July 25 - At The Ballpark: Hoover Metropolitan Stadium, Hoover, AL
Birmingham, Alabama is one of the larger metropolitan areas in the south, with over a million people
in the greater Birmingham area. It is also an area steeped in baseball tradition, as the Birmingham
Barons have called the city home for over 100 years, and the Negro League’s Birmingham Black
Barons (led by Willie Mays and Satchel Paige) took the field at Rickwood Field, the facility at which the
Barons played before Hoover Met opened. The SEC also hosts their yearly baseball tournament at
the current facility. Was the move to the Birmingham suburbs worth it? Let’s find out.
The selection at Hoover Met is pretty much standard – hot dogs, nachos,
beverages, etc. – and is reasonably-priced. The one plus for the
selection is that they make Powerade available, which is good for
ridiculously hot southern days, as this visit was. The nachos are a bit of
cheese for dipping and a bag of Tostitos, which was rather uninspired.
The major drawback, however, for the concessions is that the lines are
astronomical, and with already narrow concourses (more on this in a bit),
the wait for concessions is almost as bad as the squeeze between
people to get back to the seating bowl.
Between-innings entertainment: C
I should start by pointing out the good in the entertainment category, and it makes itself pretty visible
early and often. PA announcer Justin Firesheets, who is also the co-host of the quite good (and
fellow MVN affiliate) Cheap Seats Radio (cheapseatsradio.com), is easily the best I’ve heard in a
minor league park. So many of the “voice guys” blend in from park to park, and it is obvious that
Justin is quite different from the norm. I must say that I laughed out loud when he told fans to
“scream for random promotions” during a promotion in which foam baseballs were being tossed to
the crowd, and when he described the Hillbilly Horseshoes game (think horseshoes, but with toilet
seats) as “universally ridiculed”. He also spoke of a promotion the Birmingham Zoo would be doing
at the next Tuesday home game featuring a python and a skunk, and told fans if they hung around
long enough, they might be able to see the python eat the skunk. That touch of personality and humor
was very much appreciated – and no, for the record, I’m not being a shill for Justin, as he probably
couldn’t pick me out of a lineup, and hasn’t read my stuff or heard my show.
Other than Justin, the entertainment was fairly standard, with the aforementioned horseshoes
contest, a fly ball catching contest that involved a fishing net, and the standard “best seats in the
house” promotion where a fan gets to sit in a recliner, even though the recliner is behind the left field
wall. The worst part of any of the entertainment was the on-field “emcee” Jeremy, who almost
sounded to be swallowing the microphone, as his screaming left my ears ringing throughout the
night. We get it, Jeremy, you’re a loud guy and you’re trying to pump up the crowd…just remember
that you’re broadcasting. Tone it down a bit.
Sight lines: C
There is no “money shot” when walking into the seating bowls at Hoover,
and you cannot see the playing surface when walking in from the parking
lot. The stadium looks like a big spaceship from the outside, and, once
inside, you cannot see the game from anywhere except the seating bowl.
There is not a concourse going around the ballpark, so the angles pretty
much end at the bullpen areas down each line. The views are fairly
average, and the general admission seats almost seem to have a better
view than the seats behind the plate, where I was originally seated. They
are certainly more comfortable.
The Barons gave away kids jerseys on this night, which is fairly standard; however, the jewel of the
night was the post-game fireworks presentation. The fireworks were better than just about any
presentation I have seen, save for the extravagant setup in Cincinnati last year, and they seemed to
be a big hit with the fans.
The park is in a business park-type area, and ingress is just average, with the lines into the park
backing up while the attendants collect a rather high $3 parking fee. Once you park your vehicle, just
about any place you park will result in a long walk to the stadium. The long trek back to the car after
the game is made worse by the egress out of the park. As previously mentioned, the park is in a
business park-type area, and traffic backs up from the intersection of Alabama Highway 150 several
miles away from the park all the way to the parking lot. Angel Stadium in Anaheim had 40,000 fans at
the game I attended, and they managed to get cars out of their lot quicker than the traffic control in
Birmingham could manage. If you go to the game and need to turn left on Alabama 150 to get back to
Interstate 459, do yourself a favor and stay to the right, turn right on 150, and go into the Publix parking
lot on the left to flip around.
Quality of baseball: D
The Mobile Bay Bears (Padres AA) defeated the Barons (White Sox AA) 4-1 behind homers from
recent acquisition Vince Sinisi and career minor leaguer Stephen Smitherman. There was exactly
one player from either team on their respective parent club’s 40-man roster (Mobile lefthander Sean
Thompson), and neither team had a lot of hitters. The teams combined for eight hits. There was
also a horrible error by Barons right fielder Thomas Collaro, in which he overran a ball, reached back
to try to catch it, and had the ball pop out of his glove – and he then proceeded to fire the ball wide of
second base and almost up the third base line. I am used to quality baseball in the Southern
League, and this was not it.
Overall grade: D
Birmingham clearly appreciates its baseball history, as there are nods to
Robin Ventura, Willie Mays, Frank Thomas, Terry Francona and even
Michael Jordan around the stadium. What they apparently do not
appreciate, however, is fan comfort, as my drink was constantly swarmed
by bees, the concourses are enclosed and extremely narrow, and exiting
the ballpark is far too much of an ordeal, as there are limited points of exit
from the aforementioned narrow concourses, causing massive backups
and crowds of people.
There is also no real atmosphere to be spoken of in the park, as there is just a line of trees behind
the outfield wall, and nothing in terms of ambiance to get you into the game. Along with the lack of
atmosphere, there is dead grass around the infield – and, strangely, the only two parks in which I
have ever seen this are in Alabama (this one and Huntsville.) Ticket prices are basically average, and
they almost have to be to make the Hoover Met experience even partially redeeming. This park is the
baseball equivalent of a shrug of the shoulders.
How to get there:
The stadium is located in a business park off Alabama 150. Take interstate 459 to exit 10, and follow
the signs to the ballpark.
You may also want to see:
--Birmingham Civil Rights Institute – The southern United States endured a decades-long struggle
for civil rights, and the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute is a museum that chronicles the struggle. If
you are at all interested in the goings-on of this era, this is a must-see.
--Visionland – This amusement park is no Six Flags or Disney attraction, but is still a fun day’s
diversion. The park is reasonably-priced, and features standard amusement park fare, such as
rides, a water park area and concerts. If you really don’t feel like making the drive over to Atlanta for
Six Flags or something equivalent, this is worth checking out.