Birmingham: A True American Baseball Town

The Barons celebrate after defeating the Jackson Generals on Aug. 7, 2011

With a population of 1.2 million in their metro area, Birmingham is the largest city in the state of Alabama. It’s surrounded by foothills and valleys and has many of the amenities of a typical medium sized American city. Including are the Birmingham Barons, the class AA affiliate for the Chicago White Sox. Nestled on the south side of Birmingham, in the suburb of Hoover, the Barons play their home games at Regions Park. The stadium is in a rather unsuspecting place. Hoover is a rather wealthy suburb of Birmingham and Regions Park is tucked back in the pines past a long stretch of four-lane road. When Will made a righthand turn onto Stadium Trace Pkwy, all we saw was a row of office complexes. To think that a ballpark, especially one that plays host to a AA Minor League team and the Southeastern Conference baseball tournament, could exist at the end of this road was puzzling to a couple of newbies.

Following the office buildings was a series of ball fields, which we assumed were for little leaguers, and finally a relatively large stadium. The Barons moved from the historic Rickwood Field, which has the distinct honor of being the oldest baseball stadium in the United States, prior to the start of the 1987 season. The Barons date back to 1885 and started as a Chicago Cubs farm team in 1938. They became an affiliate for the Chicago White Sox in 1986 after bouncing around the league during the intervening 48 years. To say they are an integral part of the modern history of Birmingham is an understatement. The Barons, including the Negro League Black Barons, has a significant history that puts Birmingham on the baseball map. The Black Barons featured some of the all time greats including Satchel Paige and Willie Mays, while the Barons featured future Hall of Famers Rollie Fingers and Reggie Jackson. Proud of that history, the current Barons play one game a year in historic Rickwood Field, typically wearing throwback unis to honor the Barons or Black Barons of old.

While it’s by no means the best park I’ve been to, Regions Park is a great place for a family to see a baseball game. There are activities throughout the stadium that appeal to families, including several party areas that cater to kids’ birthday parties and a decent selection of games that will exhaust your children, so they’re ready for bed after seeing a Barons’ victory. Despite being a great place to see a game, Regions Park has one downside, and that would be the PA system. A wall of speakers rises up from center field that blasts music, sound effects, movie quotes and other obnoxious noises to engage fans, rile up players from the opposing team and generally be annoying to all attending a Barons game. We were forewarned of this by Werner Gorshe who informed us that while Birmingham has a great park, the noise is deafening. The PA would continue to play music for a Barons player while the opposing pitcher was in his wind-up, something distracting and rather offensive. Pitching, already one of the most difficult things to do in sports, isn’t made any easier with Aerosmith blasting in your ears.

Will approves of the experience in Birmingham, even if most of the seats near us were empty

The noise was just about the only criticism I have for Birmingham and their beloved Barons. The game was shockingly empty, with perhaps the stadium only around 20% filled. Many fans float throughout the stadium, especially kids hunting for the right spot to catch a foul ball. We had great seats, sitting in the fourth row behind the visitors’ dugout. The game certainly provided theatrics, with a 2-2 tie carrying both teams into the late innings, but by the bottom of the 8th, the game had changed for the better. The Barons beat the Jackson Generals on an epic 3-run home run in the bottom of the 8th inning to secure the lead for good, 5-2. The few fans in the crowd were ecstatic to see the deep shot from first baseman Seth Loman

Birmingham was certainly an improvement over Huntsville. Fans were more engaged and seemed to have more love for their home team. Activities for families and a good atmosphere provides all of the necessary elements for a great experience. There’s good reason why the SEC holds their baseball tournament at Regions Park. A great location, with easy access, plenty of hotels, restaurants and other commercial development nearby, one could argue that Hoover built itself around having the Barons and big time baseball in its backyard. Much of this will change, as the Barons are scheduled to move into a stadium in downtown Birmingham for next season. The move merits a return visit to Birmingham for Will and I in the near future so we can see just what kind of impact having a downtown, brand new stadium will have on local fans’ love for their home team.

Whether the Barons are playing in Hoover or Birmingham, the entire metro area has love for baseball, and we certainly enjoyed our experience. Will, for one, really enjoyed the hot dogs offered at Regions Park.

Next entry will be on our failed attempt to root for the Montgomery Biscuits (although we did get some really cool hats). Until next time, keep on rooting for your home team!

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One response to this post.

  1. […] have been to Minor League games, stopping by towns as small as Rome, Georgia and larger ones like Birmingham, Alabama, and Chattanooga, Tennessee. Cincinnati would be my first adventure in a big city and […]

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