On the Road: Hanks for the Memories in Mobile

To see all posts from my July 31, 2015 visit to the Mobile BayBears (this is Part One) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my July/August 2015 trip through the Deep South, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE!

The last time I visited Hank Aaron Stadium, the home of the Mobile BayBears, Hank Aaron himself was in attendance. The year was 2010, and the occasion was the opening of the Hank Aaron Childhood Home and Museum. The name of this new attraction was nothing if not accurate, as the BayBears had relocated Hank’s childhood home (he grew up in Mobile) to the stadium grounds, renovated it, and stuffed it with memorabilia from throughout his long career.

A cavalcade of baseball A-listers were on hand for this gala opening occasion. This photo, which I took after emerging bruised and bloodied from within a harrowing media scrum, includes Bob Feller, Ozzie Smith, Bruce Sutter, Reggie Jackson, Aaron and Rickey Henderson. Bud Selig was also in attendance, as was Willie Mays(!). I may never be in such close proximity to baseball royalty again, at least until I am named King of Baseball 2051, and I myself am baseball royalty.

hofersOn that evening, I secured one-one-one interviews with Feller (RIP), Selig and Henderson. I was rebuffed by Reggie Jackson, however, who put his hand over my Flip Cam (remember those?) and slowly pushed it down without ever once making eye contact or speaking directly to me. The guy who Jackson was standing next to at the time — a D-backs front-office exec, if I remember correctly — felt embarrassed and tried to make small talk with me so that I wouldn’t feel like a total chump. Which I was. Which I am.

All of those memories came flooding back this past July 31, when I made a return trip to Mobile. On this evening, no Hall of Famers were in attendance. It was just a Friday night at the ballpark.

002The Hank Aaron Childhood Home and Museum, open during all games, is to the right of the facility proper.

003Hank Aaron Stadium opened in 1997, and it is now, somewhat improbably, the oldest stadium in the Southern League. Attendance has dipped in recent seasons, at least partially due to the opening of new ballparks in nearby Pensacola and, now, Biloxi.

The most unique design feature of the stadium — and, in my opinion, not a very good one — is that the suites are on the ground level.

006

The suite entrances are lined up along the field-facing side of the concourse.

023This means that everyone who is not in a suite has to take the stairs to the upper level. There’s nothing wrong with walking up a flight of stairs — it’s good exercise! — but operationally speaking, it’s awkward for there to be a disconnect between where most fans are located and many of the places they are likely to want to be (concessions, restrooms, team store, etc).

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Here’s the “Upwardly Mobile” view, from the last row of the stadium.

007And here’s the view in the other direction. Hank Aaron Stadium is located in an indistinct portion of the city, surrounded by chain stores and shopping centers and the like.

008Back down on the aisle, I ran into an anthropomorphic cup. (Too bad Reggie wasn’t back in town, as he could have been the straw that stirs the drink.)

010And then it was back to the concourse.

This photo, it’s no good. But file under “Good idea that other teams should steal.” Honor thy gameday staff, always!

014I stared at this ad for a while and could not determine weather or not it was grammatically correct.

015

This was the vantage point as I approached the berm from the left field side of the stadium. It looks to be a par four.

017

I do like this approach to berm seating — optional and endlessly rearrangeable.

018Meanwhile, on the field, the players were involved in an elaborate interpretive dance routine.

020It was Faith Night at the ballpark, and a decent-sized crowd had begun to get settled into their second-level seats. (And while I am a proponent of faith, I am definitely not a proponent of the insipid, lobotomized Christian pop songs that always seem to soundtrack Faith Night promotions. A deep, abiding, soul-fulfilling belief in a higher power should not be mutually exclusive with having decent taste in music).

But that’s enough of my sermonizing. The game had begun. Mascot Teddy had settled in, presumably so that he could read this series of Mobile BayBears posts. That’ll do it for this one, but more will soon follow. The season never ends.

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benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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2 Comments

The lower level suites were a 90’s architectural blunder, the Pawtucket stadium, rebuilt in 98 and Erie built in 95 have the same feature. I’m sure you’ve seen in your travels you can start to identify by it’s idiosyncrasies about when a stadium was built. For example, Picnic tables in the outfield early 90’s, smaller outfield slopes mid 90’s, smaller “bar” tables along the foul corners early 2000’s, split level outfield slopes mid 2000’s.

Nice article. thanks for the pictures. i stopped and walked around the outside of this ballpark on my way from Mobile to Gulfport, MS. It was right after Katrina. doubt i’ll ever get to see a game there but i include it on my list of visited ballparks. 103 and counting.

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