Alabama

Baseball Stadiums: Hank Aaron Stadium

After arriving late and missing the first pitch in Pensacola (read about visit here) the night before, I was determined to arrive in plenty of time to see the first pitch in Mobile two weeks.  So after some sightseeing in Pensacola on a Friday morning, I headed over to Mobile, Ala., and visited the USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park before getting ready to make a short trip from my downtown hotel to Hank Aaron Stadium, home of the MobileBayBears.

Main entrance.

The silhouette is of the stadium’s namesake following through on his prolific homerun swing, but the BayBears commemorate the rich history of baseball in the city with a marker honoring the five members of the National Baseball Hall of Fame who were born in Mobile.

Marker honoring the five Mobile native inducted to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Before entering the stadium I wanted to get a photo of the main gate with Hank Aaron’s name because the silhouette obscures the name when I took a photo showing the front of the stadium.

Main gate.

There are some really interesting historic items at Hank Aaron Stadium, but the thing that takes the cake is the Hank Aaron Childhood Home & Museum.  In 2008, the BayBears purchased the home with the intent of moving it to the stadium grounds.  In 2010, the team opened the home as a museum with much fanfare (read more here).  So once I entered the gate, I immediately headed to explore the home.

Hank Aaron Childhood Home & Museum.
Plaque commemorating the opening and dedication of the museum.

Only one room in the house has been preserved in its original state (the kitchen), but a display in the home shows the house at its original location, the restoration process, and the opening ceremonies.

Display showing the restoration of the home into a museum.

A majority of the rooms in the home display Aaron memorabilia and Mobile baseball history, so I opted not to include many of the photos.  Instead I wanted to provide a glimpse into the museum while focusing more on my visit to the stadium.

Inside the stadium there is also a handful of historic pieces connected to Aaron’s career.  There are seats from Milwaukee County Stadium, where Aaron began his pro career with the Braves and concluded it with the Brewers, and seats from Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, where Aaron hit his historic 715th career homerun.

Seats from Milwaukee County Stadium.
Seats from Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.

In addition to the to the seats from Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium and Milwaukee County Stadium there are seats from Chicago’s Wrigley Field, but growing up an Atlanta Braves fan I couldn’t include that in my post.

Before taking my seat behind home plate I got pictures of the Southern League standings and the night’s starting lineups.

Southern League standings on Friday, May 8.

The standings and lineups are visible almost immediately after entering the gates, and when I first arrived it lacked the visitors’ lineup.  I checked back later, but I never saw the Jacksonville Suns’ lineup posted.

Starting lineups (sort of).

After wandering around a bit, I headed up to my seats to watch the start of the game.  Hank Aaron Stadium is unique in that the suite boxes are on the lower level with the other seats above them.  It reminds me a lot of McCoy Stadium, home of the Pawtucket Red Sox.

I had a seat right behind home plate, so I had a perfect view for the first pitch.  I did not know it at the time, but Mobile starting pitcher Braden Shipley is ranked as Arizona’s No. 2 prospect according to MLB.com and Baseball America.  Finding this out afterward is always one of the fun things about watching Minor League Baseball: you could be watching a future All-Star.

Mobile BayBears starting pitcher Braden Shipley delivering the first pitch to Jacksonville Suns shortstop Raul Navarro.

Next to me was a seat set aside to honor POW and MIA military personnel.

POW/MIA seat.

After watching a few innings of the game I went to seek out food.  I had spoken with an employee earlier and asked for recommendations, but didn’t get much input because as the employee acknowledged there are not a lot of local food items at the ballpark.  However, when I got a beer before the game a concession stand employee suggested a Conecuh Sausage, which is a noted Alabama brand.

Line at a concession stand before the game.

After a lengthy wait in line, during which time I was able to drink a beer, I finally got my Conecuh Sausage and headed back to the stands to eat while watching some of the game.

Conecuh Sausage with the works, which includes grilled onions and red and green peppers.

After eating the spicy and delicious Conecuh Sausage I realized that I hadn’t taken many pictures of the seating bowl.  So I proceeded to explore the stadium while capturing images of the seating bowl and the unique structure of the stadium with the luxury suites on the ground level and chair-back seats above them.

View near visitors’ dugout.
Mobile BayBears starting pitcher Braden Shipley wearing pink cleats a couple of days in advance of Mother’s Day.
View from the first base line showing the visitors’ dugout and the luxury suites immediately behind home plate.

No group of stadium photos would be complete without a shot of the videoboard, especially when so many teams have installed new ones in advance of this season.  Mobile did not install a new videoboard before this season, but it appears to be in good shape.

Videoboard in right field.

After Jacksonville tied the game in the top of the 4th inning Mobile had opportunities late in the game to take the lead, but was unable to push across a run.  Instead the game went to extra innings, which delayed the postgame fireworks.  Eventually in the 14th inning Jacksonville broke the tie on Terrence Dayleg’s double brought home Ryan Rieger, and a groundout scored an insurance run for the Suns.  Sean Donatello recorded a 1-2-3 bottom of the 14th to secure the win, which brought on the fireworks!

The fireworks show was well worth the wait, as the BayBears wrapped up the show with Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama.”

There were some good, some mediocre, and some not so good things about my visit to Hank Aaron Stadium.  There’s plenty of parking, but the stadium is located in the southwest part of town off I-65, which means there is no particularly scenic view while at the game.  However it is easy to reach, especially for an out-of-towner like myself.

The food was good, but nothing special.  The Conecuh Sausage was tasty, but it’s disappointing to see that there were no unique seafood items on the menu considering Mobile’s connections to fishing off the Gulf of Mexico.  The staff was very friendly despite the lines at the concession stands being longer than they should on a Friday night.

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Categories: Alabama, baseball, MiLB

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