Mobile has a long and proud history with baseball, as five Baseball Hall of Famers (Hank Aaron, Willie McCovey, Satchel Paige, Ozzie Smith and Billy Williams) were born and grew up in this Gulf Coast port city. The Mobile BayBears minor league franchise has sent more than 130 players to the major leagues in the 20-plus years of the franchise's existence. These include such present-day stars as Justin Upton, Jason Bay, Jake Peavy and Max Scherzer. In 20 years, the BayBears have brought home four Southern League Championships and five Division Championships. There is no doubt Mobile is a great baseball town.
The team annually puts a competitive team on the field at Hank Aaron Stadium. However, the stadium itself has become the weak link in the franchise’s operation. Built in 1997, the stadium has suffered from less than adequate maintenance, in some cases not meeting league standards (field lighting), while also losing more home dates to weather than any other Southern League field due to inadequate drainage. It also suffers in comparison to new Southern League stadiums in Biloxi, Pensacola and Birmingham. The attendance in the 6,000-seat stadium now averages 1,700 people per game, the league’s lowest average attendance. Hank Aaron Stadium is now the oldest stadium in the Southern League.
The issue has become a tug of war between the franchise, which has not paid rent to the city for its usage of the city-owned stadium in several years, and the City of Mobile, which under the lease is committed to keeping the stadium in good shape. The real losers in this situation are the wonderful fans of Mobile, who are caught in the middle. Unfortunately the BayBears' parent team, the Arizona Diamondbacks, has no say in the matter.
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 concession stands are numerous enough that you will not encounter any lines. A sampling of the baseball food menu includes hot dogs ($3.50), hamburgers ($5.50), cheeseburgers ($6), chicken tenders ($5), and corn dogs ($4). Drink selections include domestic beers ($4.50) and sodas ($4), and bottled water ($3.50).
In addition to the normal baseball fare, some locally-produced items are also on the menu. These include Conecuh sausage dogs produced in Evergreen, Alabama, and they are available as a combo meal with a 20-ounce soda and chips or fries for $11. Fairhope Brewing Company, another local vendor, provides its brewing best for $5.75 for a 16-ounce draft.
A new concessionaire manager has dramatically expanded the menu to highlight many of the culinary specialties of the Gulf Coast region. One game each month includes an Eat Alabama Seafood Show-Off, featuring local restaurants. Fans get to sample the various dishes, and the item voted the tastiest that night is added to the concession menu for the rest of the month. Categories include gumbo, shrimp, oysters and a Best of Seafood competition at the end of the season to determine which item will be permanently added to the concession menu. The partnership with Eat Alabama Seafood extends to the mascot race held at each ballgame, with the featured contestants being a fish, a shrimp and an oyster. The race is a fan favorite.
The first impression you have of Hank Aaron Stadium is the exterior, and that impression is "dated." The entry area is constructed of low brick, which leads you into what appears to be a concrete seating bowl. Once through the gates, you enter a wide concourse, which contains the various concession stands. Also, the concession stands' locations in the concourse do not allow for any view of the action on the field while you are in line.
As you enter the seating area of the stadium, you will notice the seating areas are the reverse of what you what you would find in a typical stadium. The luxury suites are located at the field level, rather than atop the stadium. As a result, the front row of seats behind home plate is much further away from the field than in most stadiums. The closest seats to the field itself are located beyond the dugouts along the first and third baselines, which provide less than great angles to see the field of play. The stadium also has two seating levels, but not in the traditional upper and lower deck design. The level break is actually an inner concourse which circles the field. The problem is that this concourse constantly has people circulating through it, so if you are in the first 3-4 rows above it, your view is obstructed for much of the game. One suggestion concerning seat selection -- if you are not utilizing one of the 24 air conditioned suites at field level, consider the grandstand/general admission level. In addition to saving you money, the seats in this section are covered by a roof to protect you from the heat of the summer sun or shield you from the frequent showers that pass through this area of the Gulf Coast.
You will get somewhat of a retro feel when looking out on the field of play, as every inch of the outfield wall is covered with advertising from Mobile area merchants. There is some berm seating behind the outfield walls, but the nearest services (restrooms, etc.) will be found along the third base line in the BayBear Beach area. The beach area has activities for the kids, as well as some picnic tables for families/groups to sit together.
There is no neighborhood, so to speak, in the immediate vicinity of Hank Aaron Stadium, as it is located immediately off the I-65 interstate. However, the city of Mobile offers a wide variety of attractions, due to its location along the Gulf Coast and its historical beginnings going back to 1702. Among the most popular attractions are the USS Alabama, moored in Mobile Bay, the beautiful Bellingrath Gardens and Home, and its numerous historic districts. Mobile also claims the title of holding the first Mardi Gras celebration, dating back to 1703. Across Mobile Bay is the small town of Fairhope, which is noted for its arts community and its many antique stores.
Mobile is also a foodie's delight, with cuisine derived from Creole, Cajun, French, Spanish and African-American origins. Among the most popular restaurants to choose from are Mama's on Dauphin, Wintzell's Oyster House and Dreamland Bar-B-Que. For dessert, try a Mobile Moonpie in flavors and dishes you never dreamed of.
There are numerous lodging selections within a two-mile radius of Hank Aaron Stadium along the I-65 corridor. These include the Homewood Suites by Hilton, the Hampton Inn I-65/Airport and the Mobile Marriott.
The fans in Mobile are among the most loyal in the Southern League. For a majority of the 20 years the BayBears have existed, they have led the league in attendance. They are well aware that one of the BayBears of today may become the next Max Scherzer or Justin Upton in the big leagues. It is only in recent years that their numbers have dwindled due to issues with the stadium. For the past several years, the team has been last in attendance in the Southern League.
