Hidden in rural (and I do indeed mean rural) northwest Georgia is the small town setting of Rome. With a population of about 36,000, Rome is far from one of the larger towns in minor league baseball. In 2003, the Macon Braves took the 60-mile back road trek to claim Rome as their new home.
The Rome Braves are a Class-A affiliate of the Atlanta Braves, playing in the Southern Division of the South Atlantic League. State Mutual Stadium was built for the relocation in 2003. Seating 5,105 people and with an average attendance of around 2,600, the park is ranked right in the middle of the South Atlantic League in both figures, despite its remote location.
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The biggest win of State Mutual Stadium is the food. It's all here, from your typical ballpark food to outrageously unique menu items. Start your tour on the third base line at Bubba's BBQ. Try a fried bologna sandwich, boiled peanuts or go all out and get the barbecue sundae full of cornbread, pork and coleslaw. Other options include your more reliable ballpark items, such as sausage, burgers, hot dogs and pretzels. Prices for all of these items are generally under $6, with combo options (including fries) coming in under $9.
The truly unique part of this park is the upscale restaurant named the Three Rivers Club located behind home plate and accessible immediately as you enter the park. This would be a cool enough feature at a larger park in a big city, but in the tiny town of Rome it just adds to the charm.
Down the left field line, you'll find the refreshments. Just behind a berm is the "Marina," where you can consume some craft brews while taking in a game. I'm particularly fond of Terrapin Brewery (located not too far away in Athens), but there are plentiful options.
There's a little good and a little bad about the atmosphere at a Rome Braves game. Starting with the good, the small town and isolation from major highways adds a certain pride in the team from the locals. It's apparent they love their Braves in Rome and support them as one of the highlights of the city culture.
The park itself isn't anything monumental, but the statues as you walk in are a reflection of the local pride in the team. Some of the cooler features of the park include berms, stools and picnic tables in both left and right field, making it a nice place to relax and watch a game, even without premium seating. The main concourse and stands are pretty average, if not boring. The walkable concourse doesn't have views of the field, although you can lap the stadium on a narrow walkway through the stands. The field is pretty average, but a good-sized scoreboard stands out in left-center field.
Overall, the marks here have to fall right in the middle. There's just enough charm to make it worth the trip, but the stadium isn't going to blow anyone away with its grandeur.
The niceties of this category are a bit hidden. At first glance around the stadium, it's just parking lots and fields. But if you do some investigation, you'll notice Miracle Field directly across the parking lot. The Braves funded this field for physically-challenged children to enjoy the great game of baseball, so I couldn't let this category go without marking up for this noble venture. Rome is also a sleepy-seeming town, but the locals are incredibly friendly and happy to talk about their Braves. The Brewhouse downtown is particularly friendly, with good food and good company. That staff is more than willing to talk about the city, and the locals are welcoming of out-of-towners. The city itself isn't going to win any awards for nightlife and excitement, but it won't lack for its welcoming qualities.
The fans are surprisingly impressive. A lot of parks in bigger cities have large turnouts for everything but the game. The people of Rome genuinely care about their Braves. Turnouts are great for such a small town, and they fill over half the park, on average. On top of everything else, they are a very friendly bunch. Short of selling the park out every night, there's nothing else to rate them down for here.
Getting to Rome feels like you might be lost at times. Drive up I-75 for about 30 minutes from Atlanta, and then head west towards the Alabama border through back roads that will make you wonder whether your GPS is misguiding you. Rome really is the largest town in the middle of a large area of few small towns. To make a trip to see these Braves, you'll definitely be off the beaten path.
Once in the park, you'll find access about the same as the trip to Rome. There are jewels of areas within the park, but the concourse is obstructed from view from the field, and quite simply a walk to your seat. The walkway around the park is narrow and a bit congested, and the seats are a long row of stairs walking up. The bathrooms are simple enough to be about average for a park of this size.
Overall, a Rome Braves game is a pretty good deal. Food and drink is relatively cheap, especially for the quality. Even the specialty barbecue sundae can be had for $5. Tickets max out around $12 for your normal seating options, which is a solid deal at any park. For a genuine small-town America baseball experience, it's more than worth the cost of admission.
I'd be completely crazy to not award at least one point for the Miracle Field project. It's the kind of project that major league teams should leverage more often with their minor league clubs. Points also for the outstanding food selection that one would not expect to find at such a hidden-away park. There's a lot of pride in Rome for their Braves, and if you're ever willing to take a foray off the interstate, you could do a lot worse than a day at State Mutual Stadium.
You've got your Atlanta Braves, stalwart of the South; your Mississippi Braves, which have long brought baseball to smaller metro areas (first Greenville, SC and now Pearl, MS); and your Gwinnett Braves, the new hotness in the fastest-growing county in Georgia.
