials. I go to the ballpark to avoid commercials,
not watch them. There was also a pathetic Blues Brothers “novelty act” --
more on them in the Promotions section.
Sight lines: B-
This ballpark is in a truly beautiful location, as views of downtown
Chattanooga, the hills in the distance, and the highway behind the left
field fence are all accessible from your seat. The only things that are not
accessible are the left and right field corners, which knocks this grade down a touch. The bullpens are
also behind the outfield fence, which prevents one from watching the pitchers warm up. Finally, I sat in
a seat behind home plate, and it was angled such that I would be looking directly at the shortstop were I
to face forward. I sat diagonally for the game, and was able to see most of the action.
Wow. The promotions on this night were nothing short of terrible. There was the typical (the base race,
the dizzy bat race, et al), the ponderous (a new character that rode onto the field in a tank and was
named “General Admission” -- groan), and the downright pathetic (a Blues Brothers novelty act that rode
onto the field in a replica of the Bluesmobile and “sang” -- I use that term loosely – along to taped
accompaniment of way too many Blues Brothers songs). This act would have been well-served to
“sing” a song or two and get out, leaving the fans wanting more, but they just kept coming back over and
over, until not a soul appeared to be paying any attention to them during their last performance. The fact
that this act continues to show up at ballparks and steal checks for their performance is astounding.
There is no real parking at the ballpark itself, as it sits on a downtown hill. The closest parking is found
through an assortment of garages and surface lots, and all of those parking options cost at least $3.
Traffic backs up pretty badly in the garages after the games, as well. There is a free lot at the Unum
Provident building downtown, but one has to ride a shuttle to the park and back, which is almost worth
paying the $3 to avoid.
Player accessibility: A
The Lookouts (and Smokies, for that matter) seemed to be very accommodating to fans seeking
autographs, and the ability to get down near the field to meet players and have them sign is just as good
here as in most other parks.
Quality of baseball: B
The Lookouts hammered the Diamondbacks' AA affiliate, the Tennessee Smokies, 9-1 on this night
behind a stellar pitching performance by Josh Hall (in the interest of full disclosure, Hall and I share the
same hometown, and I saw him pitch several times before he became a pro) and home runs from right
fielder Junior Ruiz and second baseman Kevin Howard. The Smokies have a player to watch in infielder
Dan Uggla, who was named to the Southern League All-Star team. Offense was plentiful in this game,
as the Smokies even managed to mount a small rally in the 9th off former Detroit Tigers pitcher Eric
Overall grade: C
This is a park loaded with “buts”. The scenery is beautiful, but parking is a problem. The concessions
cost next to nothing, but the promotions are bad. You get the picture.
The ballpark itself is really attractive – if not somewhat small – and, to be fair, most of the annoyances
are minor. However, the Lookouts have miles to go before recreating the charm of Engel Stadium.
Here's to hoping they figure it out, because they really do have a great facility.