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 Three: a trip to Nashville’s First Tennessee Park.
Nashville in the Pacific Coast League? Yes, I know baseball hardcores are tired of talking about it, but it’s weird. The good news about this is that my son got a PCL ball, which he can put in his collections along with Appy League, Southern League and International League souvenir balls.
I have a friend who lived in Nashville until recently, and he raved about the city, and after a too-short visit, I understand. It’s also clear what a great addition the Sounds. new downtown ballpark, First Tennessee Park, is to the city. For most visitors, Nashville is country music, and the bars and clubs on Lower Broadway can be counted on to provide nonstop live music. As if a band or singer in every storefront isn’t enough, there are even musicians playing on the street. Be cautious about driving into this madhouse; even on a Saturday afternoon, it took fifteen minutes to move through a few blocks.
There is also the Ryman Auditorium, a veritable shrine to country music, the Johnny Cash museum, and too many other musical landmarks to mention. But, for people who live here, there is a need for day-to-day entertainment, like Minor League Baseball. This is a city that once hosted an ill-fated experiment in baseball every day, when they hosted a Triple-A and Double-A team during the same year. What the teams’ operators found out was that there is such a thing as too much baseball; crowds were diluted for both, no one was quite sure which team was the hometown team, and the city mercifully returned to one team.
Unfortunately, that one team, the Nashville Sounds, was playing in Herschel Greer Stadium, which has been described, not inaccurately, as “a monstrosity in cinder block.” A large functional ballpark a short distance from the center of town, this stadium was nonetheless charmless aside from the massive guitar-shaped scoreboard that became the Sounds’ major symbol.
New Horizons in Historic Sulphur Dell
Which brings us to First Tennessee Park. The guitar made the trip to the new site, down the hill from downtown in the Germantown neighborhood. Well, actually, it’s an upgraded, bigger version of the guitar-shaped board, featuring massive video displays. There is even a videoscreen on each of the tuning keys, and the actual scoreboard is in the neck of the guitar. It’s distinctive, it’s Nashville, and it’s cool.
Speaking of cool, this ballpark’s other most distinctive feature is the Band Box, an open-air bar area in right field, below the scoreboard. With lots of “Ultra-Lounge” feel to it, including irregular shapes, astroturf flooring, plush seats, a Foosball table and more, this space was still packed when we left the ballpark, highlighting the team’s hopes to turn this into a neighborhood hotspot for post-game, or even nights when there isn’t a game.
The ballpark was packed when we were there on a Saturday night, and Nashvilleans clearly love this park. The look is definitely not retro, as there is not a green girder or red brick in sight. Instead, this is a ballpark that may remind people more of Nationals Park, with lots of light colored stone and decidedly modern feel. It fits Nashville to a T.
The other thing that fits for a progressive, growing city like Nashville, is the construction cranes sticking out of the work sites next to the ballpark. This facility appears to be doing exactly what city leaders always hope for; spurring additional development. There are several major construction projects underway adjacent to the ballpark which will include apartments and retail. When combined with five- or six-block walk to the heart of downtown, and a very nice nearby park, this should become a trendy place to live for young professionals.
There is even free ballpark parking in nearby lots. Kudos to the Sounds for that!
The ballpark itself follows the modern standard, with a 360-degree concourse and massive amounts of open space for special events and future development. Between the foul poles, the walkway is open to the seating bowl, which features very comfortable padded seats. There are lots of drink rails and other non-traditional spaces to accommodate the new style of watching baseball, which means walking around, socializing and watching some baseball in between.
The orientation of the park is tricky, as the site attempts to meet both a need for the proper angle to the sun, and the team’s desire to showcase the skyline. The city looms over the outfield wall in a near perfect backdrop, although this necessitates a home-plate entrance that does not face the direction from which most fans approach. There are ticket gates on the downtown side of the ballpark, with more planned as part of nearby development, so the Sounds have accommodated this challenge in a better way than most.
There is also a good amount of lawn and other open space around the wet edge of the ballpark, which should give team owners the flexibility to grow and adapt this park as the years pass. And, the site, it must be mentioned, is Sulphur Dell, the historic home of baseball in Nashville, which is a great bonus for what is a nearly ideal location.
Kids’ Eye View by Ty Cryan
Nashville has many fun activities to keep the young audience engaged and active. Like most of the other parks they had an inflatable speed pitch game but they were the first park I’ve seen that has an inflatable slide and a big throne were you can get your picture taken. All of the activities have a small fee and are out of reach of foul balls. Also a unique feature in Nashville is the Band Box; while it’s a hangout spot for the adults late in the game and afterward, it has an artificial grass area where you can play corn hole, foosball, and ping pong all for free, which attracted a good number of kids (and their parents) early in the game. This park was loaded with young professionals, but there were lots of families as well, and these element create a very family-friendly ballpark.
So, pack up your guitar (mine is in the van, but I didn’t have time to audition) and head to Nashville. You’ll be glad you did. The sounds of country music and the Sounds of the Pacific Coast League await you.
Next stop: Busch Stadium, St. Louis Cardinals.