Since 1980, the ball club in Kingsport, TN has been affiliated with the New York Mets, and since 1995 the squad has played in Hunter Wright Stadium. It’s a small venue with the main concourse stretching above the seats and down the first base line. The main entrance takes you in through a short tunnel with the lone concession stand on your right and the field straight ahead.
There’s just something about walking out of a dark tunnel with the green of the field in front of you on a sunny day. This effect is accentuated by the trees which surround the outfield walls, and right filed side of the stadium.
Like many ballparks in the Appalachian League, Hunter Wright Stadium offers a very basic game presentation, where fans will just want to sit back and watch the baseball.
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".
Prior to the game's first pitch, the PA announcer encouraged fans to grab a bite to eat or something to drink as he made the claim, "We believe we have the best concessions in the Appalachian League." This was a bit disconcerting to me as I had already visited the concession stand and felt underwhelmed. They were out of the $1 pickle (a treat that is quickly becoming a favorite at ballparks for me), and the $2 slice of pizza was just average.
Coca-Cola provides the soft drinks for Hunter Wright Stadium, and there is no beer available at the ballpark. They do offer baked potatoes ranging in cost from $2.50-$3.50 depending on toppings, which is somewhat unusual.
The allure of the shaved ice from the Beach Hut at the top of the concourse behind home plate was just too much for me to resist. I kept seeing little kids with huge plastic yellow cups of brightly colored ice, and my inner child had to be satisfied. I tried the watermelon flavor, although there were at least 20 flavors to choose from ($3). I was a little disappointed that the posted "no combinations" was strictly enforced. Seems like mixing flavors would be part of the fun.
Overall, while I am left feeling a bit dubious by their claim to be the best of the Appalachian League, I still found enough to get me through the game. And that shaved ice was a great treat that I imagine gets only better as the temperatures rises.
When you first come into the ballpark before the game begins, you are greeted by older tunes being played on the speaker system (which is very good), putting you at ease. This is the kind of ballpark where you just want to sit in your seat, and keep score and enjoy the comfortable evening, and the pre-game music fits perfectly with that vibe.
Once the game begins, you'll hear more modern music, both for player walk-up tunes and between innings. This works in fairly sharp contrast with the PA announcer's voice, which is a booming baritone with just enough drawl to remind you that you're in Tennessee.
The plastic seats of blue and red resemble adult-sized booster chairs. They offer pretty good leg room, but no cupholders and they feel just a little bit awkward to sit in. Above, and beyond the dugouts you'll find metal bleachers.
The sun sets beyond the first base line, so you'll likely want to sit there if you want to avoid a glare. I would recommend going for either one of the first three rows on the first base side if you want a plastic seat close to the field, or sit along the very top of the metal bleachers. This is especially good if you have kids with you. For one, there is a pitching game where the kids get three throws for $1, and win a prize if they correctly guess the speed of their third pitch. There is also ample grassy space to run about.
The outfield wall is a uniform 330-370-400-370-300, and the scoreboard provides fans with only the very basic line score to each game.
There are a few of the standard games played, mostly featuring kids between innings, which are entertaining, but not particularly imaginative.
There certainly is not anything within walking distance from Hunter Wright Stadium, but Stone Drive is not far away and there are plenty of restaurants to be found along that stretch.
I stopped in to Rush Street Neighborhood Grill to try their Chicago-style pizza. Having lived in Chicago for 13 years, I can tell you that it is not Chicago-style at all, but if you can push that expectation out of your head, then the pie is fairly decent. It's just flat and crispy. They also serve steaks, sandwiches, and salads, and offer a nice little outdoor seating area.
Closer to Hunter Wright Stadium is Biggie's Clam Bar, which seems out of place in Northeast Tennessee. It is one of three restaurants which originated from Hoboken, NJ, and I was surprised to find excellent seafood and a wonderful atmosphere. There are numerous TVs for keeping up with the day's sports, wonderful service, and a good beer selection at the bar. This is my recommendation for dinner before the game, or as a place to hang out after the game.
You can expect the fans at a Kingsport Mets game to be quietly watching the action, cheering at appropriate times, but generally just sitting back and enjoying the atmosphere of a game. There are several fans who bring folding chairs and sit along the top of the concourse behind home plate. It is a good perch for a game, and worth trying if you have a chair handy.
During my visit there was one person (hard to call him a fan) who stood in the woods behind a fence beyond the concourse. He was there for one purpose only, to find foul balls. He must have ended up with a dozen or so, filling the small plastic shopping bag he brought with him. My guess is that this is a usual routine for him, but it was something I haven't seen at any other park before.
Hunter Wright Stadium is found just off of I-26 in the northeastern part of Tennessee. The ballpark can be found about two miles from the interstate. Once you arrive, you'll find plenty of free parking in a paved lot.
Bathrooms were clean and large enough to accommodate the small crowds typical of a Kingsport Mets game at Hunter Wright Stadium. Fans do not have the ability to walk around the entire ballpark as the paved area stops about half way down each line. This is fairly typical of a small ballpark like this one.
The most expensive seat is only $6 at Hunter Wright Stadium. If you want to have a seat with a chairback, then you will want to go with this option, especially if there is a bigger than usual crowd. However, the general admission price is only $4, and you should still be able to choose just about any seat you like. My preference is to sit at the top of the seating area near the concourse on the first base side so you can enjoy the earliest shade, have a good view of the action, and also be close to the shaved ice stand.
Concession prices are also very reasonable, and even if you splurge, it won't cost more than $15 per person to go to a ballgame in Kingsport.
One extra point for the neat statue found in front of the stadium of a boy playing baseball. I do wish there was a marker explaining the significance of the sculpture, and the name of the sculptor, but I did appreciate the baseball-related art.
Hunter Wright Stadium is one of four Appalachian League ballparks that can be found within a 25 mile radius centered around Johnson City, TN. A fan of ballpark travel could easily get a hotel in Johnson City, and visit Howard Johnson Field at Cardinal Park, Boyce Cox Field in Bristol, and Joe O'Brien Field in Elizabethton and see all of the parks with minimal driving. Hunter Wright Stadium is simple, but rewarding for the fan who wants to find their zen baseball state, in the state of Tennessee.
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