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Official Review by Andy Mantsch, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
In the shadow of Everbank Stadium, home of the Jacksonville Jaguars, is another venue that is more than worth a visit. The Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville has been open since 2003, but baseball in Jacksonville has a much longer and more storied history. Baseball has been continuous in the city since 1904 (except for 1969), with the Suns making the Southern League playoffs 14 times and winning five championships since 1970. Their 40-plus year association with Jacksonville is the longest such association of any Double A team with a home city. The Suns have consistently been in the top two or three teams in the Southern League in attendance.
The 11,000-seat Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville was constructed for $34 million as part of the Better Jacksonville Plan, a $2.25 billion investment in projects around the city. The venue also annually plays host to the college baseball rivalry between the Florida Gators and Florida State Seminoles. It definitely deserves the reputation it has earned as one of the premier parks of the Southern League.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
The Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville does an excellent job of blending southern culture with their traditional baseball menu. Yes, you'll find hot dogs, popcorn and nachos all around the park, but you'll also find sweet tea stands, pork rinds and deep fried foods. There are a variety of specialty concessions around the park selling these specific foods items. There's not anything particularly special, but the hot dogs are large, the bubba burgers are plentiful and the variety is enough for anyone. Prices are very reasonable, with almost all menu items under $7, and if you include fries, it is still all under $10. Drinks are generally $3, with Coke products ranging up to $4.50 for a 32-ounce.
Alcoholic beverages are located at the general concession windows and at stands around the concourse. The food concessions primarily consist of your everyday beer choices (Miller Light and Coors Light), whereas the vendors around the concourse provide more specialized brews. I'd recommend the Bold City stand on the third base line for some delicious craft beer, although there's also a Sam Adams vendor with a wide variety of selections.
There are a number of features of the Grounds that add a unique feel. With Maxwell House next door, the smell of coffee wafts around the park, which is definitely something you don't get everywhere. There are so many options to view a game that it's hard to choose one, and all of them offer their own unique perspective of Suns baseball. Seats behind home plate and around the field are comfortable seatbacks with plenty of room, although not having cup holders seems like a hindrance when talking modern-day minor league parks. The right field bleachers beyond the wall offer great views of the city and sunset beyond, and would be my recommended viewing area, if not for the modified "berm" in left field. Instead of your traditional berm seating (which you can still find beyond the left field fence), there are tiered grass areas that are perfect for sitting and watching the game. You can choose to either sit on a blanket in the grass or just sit along one of the tiers to comfortably take in some baseball.
One of the coolest features down the third base line is bench seating. You can actually buy tickets for white wooden benches (three people per) just beyond third base. They are close to the field, with easy access to the outfield attractions or the general concourse.
For families, the Grounds have the traditional bouncy castle and slide area. The beer-free family section is also directly behind home plate, helping make the park extremely family-friendly. Southpaw the dog is the mascot for the Suns, and he is very active and engaged with fans all around the park. Overall, the park is very kid-friendly.
The neighborhood around the park is a very mixed bag, depending on where you park and which way you drive in/out. South and west of the park is primarily the city of Jacksonville and the waterfront, so you'll definitely get the best of the area from those spots. The Jacksonville Landing is not far and is full of bars and restaurants along the water. Being so close to downtown, hotels are plentiful, as well. I would definitely recommend staying downtown or along I-95. Just to the north of the stadium, the area starts to feel a bit more uncomfortable. It doesn't feel completely dangerous, but I still wouldn't recommend parking that far away or walking around in that direction after the game. Stick to downtown and the waterfront areas, and you'll be more than fine.
Suns fans seem friendly and surprisingly loyal for a minor league club. At least a few fans bring lawn chairs and camp out on the left field berm as their chosen spot, attending every game. They seem pretty engaged with their team, and often refer to the players by first name (a sure sign they know a least a little bit about the team). Suns fans are known for the attendance and frequently finish in the upper echelon of the Southern League in that category. The only mark down is that some of the loyal fans that come for every game seem to use some colorful language with no awareness of those around them. This is only exacerbated by their spot on the left field tiered berm area, where there are a lot of kids playing. It's hard to mark down too much for this, but as regulars in a family-friendly park, it is at least something to be wary of.
Getting to the Grounds is overall pretty easy, although it is slightly removed from I-95 (on the opposite side of Jacksonville), and the water and bridges create potential choke points if overall Jacksonville traffic is a bit heavier. Coming from the north, the easiest way is down I-95 and then wrapping around the north side of Jacksonville on Martin Luther King Jr Parkway, which dumps you off just outside the park. From the south, you'll cross one of the bridges towards downtown, as the park lies about halfway between the two. Parking is pretty simple. I'd strongly recommend paying the $5 for the parking garage across the street, just because too much searching for free parking in the area could leave you in a less than ideal neighborhood.
The concourse is raised, so the main entrance consists of stairs to come up behind home plate. There is a third base entrance with a ramp to the concourse for those who may be challenged to climb the stairs. Once inside, the concourse is generally pretty wide, although navigating the stairs down to the left field berm can be a bit tight. You can choose to use the ramp to avoid any potential bottlenecks. Food is only sold on the concourse, so for those looking to make frequent trips for food or beer, it might be easier to stick with the grandstand or bleachers as opposed to the berm area.
Overall, everything here can be had at an affordable price, although seating prices are a bit on the high side. Dugout box section tickets are over $20 (over $20 for lower-level minor league?), but $13.50 or $10.50 will get you in the rest of the reserved seating at closer to the average price. General admission seating is only $7.50, and is really where you should go for value. The left field berm area and the right field bleachers are probably where I'd recommend viewing a game from anyways, so the price makes it just about a done deal. Parking prices are about average and food prices are on the low side, so overall the Suns fall right in line with general minor league pricing, with a few outliers here and there.
Where the park really makes up ground is in the "Extras" category. Whether it be the bench seating or tiered berm on the third base line, the giant left field scoreboard or sweet tea and pork rinds with your feet up in the bleachers. There's just something unique about this park that makes it feel unique without being over the top or gimmicky. A lot of parks rate high because of frills, whereas this park really just does it because it's truly comfortable. And there's nothing at all wrong with that.
Member Review by sportsroadtrips on Jun 14, 2012
Jacksonville is the largest city by area in the lower 48 states and ranks 11th in population, but still only has a single team in the Big 4 sports leagues of North America. That doesn’t mean there aren’t other teams though, as minor leagues find Jacksonville to be a welcoming environment with a solid fan base from which to draw. Most prominent among these franchises is the Jacksonville Suns, a member of the Southern League, one of three AA circuits in the nation.
The Suns play out of the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville, an extremely accurate if somewhat wordy appellation. Opened in 2003 as part of the Better Jacksonville Plan, the ballpark is part of the sports complex that includes Everbank Field and the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena. It may be smaller than these other two venues but it is certainly worth visiting.
Member Review by itsbrandy21 on Jul 08, 2012
When walking into the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville, you feel more than welcome, you feel like part of a family. Everything about this stadium is amazing. The field is always beyond words can describe, the groundskeeper does a terrific job. The stadium food is excellent. The part of it is that they have something for everybody each night of the week. So if you have kids, and don't want to be around a lot of drinking, Tuesday night is your night to go! If you want drinking, Thursday nights are your day!
234 A Philip Randolph Blvd
Jacksonville, FL 32202
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