Editor’s Note: Mark Cryan, former MiLB general manager and Ballpark Digest contributing editor, is embarking on an epic ballpark tour this summer, and he’ll be filing regular dispatches from the road. Day One: a trip to Greeneville’s Pioneer Park.
We struck out at midday for a 4-plus-hour drive to Greeneville, Tennessee, home of the Greeneville Astros (rookie; Appalachian League). Technically, the Astros actually play in Tusculum on the campus of Tusculum College, but they claim the larger city of Greeneville.
It was Opening Night for the Astros, and they had put plenty of promotional efforts into this game. There were free hot-dog vouchers distributed at the gate, a post-game fireworks show and a magnet schedule giveaway. We also saw lots of “Game Tonight” signs along the roadsides as we entered Greeneville and then Tusculum.
Pioneer Park, by Appalachian League standards, is a remarkable facility. With a grandstand of roughly 2,000 chairback seats with an open concourse and partial roof above, this ballpark is much like the standard sunken-seating bowl design that has become standard in Class A, except that there are only four suites flanking a press box in the center at concourse level, rather than elevated.
This still leaves plenty of room to see the game while strolling the concourse. It widens out down the first-base side, allowing plenty of room for group meals. The third-base side features a large, oddly shaped berm that could provide overflow seating on a big night.
The overall feel of this park is first class, with lots of brick, beautifully arched green steel girders supporting the gracefully cantilevered grandstand roof, and lots of great architectural detail, such as baseball relief artwork on the ends of each row of seats, arched entryways, wrought iron fencing, and goose neck lamps on the concourse.
Alcohol sales are conducted at the “Rita Cabana,” all the way down the first-base concourse. This is an attractive tiki-bar-type set up, with its own regulars and atmosphere. The concessions are standard fare, with some good values, including draft sodas with a souvenir cup, although they are not inexpensive by Appy League standards.
The Houston big-league team operates this Appy League entry themselves, and GM David Lane has seen 10 openers at Pioneer Park. With the modern clubhouse building, including an indoor/outdoor hitting facility, and upscale team office space that includes a Greeneville baseball history display, the ‘Stros have to be ecstatic about the environment in which they are developing their young players.
The overall experience is terrific for the baseball fan, although our “Kid’s Eye View” author had a few suggestions to strengthen the appeal with the younger set.
Greeneville — Kids’ Eye View
The Greeneville ballpark has some good activities to keep kids busy. Behind the suites on the concourse they had an inflatable speed pitch game and an inflatable batting game. Even though those are two fun activities, it seems like there is room for a playground for the younger kids down the left-field line above the berm. If you get there early enough then you can take a trip behind the left-field wall and find a slew of BP home runs as long as you get there first.
Get tickets on the first-base side of the grandstand above the home dugout; this is where most of the promotions happen, and there were some great freebies thrown into the crowd. We got a T-shirt and a softee ball. And don’t forget to check the promotional schedule for gate giveaways and fireworks; we enjoyed getting free magnets and free hot dog on the night we were there!
Our post-game plans of “Wal-Mart camping” were scuttled by the failure of the van’s air conditioning. After some quick shopping and a visit to the bathroom at the Wally World Supercenter in Tusculum, we put our blinds in the windows, folded down the bed, and prepared to hit the sack nestled between two tractor trailers that were overnighting as well. But, we threw in the towel at about 1:30 a.m. when the van, with no AC, transformed into a sweltering hot box. We checked into the Knights Inn just down the road. This is the hotel where the Astros house their players, and while it’s nothing fancy, it was clean, affordable and, most importantly, had a working air conditioner.
We began Day Two of our adventure with a trip to the service department at the the Dodge dealer in Johnson City. While we got the car checked we saw the Ballpark Digest contest for Best Short Season A ballpark was generating front-page coverage in the sports section. There was also a wonderful, positive article about the economic impact of MiLB on the local economy and on people’s quality of life, quoting both Johnson City Cardinals GM Tyler Parsons and the Elizabethton Twins’ Mike Maines.
After being dropped off by the courtesy driver, Alan, we spent several hours exploring the East Tennessee State University campus while we cross our fingers that the Dodge folks can get some cold air going for us. Stay tuned!
Next stop: Howard Johnson Field.
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