In the 1980s, Jackson, Mississippi proved to be a hotbed for Minor League Baseball, regularly drawing over 100,000 fans a season to Smith-Wills Stadium to watch the Jackson Mets, a Double-A affiliate of the New York Mets, compete for Texas League championships, a championship the team won on three occasions. With players such as Lenny Dykstra, Mookie Wilson, Darryl Strawberry, Kevin Mitchell, Barry Lyons, and Roger McDowell (among others) spending time in Jackson on their way to The Show, it seemed Minor League Baseball would forever be entrenched in Mississippi’s capital.
That changed following the 1990 season, when the Mets organization moved their affiliation to Binghamton, New York, and the Houston Astros moved their Double-A squad to Jackson. As the product on the field and the stadium itself began to wane, so did attendance, and in 2000, the Jackson Generals became the Round Rock Express, leaving Jackson without an affiliated minor league team for the first time in a quarter of a century.
In 2005, the Mississippi Braves arrived at Trustmark Park in Pearl, a suburb of Jackson, to bring affiliated baseball back to the Jackson area.
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".
Fans taking in a game at Trustmark Park will find many food options as they walk through the stadium. From hamburgers ($5) to hot dogs ($3) to Philly cheesesteaks ($7) to pizza ($7), most anyone will have their appetite pleased at the game.
Chick-fil-A also has a concession area, where a meal can be had for about ten dollars. Additionally, many other vendors operate in the area, including ice cream and snow cone outfits.
Fans wanting to pick up a beer can find many options of both domestic and import brews at the game between the range of five to eight dollars. Every Thursday night is Thirsty Thursday, a promotion that sees all 16-ounce domestic beers and fountain drinks go on sale for one dollar. Beers are not sold without wristbands, which can be obtained in the concourse, and two drinks per transaction is the max.
Fans can also eat at the Farm Bureau Grill, a full service restaurant open during the week and during games.
The concession areas accept cash and most major credit cards, and an ATM is available for a three-dollar fee.
With Jackson's history of Minor League Baseball, it should not come as much of a surprise that many fans have readily adopted the Mississippi Braves as their squad. All throughout a game, a buzz can be heard and felt in the stadium. Rarely is there a quiet moment.
No matter where a fan sits, a decent line of sight will be had. No one feels too far away from the action, because the seating all works downward, as the playing surface is in a recessed bowl. In sections 108-112, fans can actually sit just below the playing surface.
If a trip to the restroom or a concession stand is required, fans will not miss much of the action, as the concourse area has been designed to allow fans to watch the action from anywhere around the stadium.
Fans visiting Trustmark Park for the first time will be able to quickly brush up on the history of the stadium, due to the prominent Wall of Fame in the concourse and the celebrated players listed in a ring of honor around the stadium.
The neighborhood around Trustmark Park sets up well for fans taking in one game, coming to town for multiple games, or for a baseball fan in town on other business.
Someone coming into town for a night or for multiple days can stay at one of several hotels (Fairfield Inn, Jameson Inn, Baymont Inn and Suites or Holiday Inn, the closest) within one mile of the stadium.
If grabbing a bite before the game is important, a Ruby Tuesday's, Cracker Barrel, Ryan's, Baskin Robbins, Logan's Roadhouse, a Lone Star Steakhouse, and an O'Charley's, among other restaurants in the area, are all in play and within one-and-a-half miles of Trustmark Park.
A Cinemark movie theatre and a Bass Pro Shop are also within a mile of Trustmark Park.
The only drawback to the area is that strict liquor laws have prevented more traditional sports bars from developing in Rankin County. This has proven to be a contentious issue, and one that could change in the future.
While Jackson has always given solid support to their minor league teams, the Mississippi Braves have seen a decline in attendance numbers since their move from Greenville, South Carolina. While the stadium may not always be full, the fans in attendance stay active during the game, and they present a firm knowledge of the ballclub's past.
A quick glance around the stadium will show fans wearing the jerseys of former Mississippi Braves now playing in the majors, and a few minutes of eavesdropping will show that many in attendance not only understand the nuisances of baseball, but of the ball club, as well.
Getting to Trustmark Park rarely presents much of a challenge for fans because of its close proximity to both Interstate 20 and US 80. Those going to the game have four roads from which to choose to enter the ballpark area: Bass Pro Drive and Childre Drive off of US 80 and Old Brandon Road (to Childre Drive) and Riverwind Drive for those using exit 48 off of Interstate 20.
With multiple points of ingress and egress, fans can get to the parking areas quickly before the game and leave quickly after the game. Parking at the game is free, and a good number of attendants are on hand in the parking lot to make the process as painless as possible.
Once at the stadium, operations at Will Call and the box office move efficiently, and moving about the stadium poses little problem, with a wide concourse unofficially split between areas for going to seats and areas for visiting vendors.
Anyone who has attended a baseball game at Turner Field will find many similarities between that park and Trustmark Park. Whether it is the similar scoreboard with the similar promotions running, or the signs that look to be the same as those used at Turner Field, fans will walk away with the distinction that the Mississippi Braves are serious business.
