A baseball trip to remember, Part 1

It wasn’t all baseball on the Overstreet baseball trip

From June 28 through July 7, Commissioner Emeritus James Overstreet and his son, Whit, embarked on a baseball trip. I asked James to chronicle the trip because I thought it would be fun to read. He wrote so much and sent so many pictures that I’m going to break this up into multiple blog posts over the next few days. TODAY: Introduction and the first three days of the trip:

Let’s get the basics out of the way. When did you leave, how many ballparks did you visit, how many miles on the car, how many nights in hotels?

We launched our magical mystery baseball tour on Friday, June 28, and ended it 10 days later with a grand slam on Sunday, July 7. We went to nine games, visited eight ballparks and traveled 2,114 miles through eight states, staying in seven hotels: shortest stay was four hours, the longest 21 hours.

How much planning did you do? Did you get all your hotel rooms in advance? Did you get your major league tickets in advance?

I began thinking about a baseball road trip toward the end of Whit’s baseball season, a highly successful campaign in which his team finished No. 19 in the nation and earned a berth in the National Championship tournament in Dallas. His team finished 42-13. allowing just four runs a game (astounding for an 11U team).

Whit’s team competed at the highest level of travel ball, playing more Major teams than any other team in the nation. It’s an understatement to say it was an often stressful season — particularly so for Whit, the team’s primary catcher and the closer. And while such high-pressure games are rewarding — and excellent for player development — I figured we needed to really chill out after the season and enjoy the game as fans in the stands.

So I busted out the trusty Baseball America map and began structuring a nine-game road trip (nine innings).The actual planning of the route took a few days — matching up the schedules of nine teams can be tricky. We probably created 10 different routes before finding the right one. Often we would get to the sixth or seventh day and not find a home team within 200 miles. So we’d have to reroute. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Once we found the right route — Memphis-Nashville-Bristol-Lexington-Cincinnati-Chicago-St. Louis-Memphis — we had to make sure good tickets were available in each of the cities. Buying tickets online and leaving them at will call is very easy, and I was able to find very decent seats at all of the ballparks in about an hour. (The Bristol White Sox, advanced rookie short season ball, was the only team in which tickets had to be bought at the gate.)
Once we bought the tickets ($700), we started making hotel reservations with only one real stipulation: must be close to the ballpark, preferably walking distance but no more than a 10-minute drive. Most expensive: $160, Hyatt Regency – Rupp Arena, Lexington, KY.; least expensive: $90, Holiday Inn, Lafayette, IND. (Note: It is very important to reserve hotel rooms prior to departure. This kind of trip can get hectic, particularly with extra innings, rain delays or other unpredictable events. And the last thing you want is to be racing to some city at 1 a.m. worrying about getting a hotel room.)

Essential tools: Baseball America map, a scorebook, the Baseball America Directory, Baseball America Prospect Handbook and the MLB channels on satellite radio.

Go day by day — or game by game — and take us through the trip.

We embarked on our journey just a few miles from home at AutoZone Park.

The trip begins with a visit to AutoZone Park.

First Inning: 7:05 p.m., Friday (June 28), MEMPHIS, Pacific Coast League (AAA)
Memphis Redbirds (Cardinals) vs. Albuquerque Isotopes (Dodgers)
Weather: 89 degrees, clear
Time: 3:05
Announced Attendance: 5,803
Seats: Section 109, Row G, Seats 2 & 3 ($32 total)
Ballpark: AutoZone Park
Opened: 2000
Capacity: 14,320
Cost: $80.5 million

Warm-ups: We all know AutoZone Park park well, but it’s worth repeating that it is one of the finest minor league baseball parks in America. From its retro design (based on Camden Yards) to the Bluff out in left field, everything about AutoZone Park is designed to provide a thoroughly enjoyable baseball experience. The standard fare of concessions is available, but as we all know, it’s the BBQ nachos that steal the show. The only complaints I have (and it was confirmed by our visits to several other minor league parks) are the prices.

Game: Come-From-Behind Rally Sinks Memphis, 4-3
The Redbirds took a 3-1 lead into the 8th inning over the Albuquerque Isotopes, but the Isotopes came alive in the 8th and roughed up Victor Marte for three runs for a come-from-behind 4-3 win. Dee Gordon, Isotope leadoff man, reached base in all five plate appearances, going 3-for-4 with a triple, a walk and two runs scored. Redbird Chad Huffman drove in all three runs for Memphis.

Between Innings: We left Memphis Saturday, June 30, and headed 212 miles for the Holiday Inn Express near Herschel Greer Stadium in Nashville.

History Stop: Sulphur Springs Bottom (downtown Nashville), the site of former Athletic Park (aka Sulphur Dell), where tradition has it baseball in Nashville was born in 1862 when Union soldiers played ball here and passed it on to the natives. In 1885, the first professional Nashville team (the Americans of the Southern League) began playing here. The last game held here was in 1963. The park was demolished in 1969.

