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Observations from a Smokies Game

Written by , Posted in General

On Sunday, August 14 I had the true pleasure of seeing the Cubs’ AA Tennessee Smokies play the Florida Marlins’ Jacksonville Suns at Smokies Park in beautiful Kodak, Tennessee.

Some of the names you might recognize on this Smokies’ team are:

along with perennial VFTB favorite Austin Bibens-Dirkx who was actually scheduled to pitch the game I saw except they went and sent him to Iowa. (Sheesh! My luck!) Watch for some of these names in September, I have a feeling you’ll see a few.

I thought I might share some observations from the game.

  • With the exception of the Cubs game during which Geovany Soto smiled and nodded at me (cementing our love affair for life in my mind), this minor league game was more fun than any big league game in recent memory.
  • The players on both teams were gracious and accommodating, often without being asked. The two children in our party (ages 5 and 9) left the game with five baseballs, two of them signed by many players. I have to think nearly every child in the ballpark (and a good number of adults) left with something. Attendance = 3,004.
  • Mike Quade is apparently moonlighting as the Suns’ manager. I suspect the pure exhaustion of managing both teams can explain at least a few of his bizarre managerial decisions.

  • The Cubs appear to be continuing their love affair with short scrappy guys. The Tennessee Smokies players (despite what their stats sheets say) are tiny. Being only 4’11” tall myself, it doesn’t take much to dwarf me. But even though the Suns seemed “normal sized” — some big guys and some shorties — the home boys were teeny. I thought maybe they were just too young to have bulked up yet (a’la Tyler Colvin 2009 to 2010) but that’s not it. They’re bulky. In fact I can’t imagine Jeff Stevens can find a dress shirt that’s not custom made as his shoulders appear to be nearly three times the width of his hips. They’re just short. Coming from a team who would occasionally list Ryan Theriot as 6’2″, I guess I’m not surprised. Maybe ol’ Jimmy boy thinks he’s taller than he is so he thinks he sees height in the tiny guys.
  • The Cubs are also continuing their affair with stocky catchers.
  • In what appeared to have been an unfortunate laundering incident, the Suns’ pink-ish/gray tops did not match their gray-ish/gray bottoms.
  • The MLB Cubs’ lack of timely offense is pervasive. One run on five hits for these young Smokies. One walk to seven strikeouts. On the other hand the Suns drew only two walks (on 6 Ks) so maybe minor leaguers pitch to contact.
  • I was quite disappointed that Bibens-Dirkx was scratched, even if it was due to a promotion. Not only did I want everyone here at VFTB to have a good look at our favorite country crooner, I was hoping he’d treat us to an impromptu concert mid-inning. Maybe he’ll join the big boys in September.
  • The financial differences between the MLB and AA clubs were readily apparent. While Geovany Soto and (especially) Koyie Hill wear rocket ship helmets, poor Steve Clevenger had to hold his mask on his head with an old pair of underwear. Or maybe it’s a blue jockstrap. Hard telling.

  • On the other hand, as a fan I enjoyed the benefits of the financial differences.
    — Front Row Ticket = $9.00
    — Delicious Cheeseburger = $3.00
    — Refreshing Dasani Bottled Water = $1.50
    — Ample Parking = $3.00
    — Overall Experience = Priceless

As we’ve discussed here at VFTB many times, I would highly recommend taking in a minor league game or three if you ever have the opportunity. These players are our team’s future. And even if many of them will never make the big league team, they’re playing for next to nothing with more heart than I’ve seen on the big club in many years.

Enjoy a few more photos from the game.


Blake Lalli (1B)


Nelson Perez (RF)


Anonymous Suns hands. We were right behind their dugout.


Jonathan Mota (2B)


James Adduci (LF)


Jae-Hoon Ha (CF)


Jeff Stevens (P)


Josh Vitters (3B)

  • chet

    Absolutely fantastic post Lizzie. Are you going to be our AA correspondent now?

  • Buddy

    Nice work! Glad you had a good time.

  • Katie

    I want a Ha jersey. What a fantastic name.

  • Lizzie

    @chet great idea! The Smoky Mountains were on my bucket list. Maybe I’ll find a spot for Peoria or Iowa next! Or, even better, spring training next year in Arizona!!!
    @Katie the season ticket holders around us had a thing going with Ha’s name. One guy would yell “Jae-HOON” and the rest of the crowd would yell “HA!” It doesn’t translate well here in print but at the time it sounded great!

  • Aaron Yavelberg

    Good stuff, Lizzie. The Jae-Hoon Ha cheer sounds a little like the Yankees’ “Hip hip Jorge!” cheer for Posada.

    On a slightly different note, here’s an article that may give you nightmares: http://www.chicagotribune.com/sports/baseball/cubs/ct-spt-0819-cubs-chicago–20110819,0,605834.story Maybe Hendry’s future isn’t quite as doomed as we thought/hoped?

  • Mark

    Great article Lizzie! I love going to minor league games. Quite a few years ago I had the pleasure of taking in an Iowa Cubs game. In this game I actually got to see why the Cubs had acquired Matt Karchner, he was protecting the AAA bullpen catcher while a real pitcher warmed up. Another great trade by the Cubs!!!

  • Minor league ball is a lot of fun and I’ve been to some real sweetheart parks. Iowa, Tennessee, Peoria, Daytona and even Boise are all on my list of to-dos.

  • Buddy

    It’s always fun checking out a Chiefs game at O’Brien Field. Cost-effective too.

  • cap’n obvious

    Back in the days where I covered half of California for a stinking french conglomerate, the only good thing about that job was overnights in places that had A ball franchises. In the summer months I would schedule said trips around home games, and often see 3 or 4 games in a week. I could see a ballgame, eat as much as I wanted, and throw a few beers and never get close to my $55 a day meal allottment. Saw a lot of players currently in the bigs…they all looked scrawny ans short then, too.

  • Greg
  • chet
  • Mark

    Oh happy day!

  • Jedi

    Fantastic news…Ricketts just earned some credibility.

  • Apparently, AA teams laundry staffs do laundry at a AA level. Awesome. Thanks Lizzie…great write up!

  • Aaron Yavelberg

    I have to say, I feel much better now…

  • Aaron Yavelberg

    Interesting note from the press conference – apparently Ricketts told Hendry he was going to be out almost a month ago (before the 7/22 series with Houston). Talk about a well-kept secret.

  • Doc Raker

    Great post Lizzie. I do enjoy minor league games. One thing I miss at minor league games is there is no roar of the crowd. Nothing like the roar of the crowd at Wrigley when the Cubs do something to roar about. What a great roster to see, Three Nuts, Rebel Rider and a near miss on the VFTB famous Austin Bibbens-Dirx.

  • Austin Bibens-Buckeye-Laker-Cub-Bull-Terell-Prior-Packers-Dirx

  • Aaron Yavelberg
  • Lizzie

    @jswanson sweet 😉

  • Ryan C

    great article, really sums up the park, i live in ky about 3 and a half hours from the smokies ballpark, been to several smokies games. went 10 times or so when sandberg was managing them, hes right, i got several things signed, chatted with players several times, even got my sandberg jeresy signed. great place to watch a game, very relaxed and involved personnel makes it a must for cubs fans if in the area.

  • BLPCB

    Sorry I’m late to commenting, but literally the last 5 days of my life have been work and sleep, with eating during my breaks.
    Thanks for the shout-out swanson, lol.
    I have never been to a minor league ballpark, but I went to a minor league game at Wrigley in 2008. It was a good time. Even the umpires got in on the shenanigans. (Though it was probably scripted out ahead of time.) Either way it was fun. You would never see umpires do that at the MLB level.