News Sentinel column: ‘How a baseball stadium will support Knoxville’s nightlife’

A column in the News Sentinel by Katherine Whitehead outlined well what a new baseball stadium could mean in Knoxville to even a casual fan.

Whitehead wants an experience both inside and outside the stadium, especially after the game ends. She wrote this about going to a game with her partner: When springtime rolled around, he took it upon himself to teach me the game. On Saturday afternoons we made the drive to Kodak to see the Smokies play. Afterwards, we would sit in the car debating what to do next. If you’re familiar with Kodak, you know there’s not much excitement unless you want to drive to Pigeon Forge for mini-golf. On this most recent Saturday, we simply went home to enjoy fast-food chicken nuggets on the couch.

Smokies Stadium in Kodak has a lot to offer inside from a variety of food options, including sit-down table service, to a kids’ play area to an assortment of beer on tap. The gift store offers everything from commemorative baseballs to T-shirts to novelty items. But the area around the park is not walkable for the most part and is limited to a convenience store and franchise eateries. When fans exit, the majority get on Interstate 40 and depart the area.

Whitehead’s experience mirrors a conversation I had earlier this season with the family of a player, a prospect at catcher, on the opposing team The family made the trip to Tennessee from California and ended up sitting behind me since my season tickets are close to the visitor’s dugout.

As is common in the laidback atmosphere of baseball with time between innings, we struck up a conversation about Minor League Baseball in general and the stadium in particular. I mentioned a new stadium had been proposed close to downtown Knoxville with multiple hotel, restaurant and retail options.

That got their attention – especially the food since most of the nearby options were fast food and the team stayed next door to the stadium – and they voiced support. The family also noted there was essentially nothing to do around the stadium before or after the game except make the walk to the stadium and then back to the hotel. I added that hopefully their son will be in the big leagues by 2023 and out of AA baseball, but a new stadium in Knoxville would be a great place to visit if they were ever back in the area.

Whitehead’s column underscored that point.

For those like me who aren’t the most enthusiastic about baseball but somehow end up at the stadium, having a drink and food before the game would make the experience more enjoyable. In fact, it could become more of an all-day event.

Katherine Whitehead

She also noted: With the team in Kodak, it’s nearly impossible to convince any of my friends that the trip is worth making just for a game. Maybe they’ll come if there’s an incredible food special or fireworks near the Fourth of July. Whitehead’s full column can be read HERE.

For diehard baseball fans like me, the game is the draw. My Twitter post linked above was taken more than an hour before first pitch. I like it so much, I get there as early as possible.

But for casual fans, the game and the atmosphere are why trips are planned to the ballpark, and fans become repeat attendees. Add the multi-use component of the proposed stadium in East Knoxville on the edge of the Old City from soccer to concerts, and the overall development really is a game-changer.

It’s time to bring baseball back to Knoxville. For fans like me. For fans like Whitehead. And for families, residents and tourists of all kinds.