This serves as the first post in my fourth season of a series called “Down on the Farm” that chronicles visits to various Minor and Independent League ballparks throughout the 2014 campaign. (All 2011-2013 editions can be accessed here.)
As a historically-cold Midwest winter finally wraps up near Memorial Day, we headed down south to kick off our 2014 campaign in Birmingham, Alabama. The state’s largest city opened a stellar new downtown ballpark in 2013 to replace suburban 25-year-old Hoover Metropolitan Stadium.
Built in just 14 months, and tucked south of downtown alongside refurbished Railroad Park, Regions Field joins the city’s Business District with its Medical Central District. The unique facility with an 8,500-person capacity pays tribute to Birmingham’s baseball heritage, the Civil Rights era and the city’s manufacturing past, while blending with the surrounding neighborhood. It offers views of the downtown skyline, University of Alabama-Birmingham, Children’s Hospital, century-old Vulcan statue and Red Mountain.
Fans responded well to baseball’s return to Magic City, as the Barons led the Southern League in attendance last season with more than 400,000 tickets sold and, despite struggles on the field, are easily doing so again in 2014. The Double-A affiliate of the Chicago White Sox for nearly three decades also captured just its second title in two decades in 2013.
I attended on a muggy Tuesday evening, with local schools still in session, yet more than 6,000 diverse fans still passed through the gates — many late arriving — and most remained involved throughout the contest.
Though its urban location means parking can be tricky, there are numerous meters relatively close by, free after 6 p.m., if you’re willing to walk the Birmingham streets. It’s all well worth the effort in my recent experience.
Regions Field, which reminds me a bit of Tulsa’s pristine ONEOK Field I visited last year, has many intricate features and nuances — from party decks, ample berm areas, 24 sold-out luxury suites, and hundreds of outdoor club level seats behind home plate with private entrances from an indoor lounge, to concerts in the Glowble Courtyard, a mini wiffle ball field, batting cages fans can tour, a 360-degree wraparound concourse, multiple bars, a local barbecue stand and more.
With so many positives, cordial staffers and a well-run operation, it’s no wonder Regions Field receives rave reviews and was christened 2013 Ballpark of the Year by Baseballpark.com in its first campaign.