Each night of the week features something special for the fans: Funday Sunday allows the kids to run the bases and throw the ball around at the game's conclusion and is also Bark in the Park day. Monday Matters is a night where charitable giving is promoted, as fans bringing in donations of food, clothing or books receive free tickets. Two-for-One Tuesday offers half price on all tickets, and Thirsty Thursdays are set aside for half-price drinks for designated products. Fireworks Fridays round out each week with a bang.
Hank Aaron Stadium is easily accessed via the Government Avenue exit off of I-65. This is the first exit north of the I-10/I-65 interchange. Once you exit, you simply take Bolling Brothers Boulevard directly to the stadium. This is only a two-lane access road, so it does become congested at the end of the game. Once in the park, the stadium is easily navigated via wide concourses. There are adequate concession facilities and restrooms, so you should not encounter any major lines.
The BayBears offer an entertaining night of baseball at family friendly prices. Tickets are offered at the following levels: Field Level ($16), Club Level ($13), Center Box ($10), Baseline Box ($9) or Grandstand/General Admission ($8). Children under the ages of 12, seniors (60 years and older) and military members get a $2 discount on each price level. Parking at BayBears games is $3 (there are no alternate lots nearby). The concession prices are in line with the typical baseball fare offered, and the new Gulf Coast Seafood entrees are a big addition.
The BayBears' front office is doing an admirable job in providing the best possible experience for the fans, despite the stadium's structural issues. They have done a great job in highlighting Mobile's proud baseball heritage in a number of ways.
The most obvious symbol of this heritage is the relocation and placement of Hank Aaron's boyhood home in front of the stadium. In addition to its heritage status historically, its insides have been converted into a museum highlighting Hank Aaron's career from the playgrounds of Mobile to a minor league stop in Eau Claire, then on to his major league career with the Milwaukee/Atlanta Braves, where he hit 755 home runs. The museum is open 9-5 Monday-Friday and all home game evenings. There is a $5 admission charge, but it is well worth it.
Another extra is the placement of a plaque honoring the five Mobile natives who have been inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame (Hank Aaron, Willie McCovey, Satchel Paige, Ozzie Smith and Billy Williams).
BayBear Beach is a unique play/picnic area for families attending the games.
The next time you are passing through the Mobile, Alabama area you may want to stop and catch a game at Hank Aaron Stadium. In fact, if you are traveling south on I-65 through the city of Mobile and you glance to your left just before you reach I-10 you will catch a glimpse of Hank Aaron's childhood home which is now located next to the stadium that bears his name. Hank Aaron's childhood home is part of the new "Hank Aaron Childhood Home and Museum" that was opened in the spring of 2009. The museum is filled with mementos and artifacts donated by Aaron and his family, as well as the Baseball Hall of Fame and the Negro League Baseball Museum. "Hammering Hank" was born and raised in Mobile and considers having Hank Aaron Stadium named in his honor and then locating a museum dedicated to his legacy in his hometown a great honor.
Hank Aaron Stadium officially opened in 1997 and is the home of the Arizona Diamondbacks' double A affiliate, the Mobile BayBears. The stadium has a seating capacity of 6000 as well as 22 unique luxury suites. These luxury suites are unique because they are located at field level which really gives this stadium an unusual look. The city of Mobile is one of the oldest cities in the South dating all the way back to 1702, so it seems strange that Mobile is also home to one of the newest minor league ballparks in the south. In fact the Mobile BayBears were the first minor league team to play baseball in Mobile in over 25 years. That means an entire generation of young baseball fans have grown up in Mobile without a minor league baseball team to fall in love with.
When it was announced that Mobile was getting an affiliated team, I thought for sure it was going to be a home run. Mobile had deep roots in baseball history, from Satchel Paige to Luis Gonzales, and was getting a brand new state-of-the-art baseball stadium.
It wasn't quite a home run, maybe, a solid line drive base hit. The ballpark was uniquely designed, to say the least, the suite level is UNDERNEATHE the general seating area. You can say it elevates the average box seat and gives it a one-of-a-kind vantage point, not often seen in minor league baseball. You could also say it is an attempt to squeeze a few extra dollars out of the fan base. The suites being at field level gives them a more premium feel, as does the exclusive stadium club and premium seating on the first base side. This means the average, commonfolk ticket buyer will have to carry their nachos and sodas up two steep flights of stairs. Joe Schmoe also doesn't get to bring his kid to the ballpark early to get autographs by the dugout, not without a premium stadium club level ticket.
With all that being said, the ballpark was still a brand new ballpark, in 1997, and had the new ballpark aura and new ballpark excitement. Fifteen years later, the aura and excitement has worn off. All that's left, is an aging ballpark with some unique character and some unique hassles.
I awarded the team three extra points, because they have done a great job celebrating the history of baseball in Mobile and the history of the BayBears. Around the concourse, there are enlarged articles from the Mobile Press-Register (the local newspaper) posted, telling of the important moments in Mobile baseball. Also, the Hank Aaron childhood home in front of the ballpark..... awesome.
Mobile, Alabama has seen its share of fantastic baseball players pass through its city. While many teams have stopped there on their way to the show, players such as Ozzie Smith, Satchel Paige and Hank Aaron all called Mobile their birthplace.
With Hank Aaron Stadium being named after one of the best players of all time, the product on the field has matched the stadium’s namesake since setting up shop in the 6,000-seat capacity stadium in 1997.
1200 Satchel Paige Dr
Mobile, AL 36606
220 Dauphin St
Mobile, AL 36602
Mobile, AL 36601
12401 Bellingrath Gardens Road
Theodore, AL 36582
755 Bolling Bros Blvd
Mobile, AL 36606
1028 West I-65 Service Road South
Mobile, AL 36609