Feature: Take Me Out To The Ballgame

baseball

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With two minor-league baseball teams, the Lookout Mountain area is a great place to enjoy America’s favorite pastime.

story by CADEN GRIDER, AGE 12 photos by RANDY AND OLIVIA GRIDER

The Lookout Mountain region is full of beautiful nature, but it’s also a great place to enjoy some athletic entertainment.  Two minor-league baseball teams, the Rome Braves and the Chattanooga Lookouts, make their homes here.

When you go to a baseball game, you expect a nice stadium, good food and fun stuff to do between innings – not to mention some exciting  plays on the field. A combination of these things can make a memory that will stay with you for a lifetime. [s2If !is_user_logged_in()]

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[/s2If][s2If is_user_logged_in()]WHEN IN ROME…
State Mutual Stadium is a modern structure that seats a lot of people and is a little unexpected for a city the size of Rome, Ga.

“State Mutual Stadium is simply a major-league experience in a minorleague setting that makes it a fun and affordable family  destination,” says Jim Jones, the team’s assistant general manager.

The game I attend is a special game, the Braves vs. the Braves. When I say that I mean it is the Atlanta Braves (the major-league team) playing a team comprised of players from all their minor-league affiliates, including the Rome Braves. The Rome Braves are the Single-A team, the Mississippi Braves are Double-A and the Gwinnett Braves are Triple-A. Watching the game is enough to mesmerize me, but there is much more.

I don’t spend much time in the press box because I like to be out and about. I go from one corner of the field to the other. There is a barbeque place on one side and a little seafood place on the opposite. Many concession stands line the middle. From hot dogs to Cracker Jacks, the traditional ballpark food provides a nostalgic feel. The stadium was completed in 2003. The dimensions of the field are exactly like Turner Field so injured major leaguers can rehab there.

The stadium has fold-up seats, and on Malibu Terrace, a group pavilion, there are tables. The gift shop on the first floor has souvenirs to satisfy fans of any age. They have a wide assortment of hats in many different colors. I get a Rome Braves hat myself.  They also have jerseys and knick-knacks.

As far as the game itself goes, I’m betting on the Atlanta Braves because they have all their starters. There’s Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman, Justin Upton and Mike Minor.

Right before the game, they always have a person or group sing the national anthem. On this day, the national anthem is performed by the Just As I Am choir, which is made up of teenagers and adults with disabilities.

In between innings, fans are chosen to play games on the field. One of the games is the hat shuffle. On the big screen, you see three Braves hats. A baseball is under one of the hats. The hats shuffle around really fast and then you pick the right hat to win a prize.

There also are games anyone can play along the stadium’s perimeter. Near the barbeque restaurant is a basketball game and a place where you can guess your pitch speed. I play the baseball one, but I don’t win.

The real game on the field is close almost the whole time. But then the minor-league team has a superb stretch of scoring that includes a grand slam. The final score is 13-4, and the minor-league team wins. I can almost feel the shock in the air. Everybody looks as if they are thinking, “Did that just happen?” I definitely want to come back to see the Rome Braves take on another minor-league team.

ON THE LOOKOUT…
A couple weeks later, I visit AT&T Field to watch the Chattanooga Lookouts.

“Fans who come to Chattanooga Lookouts games not only get the chance to watch some of the game’s top prospects, but also the chance to enjoy an exciting and unique atmosphere,” says Dan Kopf, media relations manager for the team.

He’s right. As soon as my family and I step out of our car we hear Wanda Goins – known as “Miss Wanda” – selling programs. “One quarter for your program. Twenty-five cents. Just twenty-five cents,” she calls in a lilting rhythm.

Goins has been selling programs for the Lookouts for 26 years and has become a team icon. She is featured in TV commercials for the team this year, and her distinctive callout, which greets visitors as they enter the stadium, is a familiar sound to regular fans.

When asked why she has been doing this so long, she says: “I just like the work. The best things are the fans and my co-workers. We all get along. We’re like one big, happy family.”

A staff member walks by just then and says, “Doing a great job, Miss Wanda.”

This is one of the first games of the season. Fans buy programs and say things like, “We’re glad to have you back another year” and “How was your winter?”

You can tell Miss Wanda knows many of the fans, too. “I love your haircut,” she tells one woman.

The Lookouts are playing the Jackson (Mississippi) Generals. The field is smaller than the one in Rome, but it has a cool, old-timey feel, even though the first game was played there in 2000. The advertisements on the outfield wall remind me of the stadium in the movie “42.” The advertisement I like

best is one for Mayfield ice cream. On top of a cone is a scoop of ice cream that looks like a baseball. Another thing about the outfield wall I like is that it is tall. There are sections of seats in right field that are at least 20 feet off the ground. You can sit about 20 yards behind the right fielder and even read the name on the back of his jersey.

The stadium is in the middle of downtown Chattanooga, another thing that is nice because you can walk to restaurants and other fun places like the Tennessee Aquarium and IMAX Theatre – and maybe even your hotel. Sitting in the stadium, you can see the city buildings and also the surrounding mountains.

The gift shop is full of things with the fun Chattanooga Lookouts logo, which features eyes looking through the C. The food at the park is delicious, and they have a mascot named Louie. If you go to a game, make sure to give Louie a high five. Fan games between innings happen at this park, too, and one involves Louie. Two kids have to roll a tire past him. It is really funny.

The Lookouts are behind most of the game. There is a home-run hit that goes way over the high, left-field wall. It looks like it goes into the highway! In the eighth inning of the game, the Lookouts are tied with Jackson 3-3. Then Chattanooga hits a two-run homer to go up 5-3. The crowd cheers in unison, creating one titanic roar. I take in everything in that moment and save it, as if I have a flash drive in my mind. The team rides its momentum and wins the game.

The best part of attending a baseball game doesn’t have anything to do with the souvenirs or the food. It’s about the experience of uniting with the crowd to cheer on a team and enjoy a day at the ballpark.

Fun Facts

THE LOOKOUTS became a Los Angeles Dodgers affiliate in 2009.

FAMOUS FORMER PLAYERS: Joey Votto, Adam Dunn, Yasiel Puig, Deion Sanders and Harmon Killebrew. Four former Lookouts, including Rogers Hornsby and Kiki Cuyler, are in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

IN 2004 THE TEAM hosted the Southern League All-Star Game. The event returns to Chattanooga this summer.

THE BRAVES moved from Macon, Ga., to Rome in 2003.

FAMOUS FORMER PLAYERS: Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman, Craig Kimbrel and Mike Minor

BARK IN THE PARK: You can watch a Rome Braves game with your dog for just $10. A portion of proceeds goes to animal charities. Call 706-378-5144 for tickets.

If You Go

GETTING THERE: State Mutual Stadium is at 755 Braves Blvd. NE, Rome, GA 30161; AT&T Field is at 201 Power Alley, Chattanooga, TN 37402
LOOK AROUND: In Rome, check out downtown, which is full of unique shops, restaurants and historic buildings; In Chattanooga, you’ll be walking distance to the Tennessee Aquarium, IMAX Theatre and other attractions.
MORE INFO: rome.braves.milb.com; lookouts.com

 

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