After taking the weekend off, are we ready for the home stretch? Note, I didn’t have the luxury of a weekend off on this trip. We kept on trucking. After leaving Des Moines, Iowa, home of the Triple A Iowa Cubs, our next stop was supposed to be the Tennessee Smokies. This part of the trip was my biggest worry as it was also the longest leg, coming in at around 13 hours. And despite having a 16 year old in the car, I was the only driver. I was also losing an hour coming back into the Eastern time zone and I couldn’t tell if that was figured into the calculation or not. It’s another reason I didn’t preorder any tickets to the games. I wanted to be able to skip any games if we fell behind schedule. But there was a streak on the line!
For those who don’t know me, I am NOT an early bird. There is no way I was going to get up at 5 or 6 in the morning to make it in time for the game. I did not have faith in my body to get up, even if I set 10 alarms. The plan was to drive until 12 or 1 to take off some of the morning burden. Once I got on the road, I just kept driving. Midnight came and went and I was doing fine. One o’clock. Two o’clock. Three o’clock is when I decided to it would be time to find a place. But being the cheapskate that I am, I did not want to pay for a hotel for a couple of hours. Not to mention the risk of being in a comfortable bed and not wanting to get up. There was a streak on the line!
By about 3:30 AM, I pulled into a Wal-Mart parking lot, cracked the windows and slept right in the driver’s seat. At around 4, I made my younger son switch spots with me as he was spread out in the back seat. By 7 AM, the parking lot had started bustling. I may not be an early bird, but once I’m up, I’m up. There were 12 hours until game time and only about 8 more to drive. Doable, right? Of course! There was a streak on the line!
With lunch and gas stops, we ended rolling into Kodak, Tennessee at around 4 PM local time. Not too shabby. There was a Cracker Barrel and the hotel we planned to stay at right outside the stadium so we had an early dinner and checked in to the hotel. Since we skipped the hotel the night before, it was good to get the electronics charged up too. The phones had car chargers but the laptops kept the kids entertained the most.
With just one game left after this one, I did something I haven’t yet. Instead of cheapest available, I asked for best available. I think that amounted to $12 per ticket rather than $8-9. Look out! Big spender coming through!
The first stop, as usual, was the team store. I’m not going to lie, for some reason I really like the Smokies logos even though they are the first team not directly related to Cubs logos. Everybody got tshirts and we also picked up two hats.
And the baseball cards. They not only had current team sets, but they also had the team sets from previous years as well. South Bend was a first year team. When I asked the clerk in Iowa, she said their old card company filed bankruptcy so they didn’t have access anymore to get older sets. But Tennessee. Oh, Tennessee. They’ve been the Cubs Double A affiliate since the 2007 season and had team sets that went back to 2008. Did I pick them all up? Of course! Man, I did not want to see my bank statement when I got home! These will probably get their own posts in the near future.
A neat thing about the 2015 set is that each set came with an autographed card randomly inserted into it. For the perfectionists out there, the set also came with the unsigned version of the card too, so it really was extra. The not so neat thing is that made it justifiable for them to charge $15 for the set. Luckily, the previous seasons were marked down. My pack pulled autograph?
Former first round draft pick, Albert Almora, Jr. Not too bad!
The store was also selling the program. It was $2 for the current program but $4 to get one of each (4 total). How could I pass up that bargain?
Tucked inside the current issue, was a 4 “page” pamphlet I guess is what you call it. It was really one large page folded in half. The front page had some roster moves, information about the starting pitchers for that night, a preview and some anecdotes. The inside was your standard scorecard. And the back side had the current 25 man roster of the Smokies (as of 2PM that day), complete with headshots and statistics. That would come in handy later!
Did I mention that this game was a giveaway day, too? For the first 1000 kids 12 and under, they gave away a replica jersey. More on that later, too!
Being a pretty short family, my kids could easily pass for younger (when they shave) and that was the case here. Either that or the people passing them out didn’t really care. But then again, there were signs everywhere declaring Smokies Stadium “America’s Friendliest Ballpark” so maybe they were just living up to the hype. And in their defense, I found nothing that would make me feel otherwise! Note that designation above on all four of the programs.
Despite getting in much earlier than expected, we spent a little too much time in the team store so we didn’t get any pre-game autographs and found our seats.
|A view from the “expensive” seats.|
You may also notice the score. Yes, you’re reading that right, 13-1 in the bottom of the 5th inning. The Smokies put up double digits (10 runs) in the bottom half of the 4th but the scoreboard couldn’t go that high. The Smokies would tack on one more in the 8th for a final drubbing of 14-1. As a team, the Smokies went 16-38, with 7 walks. Although each team had an error, each run was earned and the starting pitcher for the Generals, Moises Hernandez was charged with the first 12. The only home run came from the Generals. That’s right, 14 Smokies runs and zero home runs.
Here are some shots of the stadium at the end of the night. And yes, they played Go Cubs Go here as well. Nice!
We had heard some people talking about getting autographs after the game and thought it might be interesting to hang around. We were in walking distance from the hotel and not driving that night so why not?
The bad news? It was dark and we could barely tell the players in the light in plain clothes. While my older son worked on getting his jersey signed, my younger son and I tried to match players to their cards. The thing about minor league team set that by the time they come out, half the players have moved on, one way or another. We listened to the chatter as some of the regulars knew the players better, tried to read signatures on the stuff people had already got signed and also used the headshots from the program.
The good news? Because of the kid jersey give away, a bunch of kids stayed after for autographs too. When the players were leaving the stadium, they signed for everybody on the way to their cars.
My older son got a bunch of signatures on his jersey and when all was said and done we ended up with 5 more signatures on the cards.
Billy McKinney, Albert Almora and Jacob Hanneman went a combined 7-13 with 5 runs and 6 RBIs.
Felix Pena is a starter and Starling Peralta works out of the bullpen. Neither were needed in this game.
Not to mention another Almora on a Smokies ice cream helmet.
So you almost got out of here without your history lesson! The Tennessee Smokies, as I mentioned have been the Cubs AA affiliate since 2007. Like the South Bend Cubs, their previous parent team was the Arizona Diamondbacks. Also, like the SB Cubs, the Smokies opponent for the evening was the Cubs’ previous affiliate in the league. The Jackson Generals, currently in the Seattle Mariners family, were under the Cubs when they were previously known as the West Tennessee Diamond Jaxx.
While I have a few hundred more stadiums to visit to confirm this one as “America’s Firendliest Ballpark” I will say that I had a blast here. We didn’t partake in too much food as we all had Cracker Barrel weighing us down. However, we did grab some nachos (no helmet this time) that were covered with pulled pork. That seemed very “Tennessee” to me and it was worth every penny.
Right now the Smokies and South Bend Cubs are neck and neck for the top spot on this trip. Both stadiums were fantastic and the teams were very fan friendly. It doesn’t hurt that both games were also blowouts!
With one game to go, we are a perfect 5-for-5 on this road trip with the Cubs/affiliates outscoring the opponents 38-7, including two shutouts. We’ve heard Go Cubs Go 4 times on this trip (for some reason they didn’t play it on the first night in Pittsburgh). We’re off to Myrtle Beach to see the high Single A Pelicans, another first year Cubs affiliate.