SOUNDS' FIRST SEASON AT FIRST TENNESSEE PARK IS A HIT

Thursday, September 10, 2015

By David Ammenheuser of The Tennessean

It's been 138 days since Arnold Leon threw the first pitch at First Tennessee Park, christening Nashville's $47 million baseball stadium. Since that April 17 opener, more than a half million fans have walked through the gates to watch the Sounds play baseball and also to attend one of the city's newest social-gathering places.

 

Before the final home game on Thursday, let's take a look at the highs and lows in the first season of Nashville's new sports facility:

 

The fans

 

Sounds owner Frank Ward says he didn't know what to expect when the gates opened on April 17. The first game was a sellout weeks in advance. However, it was the uncertainty of the other 70 home dates over the following five months that left him wondering.

 

"We didn't know what to expect," said Ward, sitting in a club seat in front of the owner's suite during Monday's game. "Did I have visions of 'If we build it, they will come?' Sure. And they did come. I couldn't have asked for more."

 

The Sounds have had 19 sellouts in 70 home dates. Although the Titans and Vanderbilt are playing football games on Thursday night, Ward says sellout No. 20 is a possibility. The overall attendance is likely to reach approximately 565,000, which would rank fourth all-time and the most since 1990.

 

The team's average attendance is likely to be near 8,000, ranking second in the franchise's 38-year history. The Sounds averaged 4,909 in their final season at Greer Stadium in 2014.

 

The team's attendance ranks 10th among the 30 Triple-A franchises. A year ago, the Sounds ranked 27th.

 

The ballpark

 

Fans quickly learned that First Tennessee Park was more than a ballpark, it was a social gathering place to watch baseball games. Families sat on the grass berm, corporate folks sat in the field-level suites. The most popular spot was The Band Box, the right-field spot that attracted hundreds of millennials each night.

 

Tennessean food columnist Jim Myers recently wrote: "The four-sided outdoor bar is the epicenter, bordered by lounge seating and gaming areas. Anyone at the ballpark can walk out to right field, belly up and hang out, and that's a great option, especially if you pay the $8 bleacher price and get there early enough to score a seat at the bar."

 

"We didn't have The Band Box open for the first eight games," Ward said. "After we opened it, it became the hottest place in the ballpark. And 85 percent of them know that a baseball game is going on and they don't care."

 

The team

 

In their first year as the Triple-A affiliate of the Oakland A's, the Sounds have had a tough time on the field. The franchise will post a losing record overall and at home. It's the first time since 2002 that the A's Triple-A team has had a losing record.

 

Sixty-seven players have worn the uniform this season. On Monday, there were only five players on the roster who also were with the team on the Opening Day roster. The team has made almost 200 transactions.

 

Doug Scopel, the Sounds' Senior Vice President of Operations, can't recall the last time the franchise has had so many player moves. He's been with the organization for 17 years.

 

Help is likely on the way next season. Oakland's Double-A franchise in Midland, Texas, is enjoying a strong season and advancing to the Texas League playoffs. Many of those players are projected to be promoted to Nashville in 2016.

 

The mascot

 

Booster the Rooster opened to mixed reviews. In a Tennessean online poll in April, fans preferred the former mascot, Ozzie, over Rooster by a 58-42 percent margin. Ward said he heard few complaints about replacing Ozzie, a muscular Cougar who had been with the team since 1997. There's no doubt that Booster will return in 2016.

 

The parking

 

A 1,000-space parking garage that Metro paid the state $18 million to build beyond the center-field wall is still under construction. It's expected to open before the 2016 season.

 

Because the garage was not available this season, fans parked at neighborhood lots, the Farmer's Market or the Metro Courthouse Garage, and walked to the ballpark.

 

Final game

The Sounds play the Round Rock (Texas) Express on Thursday at 7 p.m. If you can't make the game, mark your calendars for the 2016 season-opener on April 7 against Oklahoma City.