There are several minor league ballparks located in the gorgeous region in East Tennessee, but if you blink then you might overlook Pioneer Park. Pioneer Park has been home to the Greeneville Astros, the Houston Astros' affiliate in the Rookie Appalachian League, since 2004. The team also enjoyed their one and only league championship in 2004.
You’ll get a cozy feeling the instant you walk up to Pioneer Park, but the experience gets somewhat bare after that initial feeling of walking up to the entrance gates.
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".
Your basic ballpark food was all that was offered, but in return the prices were very affordable. The most expensive thing was a chicken sandwich and a personal pizza for $5.
One thing that jumped out at me was the absence of vendors. That applied to the concourse and throughout the seating. You don't realize how quiet a baseball game can get until you don't hear any vendors yelling "get your peanuts!"
There was also very few options offered in terms of beverages. Your basic Coke products were available in either bottles or fountain.
Even though beer wasn't served at the concession stands, there was a small stand entitled the "Tiki Hut" that was located on one end of the concourse. It was a little outside bar area, but it was very easy to overlook and received no advertising throughout the game.
Once again Pioneer Park was about as ordinary as you can get. At times it seemed more like a golf event than a baseball game. The official attendance number was just 890, so that had a lot to do with the awkward silence that plagued the game. The two mascots, Tennessee Tex and Tennessee Tess, didn't help the cause much. Most of the time the two mascots weren't even interacting with the fans.
There were a few contests for the fans, but there was very little enthusiasm surrounding such events from the promotions staff.
You would think that getting front row seats would offer some of the best views in the ballpark, but that wasn't the case here. The dugout actually blocks your view of leftfield if you're sitting on that side of the field. The same goes for if you're sitting on the other side.
Pioneer Park is actually located outside of the Greeneville city limits and is located in Tusculum, Tennessee. The campus of Tusculum College is home to Pioneer Park, and the campus is beautiful. If you have some extra time before the first pitch, then treat yourself by taking a walk around the campus.
Greeneville is less than a five minute drive away, and they have plenty of restaurants for postgame activities.
If you like your history, then Greeneville has plenty of it. It's the home of former U.S. President Andrew Johnson, and there are plenty of other historical spots to see in Greeneville's downtown square.
There were well under 1,000 fans at this game against the Princeton Rays. That's less than a quarter of the recorded capacity that Pioneer Park can hold. A part of the capacity includes the hillside that counts as seating in leftfield, but the hill had just two people on this particular night.
The sparse crowd made very little noise, and a good chunk of them were resulting to other forms of entertain, like their smart phones. That's to be expected when students are bored in class, but not when they're at a baseball game.
There were a handful of fans that were verbal and made noise at appropriate times. It was still very clear that this team needs more verbal support from the small crowds that are attending.
Keep your GPS handy because you really have to go off the beaten path to find Pioneer Park, which isn't necessarily a bad thing in itself. The drive is gorgeous, but your major towns are few and far between. Knoxville is almost an hour and half away to the south, while Bristol is over an hour away to the north.
There were also no signs directing you from the main road through Greeneville to the side road that the college campus is located on. Oddly enough, there isn't even a sign once you get onto the campus where Pioneer Park is, and it's by no means a large structure that can be easily noticed from the road. A simple sign off the main highway would probably help declining attendance numbers, because the park is somewhat hidden.
Tickets were about as cheap as you can expect when going to a baseball game. The reserved seats were $7, which could get you as close as you wanted. General admission tickets were a whopping $5, so Pioneer Park offers a very affordable night out for the family. As you would probably expect for such a small event, parking was free.
What hurts this score is the lack of effort from the ballpark staff to deliver a good baseball experience. There were plenty of yawns to go around, and I was certainly guilty of that. That blame doesn't go to the players, because these guys were playing their hearts out to work their way up the ladder to the majors. The blame has to fall on the ballpark staff for not doing more to make the fan entertained throughout.
Throughout the concourse you will find banners highlighting former players and when they made their MLB debut. There were several that were highlighted, and it was interesting to see who all had once played for the Astros and made it all the way to the parent club in Houston.
Another extra point is awarded to the location of the ballpark. I never expected the ballpark to be located on a private college's campus, and the oldest college in Tennessee as a matter of fact. It really is a picture-perfect campus and brings you a relaxing feeling as you're headed to the game.
Finally, I'll give another extra point for the creativity of putting a "wheel of fun" in the concourse. For $3 you could spin the wheel and win a prize. This was a cool concept that I had never seen at a minor league baseball event.
Something is lacking for America's pastime at this humble ballpark located at the foothills of the Appalachian Mountain. There's very little enthusiasm from fans, mascots, or the rest of the ballpark staff. Perhaps it was just an off night, but the declining attendance numbers suggest otherwise.
Mediocrity is really what I took away from this visit to Pioneer Park.
Just comparing Pioneer Park to other Appalachian League parks, it is no doubt the best and most modern. While other teams play in what feel like high school fields, Greeneville plays in a professional park. I especially love the large roof which covers most of the seating bowl. Just a clean, comfortable place to take in a game. For my full review of Pioneer Park, check out my site :
I thoroughly enjoyed my 2 day visit to Pioneer Park. Both games were well-attended, and I found the crowd to be into the game. The ballpark is very nice, and is a real treat in the Appalachian League (this is the 4th App League ballpark I've been to). Food was ok (nothing special). The staff and the other fans were super friendly.
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