Five pro ballparks will be entering the bidding to host the SEC baseball tourney, now drawing large crowds at Birmingham’s Regions Park.
The five: AutoZone Park, home of the Memphis Redbirds (Class AAA; Pacific Coast League); Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville, home of the Jacksonville Suns (Class AA; Southern League); Coolray Field, home of the Gwinnett Braves (Class AAA; International League); Riverwalk Stadium, home of the Montgomery Biscuits (Class AA; Southern League); and Trustmark Field, home of the Mississippi Braves (Class AA; Southern League).
The Barons will also seek to continue its contract to manage the tourney, which ends in 2011.
Birmingham has hosted the tournament since 1998. Under the Barons, the tournament has grown to a major baseball happening, with several crowds exceeding ballpark capacity in 2010.
That success is leading the SEC to demand that whoever lands the next tourney contract have a ballpark with 10,000+ capacity. That would seem to hurt the chances of Montgomery and Pearl, whose ballparks are much smaller than 10,000. However, the plan for both would to bring in some temporary seating to push capacity to where the SEC likes.
Still, you gotta think Birmingham will remain the favorite, with Memphis having a decent shot. Besides ballpark capacity, there are other factors where Birmingham grades well, like availability of local hotel rooms and business support. Memphis would grade out well on hotel rooms; Gwinnett County and Pearl less so. But Birmingham, Hoover and the Barons have done a lot of work to promote the tourney and build it as a regional attraction, to point where Hoover spent a lot of money on ballpark upgrades to please the SEC: that sort of loyalty, we’re guessing, won’t go forgotten.
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