September 21 - At The Ballpark: Smokies Park, Sevierville, TN
The metropolitan Knoxville area has been the home of baseball for 110 years, with a majority of those
years being played in venerable Bill Meyer Stadium in Knoxville. Inevitably, as ballparks age, they are
phased out. Bill Meyer went the way of Tim McCarver Stadium in Memphis, Engel Stadium in
Chattanooga, and their soon-to-be brethren Greer Stadium in Nashville. The Smokies now play 20
miles northeast of Knoxville in Sevier County, Tennessee in a ballpark that opened in 2000. Was the
trip to the suburbs worth it? Let’s find out.
Do you like cheeseburgers and fries? Ice cream from a helmet? All the standard ballpark fare? It’s
all here, and the prices and portion sizes are amazingly reasonable. A sizeable tray of nachos and a
large drink (in a souvenir cup – nice touch) ran me about $6, and was well worth it. There is a
restaurant down the left field line, and many separate stands throughout the ballpark. Show up
hungry – you’ll be pleased.
Between-innings entertainment: C
Most of the between-innings stuff was fairly par for the course at Smokies
Park, as they featured the requisite mascot race (has a mascot ever won
one of those things?), a dance-off between two fans, the contest where
you pitch a ball through a hole in a board, and several other standard
items. I was less than impressed with the lack of music between
innings, as there was a great musical selection being played on the
concourse before the game that inexplicably disappeared between
innings of the game. Note to the Smokies’ PA guy: Bring back the music.
Sight lines: A+
Smokies Park has a concourse that circles the ballpark, and the view of the action is great no matter
where you may be taking in the game. The seats are comfortable and have a large amount of leg
room, and the sidewalks and concourses provide lots of room for those who prefer their baseball
experience to be more upright. The scenery surrounding the ballpark isn’t totally great shakes – there
is an interstate behind home plate, and a large wooded hill behind the outfield fence, along with a
KOA Kampground, but you do get the feeling that you are in a mountain setting when watching the
The day I attended featured free 2007 Smokies calendar posters, and the ballpark staff was nice
enough to either give you a rubber band to put around your poster, or let you take it back to your car.
The real winner of the day, however, was the Berkline Ball Toss, which allows fans to purchase
tennis balls to throw onto the field for a number of prizes, separated by the area in which your ball
lands. If you got a ball into the Berkline recliner near the pitcher’s mound, you won the recliner, and
despite my ball barely bouncing to the side of the chair, it landed in the circle surrounding the chair.
This got me a Smokies prize package that was easily worth 10 times what I paid for the tennis balls
($1 for one ball, $5 for six), and was a nice touch. The promotions department did a great job of
setting up the prizes for this promotion.
Parking is plentiful at Smokies Park, as they share a parking lot with the Smoky Mountain Visitor
Center. The entire lot is paved, and a short painless walk to the park. The only thing dragging this
grade down a bit is that there is a charge to park, which, though minimal, is still a pain. Make sure to
have a couple of dollar bills (or, to be sure, a five dollar bill) handy when you pull into the lot. There
are two points of entry into and two points of exit from the lot, but only one of the exits leads to a traffic
Quality of baseball: A
Mobile lefthander (and Padres pitching prospect) Sean Thompson shut
down the homestanding Smokies early on, but left the game after
five-plus innings, surrendering seven earned runs on seven hits
(including homers by Diamondback prospects Jamie D’Antona, Jerry Gil
and Carlos Gonzalez) in a 10-4 Mobile loss. Both teams hit the ball well,
and a number of prospects were on display in this contest. If you like
homers, this was the game for you, as both teams put on a display.
Overall grade: A
A note on a board in Smokies Park describes Smokies baseball as a “nine inning vacation”, and I
wholeheartedly agree. All of the ballpark staff was indescribably friendly – a big plus – and it’s easy
for fans to feel like home at this park. The view is perfect, tickets are reasonably-priced, and you can
feed your family without going broke. There is also a large gift shop near the plate area, and you can
buy pretty much anything Smokies-related you want, along with several other items. This ballpark is
right on the edge of an A+, if they would only work on the between-innings experience.
How to get there:
The stadium is located directly off interstate 40 in east Tennessee. From the Knoxville area, take 40
east to exit 407, and turn left at the light. The stadium will be ahead on your right. From points east,
take 40 west to exit 407, then take a right. The stadium will be ahead on the right.
You may also want to see:
--Knoxville. The home of the University of Tennessee features Neyland Stadium, the Knoxville Zoo
and numerous other attractions. Most of the action is located in the university district, and Knoxville
turns into one of the bigger cities in the south on Tennessee football gamedays.
--The Smoky Mountain area. Sevierville is (obviously) surrounded by the Smokies, and the Pigeon
Forge and Gatlinburg tourist areas are minutes to the south. Gatlinburg affords tourists the
opportunity to ride ski lifts to the top of mountainous areas for scenic views, visit museums, take
nature walks, or even get married by an Elvis impersonator (you can also do it the conventional way,
too), while Pigeon Forge is more neon-filled and features the Dollywood theme park. The Indian
reservation of Cherokee, North Carolina is just over the mountain (trip time from Sevierville is about
45 minutes to an hour, in normal traffic) and features some breathtaking views along the way, as well
as a Harrah’s casino in Cherokee proper.