Then there's the Rome Braves, no longer novel having been established in '03, based in a town of 35,000 (96,000 metro, neither good enough for top-10 in the state), and infamous for tanking in the late season even more than their Big-League brothers.
Their park - State Mutual Stadium - largely sticks with the theme of being second- (or third-) rate, but I can at least start off with an ace.
You have to love a place where menu items include fried baloney sandwiches and "garbage plate" nachos served in a giant pizza box, fans come dressed in shorts and cowboy boots, and people start up conversations just to hear your New England accent. The phrase "why in the world would y'all come to Rome?" was repeated often. For the record, I started up conversations to hear their southern accents. The ballpark, unfortunately, is located in the middle of nowhere, although there are a few chain restaurants nearby. Put this park in a more attractive area, and its score would rise dramatically.
If you go to Minor League games and already have taken in a few of the South Atlantic League venues, Rome pretty much has the blueprint of Lexington's park. The structure is nearly a carbon copy with fewer sections along the baselines. In regards to it, it is both good and bad they took Lexington's stadium. While I have gone to a few games here since I live near the park, the enjoyment has admittedly worn off on me a bit, but still not a bad place to go.
FOOD & BEVERAGE: This is where they hit a home run on. Food is magnificent and I would put it up there with any other Minor League place. The variety has been great and there is something for everybody. Definitely try the barbecue stand along the right field wall and their barbecue sundae (no, it doesn't have ice cream), but definitely worth a try.
ATMOSPHERE: I am not sure if the newness has worn off on this place since 2003, but seems like everytime the place gets more & more cavernous, even when it is bobblehead nights at the park. It isn't a bad atmosphere but definitely not what it once was from 2003-2008.
NEIGHBORHOOD: You do have some places around so you aren't really hurting.
FANS: Somewhat goes with the atmosphere, though the ones that show really do get into the games.
ACCESS: I still can't for the life of me why'd they move them to Rome, it isn't entirely close to an interstate like other places. Roads are mostly two-lanes any where you go, which creates massive problems when you leave the park, and much like Lexington, parking isn't very fun here to add on top of a small cost to park.
ROI: Overall, ticket prices are reasonable and pending on what you get for food so is food. Saturdays used to be $2 beer night so that is also pretty good.
EXTRAS: The dilemma is, save for some "upgrades" to the scoreboard and the barbecue venue, State Mutual Stadium hasn't changed much since its opening. In fact, it hasn't look like it is maintained well. But, like Lexington, seats are fine and you do get some good baseball at the park so you really can't go too wrong here.
Coming from the Alabama side into Rome is a challenge. There is nothing but two-lane curve ridden roads that is dangerous even for the most experienced driver.
In Rome you will notice, for a small town, a large traffic problem. the problem is not really the cars but they have a red-light about every block which backs up traffic making a nice situation poor.
From the west you can take the loop around the city which is the route of choice. The stadium will emerge right near the highway so finding is easy. The parking is $4 which seems high for a lot that is city owned and cost just about the same as a General admission ticket. But when you get inside the charm of the stadium comes through.
The ushers seem to all be retired guys and gals that is very helpful with more than just finding your seat. You might get in a discussion about how beans or watermelons are growing that particular year.
They offer Club Level, Dugout Level, Field Level, Box level and General admission. My advise, unless you are going on a special night like fireworks or an Atlanta Braves player is in rehab at the place, is to buy the cheapest ticket and then move around after the first inning. Unless you look like problems the ushers will leave you alone. The General admission is ticket for the outfield in right field and cost about $5 so a young family or a single person can get in cheap and move to the seating area after the first inning. One thing that Rome does that makes no sense is that on game day, that charge a up-fee of $1 per ticket. Do not know why this is needed but on the day of the game the price of the ticket has an extra fee added onto the cost. -- The best option is to purchase , what they call, a six or twelve pack for each price level (except general admission). That gets you six or twelve tickets at a discount to use all at one time or over a course of time. This is actually a good deal.
Even though food and drink prices are very reasonable always check the promotions. Tuesday is buy one ticket get one free, Wednesday all you eat pizza and Thursday dollar drinks. Also find out which inning, was 5th last year, is the Budweiser inning where the small cans of Bud and Bud light are $1. They only sell the cans at one place so you might have to ask an usher or just follow the drinkers.
Weekends are the time where the stadium is crowded but during the week the crowds can get very sparse, especially when school is in session. Catching a game on a Wednesday night and you could have an entire section to yourself.
Any place where you can take your family for under $25 and not have to worry about bothersome fans or crime is a nice place. State Mutual fits that place.
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