Baseball draws fans with games and fun

Fans fill Yee-Haw at the Yard at a 2023 game.

According to Baseball America, the 120 teams affiliated with Minor League Baseball drew 30,916,465 fans during the 2022 season. The Tennessee Smokies, the Double-A affiliate of the Chicago Cubs, welcomed 294,334 people through the gates that year.

Minor League Baseball (MiLB) is on the rebound after the pandemic wiped out the 2000 season and then shortened the 2021 one with a late start. While overall attendance hasn’t reached pre-pandemic levels, two major factors are in play – the truncated season in 2021 and the reduction of MiLB teams due to contraction in 2022 when Major League Baseball cut ties with 42 franchises to streamline operations.

The Smokies continue to draw well in 2023 with a team of top prospects for the pure baseball fans and fun promotions for everyone else.

The second half of the season is now underway for Smokies Baseball, and the team is in first place. A six-game homestand starts Tuesday, July 16, against the Mississippi Braves, the only trip the Double A-affiliate of the Atlanta Braves will make this season to Kodak.

Saturday’s game features a Christopher Morel Shirsey Giveaway for the first 1,000 fans and the annual Christmas in July promotion with Santa and Mrs. Claus, an ice sculpture, Christmas music, themed in-between inning entertainment, decorations, specialty jerseys for the players that fans can bid on and take home at the end of the night and a themed fireworks show. Gates open at 5:30 p.m. with first pitch at 7 p.m.

Other upcoming promotions include free hot dog night on Aug. 1; Pete the Cat on Aug. 4; Paint the Park Pink on Aug. 5 as a fundraiser for Making Strides Against Breast Cancer with pink jerseys that will be auctioned and a fireworks show; Princesses in the Park Night on Aug. 18; and UT Night on Aug. 19 as a fundraiser for The Pat Summitt Foundation with themed jerseys that will be auctioned, a Joe Milton bobblehead for the first 1,500 fans and a UT-themed fireworks show.

The Smokies will finish the 2023 season and the 2024 one in Kodak with plans to move back to Knoxville for the start of the 2025 season.

Construction is underway on the new multi-use stadium in East Knoxville on the edge of the Old City, and the latest overhead shot showed the outline of the third base dugout.

This writer started going to Smokies games at Bill Meyer Stadium in Knoxville in 1988 and has lived all over Knox County plus Blount County and now Sevier County. To paraphrase James Earl Jones’ character in Field of Dreams, the one constant in 35 years of moves is baseball.

See you at the ballpark.

Maria Cornelius, a writer/editor for Moxley Carmichael, is a lifelong baseball fan and longtime Smokies season ticket holder.