Article by John Gullion, Featured photo by Morgan Overholt
With rumors of an impending return to Knoxville swirling, the days of the Tennessee Smokies in Kodak appear to be numbered.
Looking simply at the likely end result, it’s tempting to look at the Smokies two decades at Exit 407, the main entrance to Sevier County and Pigeon Forge, as something less than a complete success.
But don’t be fooled. Smokies baseball in Sevier County has been a huge success and it’s not too late to experience a unique ballpark with a rich, if short, baseball legacy.
A lot of the success of the Smokies in Sevierville comes from the affiliation with the Chicago Cubs. Not only do the Cubs bring a national following – thanks to the ’80s heyday of WGN broadcasting the gospel of Harry Carey to the unwashed masses – but it also allows the Smokies to appropriate some of that Chicago baseball culture to East Tennessee. The Smokies fly the W-flag after wins, the fans sing ‘Go Cubs Go’ and there’s one concession stand devoted to Chicago specialties like Italian Beefs and Chicago Dogs.
Photo by Morgan Overholt
The benefit of being a Cubs affiliate doesn’t stop at the atmosphere. The Cubs have – in recent years – had one of the strongest farm systems in baseball. There are many big leaguers playing now who came through Smokies Stadium on their way to the show, including heroes of the Cubs World Series win like Kyle Schwarber and Kris Bryant.
Though the Smokies are languishing in the Southern League standings this year, they traditionally put a strong product on the field. And even when the Smokies are down, their Southern League brethren bring a bevy of future major leaguers to town. Possible future hall of famers like Giancarlo Stanton, Joey Votto and Evan Longoria have all played in Smokies Stadium.
Like most minor league teams, the Smokies go the extra mile to keep things loose at the park. There are Stars Wars days and Jimmy Buffet nights. They have kids chase a guy in a chicken costume across the field at the seventh inning stretch and hold any number of on-field promotions. Many Saturday night games end in fireworks and there are dollar beer and hot dog promotions through the week.
Smokies officials have worked hard to upgrade the concession options in park. In addition to the traditional concession stands, one of which features traditional northern Indiana breaded tenderloin sandwiches, there are a large number of specialty vendors selling everything from mixed drinks and moonshine to brats or street tacos.
Photo by John Gullion
Located on the first base side of the Luxury Level, The Garza Law Terrace at Smokies Stadium offers high end entertainment. With spectacular views of the game in a private, climate controlled indoor setting, in addition to outdoor seating. The Garza Law Terrace at Smokies Stadium offers a unique and extensive beverage assortment, hardwood flooring, flat screen TV’s, and multiple seating options throughout the area.
A relatively new addition is Calhoun’s At The Yard, located in left field at Smokies Stadium just beyond the outfield fence. Calhoun’s is a well-known Knoxville-area group of restaurants specializing in the art of barbecue. Guests at Calhoun’s At The Yard have access to the buffet of Calhoun’s dishes such as hickory smoked pork barbeque, smoked barbeque chicken, baked beans, coleslaw, spinach artichoke dip with tortilla chips, a hot dog bar and more.
The opportunity to enjoy minor league baseball in Sevier County may be going away eventually. But until it does, the folks at Smokies Stadium strive to provide a major-league experience at minor league prices.
Location: 3540 Line Dr, Kodak, TN 37764 (Exit 407)
Office Hours: Monday-Friday 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM, Game Date/Times Vary
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