When we moved to East Tennessee, there was no such thing as the Tennessee Smokies baseball club.
They were still the K-Jays, affiliated with the Blue Jays system and playing in the decrepit Bill Meyer Stadium.
We enjoyed going to games there – though honestly, I’d enjoy going to baseball games anywhere.
Bill Meyer wasn’t what you’d call “nice” but it had personality. It included a huge old factory in the outfield, giving home run hitters something to aim at.
The K-Jays – which had been the Knox Sox previously – began in 1980.
But playing in that old stadium made them feel more established than they were.
In 1993, they reclaimed the historic Knoxville Smokies moniker and the wheels began turning on a process that would move the team from Knoxville up I-40 to Sevier County in 2000.
Who owns the Smokies baseball team?
Smokies Stadium has been the team’s home now for 21 years. There have been significant improvements over those years.
The team flirted with different affiliations, settling on a successful partnership with the Cubs in 2007.
The Smokies began adopting some Chicago traditions like Old Style beer and Chicago style hot dogs and Italian beef sandwiches.
They even play “Go Cubs Go” after a home win.
It’s been a successful partnership for both.
The Cubs have a massive fan base.
It’s a fan base that increased when WGN was broadcasting Cubs games in the early days of cable.
Cubs fans on vacation often stop by the ballpark to see the future Cubbies in action.
In fact, when the Cubs broke their century-old World Series drought in 2016, many of the stars were former Smokies players, including Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber.
But while the partnership between the Smokies, Sevier County and the Cubs has been outwardly successful, an ownership change led to rumblings about a possible relocation.
In 2013, Smokies baseball was purchased by Boyd Sports, led by Randy Boyd.
Boyd is a former gubernatorial candidate, current President of The University of Tennessee and a very, very rich dude. He’s also a Knoxville guy.
And the rumor is that he wants to return the Smokies to East Knoxville.
Are the Tennessee Smokies moving to Knoxville?
At first they were rumors, but now it appears it is a fait accompli.
No official announcement has been made. But Boyd and his people are openly discussing a multi-use park that will include apartments and restaurants.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee included $13.5 million for the ballpark in his 2021-2022 budget.
It’s a funding plan for a $65-million ballpark anchoring a proposed $142-million mixed-use development.
County and city governments are openly working with Boyd and his people, forming a Sport Authority to consider options.
Once the deal is made, it will only be a matter of time until Smokies Stadium sits empty, possibly happening as early as 2023.
What do the locals think about the move?
On the one hand, it seems like something of a tragedy.
The current spot, right on the interstate, is regionally accessible and great for tourists. And it has been a boon to baseball in East Tennessee for 20 years.
On the other hand, it’s hard not to see the beauty in Boyd’s plan.
East Knoxville could use the development. It’s not far from the former Bill Meyer Stadium and not too far from the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame.
Knoxville has an interesting and diverse economic community downtown and in the Old City. The ballpark would be a real shot in the arm for the area.
Also, the park is aesthetically pleasing.
A baseball game is a moving work of art.
While some of the old stadiums had real character, even on its best day, Smokies Stadium is not old enough to be interesting and not modern enough to make the kind of money Boyd envisions with his East Knoxville location.
There are also faint rumors that the Tennessee Vols could start playing home games there instead of doing massive renovations to Lindsey Nelson Stadium.
With the Vols playing in the College World Series, there is legitimate support to get them in a new facility, and the Boyd baseball palace wouldn’t be far from campus.
What will happen to the Smokies Stadium if the baseball team leaves?
Hard to say.
I can’t imagine bringing another minor league team, even one from a smaller league to that spot.
Without the Cubs backing them and the lower league schedule, I don’t know that it would make the money necessary to justify keeping the park on such valuable land.
Smokies Stadium has hosted a few concerts, but it was built for baseball. I have a hard time seeing it as a long term viable outdoor music venue.
The most likely scenario, in my opinion, is the most depressing.
They’re gonna pave centerfield and put in a parking lot.
The Cherokee Tribe has purchased much of the surrounding land, land that was essentially stolen from the Cherokee generations ago.
Across the interstate there are plans for a massive convention center-type development with room for more.
Recently, the Cherokee announced plans for a massive Buc-ee’s convenience store for the site. The store will be the largest such Buc-ee’s in the world.
The 74,000-square-foot flagship Buc-ee’s Family Travel Center, complete with 120 fueling positions, EV Charging stations and a car wash over 250 feet long, will anchor the 200-acre plan.
The development has been named “The 407: Gateway to Adventure.”
A release from Kituwah, LLC and Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians says additional development possibilities include a world-class golf attraction, a go-cart facility and a distillery experience.
If Tennessee ever legalizes gambling, the Cherokee, who have a massively successful partnership with Harrah’s in North Carolina, may look to duplicate that success on the land they own above the stadium.
There may be a day at some point in the future where the current location of Smokies Stadium is converted into parking for whatever plans the Cherokee Tribe decides to put into motion.
So are the Tennessee Smokies moving?
Not yet. Not officially. But you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind is blowing.
It seems inevitable.
What do you think about the possibility of the Smokies Baseball team moving to Knoxville? Let us know in the comments!