Day 2: Nashville

Second Inning: 6:05 p.m., Saturday (June 29), NASHVILLE, Pacific Coast League (AAA)
Nashville Sounds (Brewers) vs. Oklahoma City Redhawks (Astros)
W: 86 degrees, partly cloudy
T: 2:48
A: 8,889
Seats: H, 15, 14 & 15 ($24)
Ballpark: Herschel Greer Stadium
Opened: 1978
Capacity: 10,700
Cost: N/A

Warm-ups: Personally, I felt like I was at old Tim McCarver Stadium in Memphis — both were built in 1978 and Herschel Greer Stadium is very 1978. Obviously the park is vastly outdated in contrast to other AAA ballparks, but there’s still a lot to enjoy. Gotta love the guitar-shaped scoreboard. If you want food, there’s plenty (particularly enjoyed the full-size batting helmet of popcorn with free refills), but you can’t see the field from the concourse. Of course, that’s not uncommon for parks built pre-1990. The neighborhood is a dump — while close to downtown, it’s well off the beaten path and there’s nothing within miles. The fans were awesome and they packed in nearly 10,000 on this night. Whit said it best: “This isn’t retro; this is vintage.” I love old ballparks but, come on Nashville, build a new ballpark downtown.

Game: Ninth-Inning Comeback Falls Short For Nashville
Our second game saw former MLB pitcher Chris Narveson take the mound for the Nashville Sounds, who dropped their third straight game to the Oklahoma City RedHawks. Narveson gave up five runs on eight hits in six innings. Odd play: a 6-4-6-8 double play in the top of the first. Redhawk Brad Peacock retired 13 of 14, including 10 in a row, holding the Sounds to 2 runs on 5 hits while striking out 9 in 7 innings. Sounds Catcher Robinzon Diaz went 2-for-4 in his Nashville debut.

Between Innings: From Nashville we drove 291 miles to Appalachia, crossing the Tennessee border into Virginia. Highlight of the morning: crossing downtown Bristol’s State Street back and forth, going from Virginia to Tennessee (repeatedly). It’s a charming downtown with one side of the street lined with U.S. and Virginia flags and the other side lined with U.S. and Tennessee flags. When in town, try Machiavelli’s Pizza.

Historical Stop: Ronald Andrew Necciai struck out 27 batters in a nine-inning game on May 13, 1952, for the Bristol Twins, the Pirates Class-D Appy League affiliate, against the Welch Miners. (Four batters did reach base via a walk, hit by pitch, error and dropped third strike passed ball.) Note: Necciai followed up that performance with a 24-strikeout game. He was called up to the Pirates amid great fanfare in August 1952, where his Major League career ended a month later, consisting of a 1-6 record in six starts, a 7.08 ERA and 31 Ks in 54.2 innings.

Day 3: From one end of Tennessee to the other. Bristol.

Third Inning: 6 p.m., Sunday (June 30), BRISTOL, Va., Appalachian League (Advanced Rookie)
Bristol White Sox (White Sox) vs. Pulaski Mariners (Mariners)
W: 89 degrees, cloudy
T: 2:14
A: 587
Seats: $4 for general admission; $2 upgrade to box seats behind home plate.
Ballpark: Boyce Cox Field at Devault Memorial Stadium
Opened: 1969
Capacity: 2,000
Cost: N/A

Warm-ups: When you go to a ballpark in the Appalachian League, you don’t expect any bells or whistles — and you don’t get them. Bristol’s ballpark sits next to a high school football stadium and the baseball park is even used for high school teams. And that’s really what you get: a high school ballpark (complete with some interesting concrete bleachers that are less than ideal for sitting through a game but are certainly unique). Definitely upgrade to box seats if you go. And if you are looking for a picnic atmosphere, many fans bring lawn chairs and sit on a hill behind home plate on the third base side. Overall, Boyce Cox Field is a very comfortable place to sit back and watch a game without all the distractions of higher minor league baseball.

Game: White Sox sink Mariners with two-out, five-run rally in seventh inning
The Bristol White Sox rallied in the seventh inning with two outs, scoring five runs to defeat the Pulaski Mariners 6-2. Bristol, which was managed by Pete Rose Jr. for the past two years, features the organization’s top three 2013 draft picks: shortstop Tim Anderson (17th overall pick), right-hander Tyler Danish (2nd rounder, $1 million signing bonus) and center fielder Jacob May (3rd rounder, son and grandson of former Major Leaguers Lee May Jr. and Lee May). Danish pitched two innings in relief, giving up a run on two hits and a strikeout. He was throwing gas, hitting low-90s consistently.

NEXT UP: Innings 4-6

Gary Robinson posted at 2013-7-14 Category: Baseball

3 Responses Leave a comment

  1. #1Dave Memphis MOJO @ 2013-7-14 11:57 Reply

    I follow James on Basefook, and enjoyed what he posted there, but this is even better — awesome!

  2. #2Carmine Hose @ 2013-7-14 14:16 Reply

    Thanks Mojo! We had a blast. And 81 straight innings of baseball was a trip. The mix of levels was cool – going from a game with 587 fans to a little bit higher with 4,000 fans to the ultimate with 45,000+ was an enlightening way to watch the game and really sense the changing culture as you work your way up. When you do that on consecutive days, the changes are palpable: from player accessibility to ballpark food prices. The only thing that remains constant is the game. It’s a beautiful game!

  3. #3Wayne (Hamm's Bears) @ 2013-7-15 07:54 Reply

    Nice job, guys! It was fun to follow the trip in Facebook as it progressed. You should have enough pictures to put together a coffee table book. Did Whit get a new closet to house all his swag from the trip?

Leave a Reply

(Ctrl + Enter)