Minor League baseball has been played in Johnson City, TN since 1937. Their home is Howard Johnson Field at Cardinal Park, and has been since the ballpark first opened in 1956.
The team in Johnson City has been affiliated with the St Louis Cardinals since 1975. Only the Elizabethton Twins have had a longer affiliation with their parent MLB club (since 1974).
The ballpark is located just a half mile from downtown Johnson City, and you can expect to be among some of the best fans in the Appalachian League. However, the overall ballpark experience still leaves something to be desired.
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 food is certainly reasonably priced for a ballpark, and you will be satisfied with the quality as well. I tried both the chicken sandwich ($3) and a chili covered hot dog ($1.50), and thought that both were pretty good. Other choices on the menu include cheeseburger ($3), pizza from Little Caesar's ($2), and nachos ($2.50).
Coke products are available ($2), as well as other expected ballpark snacks like peanuts and popcorn. There is also an Italian Ice stand located opposite the lone main concession stand. There is no beer served at this ballpark, but otherwise you'll find what you need to get through a ball game.
The actual watching of a baseball game is one of the worst that I have seen in my travels, and since you're here to watch baseball, that's a bit of a problem. Mostly this stems from the extreme coverage that the team provides its fans. There's a large net behind the plate that extends between each bullpen, as well as additional netting from the screen to the roof. This in and of itself is not a huge hindrance, as it's similar to many other ballparks. Unfortunately, if you take a seat further down the line there's a chain link fence to contend with. What this means is that there is literally no unobstructed view in the ballpark.
The scoreboard provides your basic line score. On the night of my visit the scoreboard was on the fritz due to some recent lightning storms. You don't realize how much you rely on the scoreboard for context until it isn't at your disposal.
Much of the seating is protected from the sun and rain by a roof. The seats include three rows of blue plastic seats, which have below average legroom (except in the first row) and no cupholders. The remaining seating areas are metal bleachers. There are backs on the bleachers between the dugouts.
The field was in pretty rough shape during my August 2012 visit, with a very patchy infield grass area. The most interesting aspect of this ballpark is the high outfield fence. There was once a hill in front of the fence, but it was removed before the 2010 season. The distance to the right field foul pole is only 315 feet, making for an inviting target for left handed batters.
Promotions were kept to a minimum, which is the way I like it personally. The focus stays on the baseball with only a few diversions between innings.
The press box is small enough that the radio play-by-play guy actually sat in the top row of the bleachers behind home plate. I really enjoy being able to hear the local radio call while the game is going on, especially in this case with the scoreboard issues.
It isn't a particularly scenic walk, under the overpass for I-26, but the ballpark is walkable from downtown Johnson City (about a half mile). I parked on Main Street and explored downtown a bit before walking to the game, and walking back after.
If you're looking to grab a beer and play shoot some pool, then Numan's Café and Sports Bar is a good location to drop in. They also serve food, so you can grab a bite to eat before the game if you like. A couple blocks away is the Tipton Street Pub. This spot has a better beer selection, and also serves food. They have the electronic trivia game, which I am a big fan of, and has a little bit better overall atmosphere, and would be my recommendation to grab a drink.
Closer to the ballpark, there are a couple of fast food joints, including a Dairy Queen. There's also a community pool located right next to Howard Johnson Field. If you're going with the family, pack your bathing suit and you can spend some time poolside, then perhaps head to DQ for some ice cream before heading to the ballpark. Seems like a great family day to me.
What is it about St Louis Cardinals fans? I think when you go to Busch Stadium, you'll find some of the most positively engaged and intelligent fans in all of baseball. The same seems to be true at the rookie level at Howard Johnson Field. It was far from a full house during my visit, but this crowd was very much into the action and appreciative of any good plays, no matter how subtle, by the home team. It makes such a big difference in the overall game atmosphere when you find fans who are there for the baseball first, and socializing second.
My visit coincided with a pretty rainy evening, yet the crowd huddled into the grandstand underneath the roof, stomping their feet against the metal bleachers after a key hit, making them sound much larger than what there actually was in attendance.
Howard Johnson Field is found just a block or so off of I-26. There is free parking across the street from the stadium, or you can choose to park downtown and walk to the stadium. In either case you won't pay a dime to park your vehicle. It's a small ballpark, without a ton of space to walk around, but that really isn't an issue.
Concessions and souvenirs are found outside the seating area, so if you go to get a drink, hot dog, t-shirt, or use the restroom, then you will miss some of the game. The restrooms are basically in a trailer. They are serviceable, but not great.
The most expensive seat in the house is only $6. If you want one of the chairback seats, then go ahead and "splurge" for these. General admission seats are only $4, and would be my recommendation. Seniors and kids under age 12, are only $3 a ticket.
When you add in the affordable concessions and free parking, it would be hard to call this anything but a great deal. Unfortunately, the low price corresponds with a less than ideal view of the baseball. Reducing some of the protective netting or fencing down the line would be a great improvement, so that there are at least some seats without an obstructed view.
There is a kid's inflatable batting area, which is free to use. During my visit, a few kids were essentially playing a game with ghost runners and the whole bit, and having a fantastic time. It is wonderful to see this investment being made by the organization, especially since it is free to use for the young fans.
I also really appreciated that the organization took some time to recognize the death of a "superfan" prior to the game I was attending. It really demonstrated this team's connection to its fans and community.
Overall, this is a fine little ballpark for the complete entertainment value of it all. If you remove the gripe about the obstructed seating and improve the field itself, this is a good ballpark experience. The Appalachian League is a great place to do a ballpark tour as so many parks are within close proximity. I used Johnson City as my base of operations for a 4-team tour through the Appy League. If you want to experience a very straight forward presentation of minor league baseball, without some of the bells and whistle you may get elsewhere, then Howard Johnson Field and the Johnson City Cardinals, would be a good stop for you.
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225 E Main St
Johnson City, TN 37604
101 W Springbrook Dr
Johnson City, TN 37604