Regions Park is a big ballpark. Really big. Built to Triple-A specs at a time when Triple-A specs actually meant something, Regions Park is the very huge home of the Birmingham Barons. Too big, really, for the Barons. (But not too big for the SEC Baseball Tournament, which ended last week drawing 9,957 fans a game in the 2010 tourney, with 13,327 fans filling the ballpark for the championship game.) If the Barons decide to stay in suburban Hoover — something we’ll address a little later — a reimagining of this ballpark is in order. There’s plenty of room to make plenty of changes: the bones are sound, but an update is needed.
Opened: April 16, 1988; renovated before 2006 season
Budget: $14.5 million
Architect: Gresham, Smith & Partners (Birmingham); Populous (Kansas City)
Capacity: 10,800 (3,202 box seats, 7,598 general-admission seats)
Dimensions: 340L, 385LC, 405C, 385RC, 340R
Wall Height: Eight feet
Playing Surface: Grass
Owner: City of Hoover
Lease: 10-year lease signed in 1996, with two five-year options
Ticket Prices (2010): Club Box Seats, $12; Field Box Seats, $10; Regular Box Seats, $8; General Admission, $7. Children, seniors and military receive $1 off.
Box Office: 205/988-3200.
League: Southern League (Class AA)
Parent: Chicago White Sox
Parking: Plenty of parking lot outside the ballpark at $3.
Address: 100 Ben Chapman Drive, Hoover, AL 35244
Directions: From I-459, take Hwy. 150 (exit 10) east. Take Stadium Trace Road to the right when Hwy. 150 goes to the north. The ballpark will be 1.1 miles from that intersection on the left. Signage is plentiful.
As noted, the ballpark was built when Birmingham had allusions of securing a Triple-A team, so it’s big. It seats over 10,000, but a crowd of over 13,000 was accommodated for the recent SEC Baseball Tournament championship game.
All of the seating is in the grandstand, virtually all of it in the seating bowl: 3,202 box seats, 7,598 general-admission seats backed metal bleacher. A walkway intersects the two different kinds of seating.
Really, there’s not a lot to Regions Park. The second level includes two press boxes, an open one for baseball and one closed one for high-school football, as well as 12 suites and two party areas. A party deck down the right-field line was crammed during our visit, while a picnic pavilion sits beyond the right-field corner. The left-field corner features a kids’ play area.
Whether the Barons continue to play at Regions Park remains to be seen. Birmingham city officials are talking with developers about a potential downtown ballpark. The front-office folks and fans we chatted with last night didn’t seem too enthused about that idea: they like their comfortable suburban ballpark and are a little wary about downtown Birmingham, which doesn’t have the best of reputations. Whether that reputation is warranted is irrelevant: it exists and must be addressed.
Plus, there’s nothing wrong with Regions Park: it serves well enough as the home of the Barons and its size allows the city to host the SEC baseball tourney, which drew 126,071 fans to the 2010 edition, including 13,327 in the championship game. Add that to the almost 280,000 fans attending Barons games last year, and you’ve got a facility serving 400,000 fans annually. That’s no small achievement.
Still, there are some small ways the ballpark could be improved. It’s pretty bland: the drive in is actually prettier than the park itself. Beyond the left-field home-run fence is a city equipment depot, a parking lot and a football field. Despite lots of trees in the area, it’s not as bucolic as you would think, considering how far outside of town this ballpark is: it’s a good 16 miles from downtown Birmingham and a world away. Regions Park is a suburban facility nestled in the midst of high-end residential and trendy big-box retailers; suffice it to say neither are present in downtown Birmingham.
The place is just screaming for outfield seating and a wraparound concourse: there’s plenty of land in the 70-acre ballpark site to do this. Opening the concessions somehow would be a huge break as well. As it stands, Regions Park is a decent enough facility; with some additional funding and some imagination, it could be a very, very good one.
There are a few vendors in the walkway intersecting the seating bowl, but the majority of concessions are sold in the grandstand. It’s outside any view of the grandstand — the ballpark was built before the era of wraparound concourses and open concessions — and a visit can be a somewhat unpleasant experience on a hot, sticky night, as there’s little wind moving through the area.
On a weekend, check out the ribs from Dreamland; half racks are available for $10.50, while BBQ pork or chicken nachos ($7), BBQ chicken plate ($6.75) or BBQ pork plate ($6.75) are also on the menu.
You can wash these down with a variety of mainstream (Buds go for $4.75) or micro brews, including Yuengling, Sam Adams, Hazed & Infused, Red Hook, Sweaty Betty Blond Ale or St. Bridget’s Porter (all $6 per pour).