The team runs multiple promotions between innings to keep the fans entertained, and ticket prices run from six dollars for general admission to twenty dollars for club seating. Club seating is directly behind home plate in sections 108-113, and these seats come with a waitstaff to take and deliver orders. Seats in Row A in section 114 also sit at field level, but by the visiting dugout. Fans wanting to sit near the home team should sit on the third base side in sections 104, 105, 106 and 107.
Perhaps the best return on investment comes on Sunday, when fans can participate in the Family Fest promotion: four dugout level seats, four hot dogs or hamburgers, four 16-ounce soft drinks, four bags of peanuts or Cracker Jacks, four M-Braves baseball caps, two game programs, and free fun zone wristbands for fifty-two dollars. This promotion must be purchased at the Trustmark Park Box Office.
Even without this promotion, a family of four can easily attend a game with quality seats, food and drink for about twenty dollars a person, making the experience comparable to dinner and a movie in terms of pricing.
One star goes to the organization for its charitable work. The club has several nights a year designated for community service organizations, which helps these groups collect funds and garner attention.
Another star goes to Trustmark Park because of the cleanliness of the facility. Fans can take their children to the restroom without a looming fear of dread.
Trustmark Park picks up a third star for its growing appeal for events outside of Mississippi Braves baseball. The venue has also hosted the Conference USA baseball tournament, the annual Governor's Cup battle between Mississippi State and Ole Miss and the Mississippi High School Activities Association baseball championships.
Parking can be one of those little costs that makes going to games more difficult for families. A fourth star goes to the venue for not charging for parking.
The final star is awarded for whomever selects the music for the game. While many ballparks play it safe with the music of the 1990s, fans attending a game at Trustmark Park will hear a blend of traditional baseball songs with a wide variety of music, and not just Smash Mouth's "All-Star" and John Fogerty's "Centerfield".
Baseball in Pearl, Mississippi doesn't go back too far, but in the short time the Braves have been in the Magnolia state, they've made some great memories on the diamond.
The days of this Class AA affiliate of the Atlanta Braves began in 1966, when the Braves played in Austin, Texas for two years. Afterwards, they moved to Shreveport, Louisiana, where they only played for three seasons. In 1971, the club moved to Savannah, Georgia, where they spent a good 12 seasons. In 1984 they moved to Greenville, South Carolina, where they spent 21 years as the Greenville Braves. The stadium there was in poor condition, and the team could not reach a deal with the city to build a new stadium, so they relocated to Pearl, Mississippi, a suburb of Jackson.
In 2005, the team's first season in Mississippi, the Braves opened Trustmark Park, a stadium that can seat nearly 7,500 fans. The park has seen the Braves win the 2008 Southern League championship as well as a college baseball game between the state's two SEC powers, Ole Miss and Mississippi State.
The Braves might have finally found a good home. They have a nice stadium, a great community and a supportive area behind them now. Don't look for this team to leave Pearl anytime soon.
Maybe because the Atlanta team has been having a very rough year that if you are in closer proximity to the parent club, you don't feel like the fans are really into the Atlanta Braves like they were 10-15 years ago, or even 5 years ago. Fans in the Atlanta area are really ready for the football season to start.
I bring this up because Mississippi is a nice, healthy distance away from Atlanta. And the vibe is very different than what you see at Turner Field and even in Coolray Field and State Mutual Stadium in Rome. The fans are INTO the game and still do the chop. So the Tomahawk spirit still lives, just 5 hours away from Atlanta.
FOOD: Nothing really standing out of the ordinary. Cheesesteaks though there isn't much cheese on them and taste more like an Italian Beef Sandwich. But the signature item was the bacon ranch cheddar fries in a large helmet. Very tasty and while $8, it is worth it. Domino's has a stand there and it says it has sandwiches but only offers pizza. It kind of goes against their new sales pitch of being more than pizza.
ATMOSPHERE: Great. You definitely get a nice vibe of a Minor League game and honoring Braves players who have made it to the Bigs. Seats are fine, though best avoid the right field corner, and you get the fun stuff of between innings shenanigans, and you are able to walk all over the park to get a good vibe of the place.
NEIGHBORHOOD: Pearl is in a suburb of Jackson, and thank goodness it was. Pearl is a nice area and the park is actually by a lot of outlet stores. Most of what you want for grub is really about a mile away for food, but nothing really stands out with that. Just your basic bars & grills like Ruby Tuesday's, etc.
FANS: Very much into the game and you had a few hecklers there, but kept it clean and funny. But overall, a good base that care about the Braves.
ACCESS: Right by I-20 and I-59. You cannot miss it. And parking is plentiful and free. Easy to get in and fairly easy to get out.
ROI: Overall, this is one of the cheapest places to go for a Minor League game. Most foods under $5, souvenirs are actually pretty cheap (and not all Atlanta Braves like Rome uses), and tickets are inexpensive throughout. It is a great Minor League experience and an underrated place to watch a game.
EXTRAS: The place is served for the fans, whether it is winning free things on Saturday nights, something for everybody, or just the fact you get good quality baseball at a decent price, you cannot go wrong at all. Great park and a hidden gem though the park itself doesn't break any barriers of standing out.
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411 Riverwind Dr
Pearl, MS 39208
110 Bass Pro Dr
Pearl, MS 39208