First Horizon Park – Nashville Sounds
Photos by Marc Viquez and Richard Smith, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 4.29
First Horizon Park 19 Junior Gilliam Way Nashville, TN 37219
Year Opened: 2015
The Hippest Spot in Nashville
It is amazing to believe that Nashville was home to the worst Triple-A ballpark in the country and that there was even a chance that the team could relocate because of its outdated facility that had been built in 1978, but that all changed in 2015 when the city opened the beautiful $47 million First Horizon Park. The facility was designed to incorporate the city’s musical and baseball heritage and act as a catalyst for economic development in the Germantown area of town.
Residential and office space has opened around the stadium, making the once-industrial part of town a place with residents and hip new bars and restaurants to frequent. What was once a blithe section just south of downtown is now a hip place to eat, live, work, and play. The ballpark was also built on the former site of Sulphur Dell, the ancestral grounds for baseball from 1870-1963. The ballpark was home to the Nashville Vols of the American Association for 62 years. A historical marker is resurrected behind the batter’s eye in center field and is a replica of the iconic ballpark’s front entrance marquee.
Most importantly, First Horizon Park has accomplished its objective of attracting fans back to the ballpark and developing the neighborhood that surrounds it. The Sounds have moved up to either the number one or two spot in the league in average attendance the past three seasons. The old ball ground of the city is once again alive and full of energy but perhaps best of all, the home of professional baseball in Nashville.
Food & Beverage 4
The selection of food at First Tennessee Park is plentiful and fulfilling. The main concession areas are situated in pairs on the first and third baselines: Smokehouse BBQ, Music City Grill, Hot and Not Chicken, and Sulphur Dell Slices. The Smokehouse BBQ stand offers ribs and fries ($10), BBQ nachos ($7.50), loaded tots ($6), and garlic fries ($5). There is also a smoked chicken leg smothered in barbecue sauce. The Hot and Not Chicken stand features the iconic hot fried chicken that is known throughout the city. The chicken stand offers both hot and not versions that come with waffle fries ($8.50-$9).
Other options include the hot sandwich ($7), loaded waffle fries ($6), foot-long hot dog ($6), chili cheese dog ($8), and brats ($4.50). The Music City Grill features more variety of ballpark delicacies including sliders with fries ($10), cheesesteaks ($9), chicken tenders with fries ($8.50), and pork chop sandwiches ($7.50). The Sulphur Dell Slices features locally based Hunt Brothers Pizza (by the slice or pie), chicken wings, hot dogs, and brats.
The most interesting culinary aspect of the ballpark is the Band Box that offers more food varieties and libations. There are jalapeño corn fritters ($5), kielbasa sandwiches ($9), chicken sandwiches ($9), and nachos with fresh roasted corn ($10). There is also a grandiose selection of local beers on can and draft ($7-$9), wine ($11), and an ideal way to beat the heat, whiskey, and Coke Icee ($11).
The Sounds introduced a few new items for the current season that includes the Honey Bun Burger (a double cheeseburger sandwiched between two flat griddle-warmed honey buns), Grilled Cheese Burger (two ¼ pound fresh ground beef patties, topped with American cheese and sandwiched between two grilled cheese sandwiches), and the BBQ Mac and Cheese Bowl (triple cheese mac and cheese topped with a choice of house smoked pulled pork or chicken, barbecue sauce, crumbled bacon, and sliced red jalapeno peppers).
First Horizon Park is a modern facility that attempts to be the envy of any other Triple-A stadium in the country – its exterior features predominantly glass and steel. The iconic Sulphur Dell sign dominates the back of the metal backstop in center field, and there are musically themed guitar picks, clef symbols, and strings that adorn the concourses, aisles, chairs, and signage. There is even reclaimed wood forming a wall inside the main entrance to the suites. Much of the atmosphere is fueled by one of the greatest spots in all of minor league baseball – The Band Box.
The 4,000 square foot outdoor bar and restaurant include corn hole, shuffleboard, ping pong, table hockey, and mini-golf. The retro, funky area also includes surrounding televisions, outdoor lounge chairs, and plenty of menu options of food and drink for patrons of all ages. One can get lost among the elbowing and malarkey of this section of the stadium. One of minor league baseball’s most recognizable symbols has moved over from the club’s former home of Greer Stadium. The 4,200 square foot guitar-shaped scoreboard can be found in the right-field corner and continues to be the identity of the team.
On Throwback Thursdays, the scoreboard is displayed in its original form with sodas and beers selling for $2 and $3 each. The ballpark is open and spacious incorporating areas that are now common to enhance the fan experience. The first five rows behind the backstop are field-level suites that also include a large open space for fans to mingle with one another. At times, these seats are available to regular customers to enjoy the game from a striking distance of the batter.
The Vanderbilt Children’s Picnic Place accommodates 20-200 people in an all-you-can-eat area and the MTSU 4-Top seating area includes a wait service. On the opposite side of the stadium in left field is the Hyundai Deck, a three-level seating area offering an all-you-can-eat buffet, and the Zander Insurance Berm that is perfect for lying in the grass featuring energetic Sounds staff. The 3,000 square foot gift shop offers a collection of both modern and retro team gear. There is a lot to choose from all eras of Nashville baseball, including a few great clearance items.
The ballpark is located in the Germantown area of town, one mile north of the always happening Broadway. The neighborhood is a work in progress though, but it has blossomed the last few years to become a trendy little spot that draws people from around the city. New businesses have developed near the ballpark that includes City House, Rolf & Daughters, Cochon Butcher, and 5th and Taylor. Von Elrod’s Beer Hall & Kitchen is steps away from the main entrance of the stadium and specializes in slow-cooked and smoked quality meats. The menu includes Texas-style brisket, Carolina pulled pork, and jalapeño cheddar wurst, but also serves up freshly made sausage sandwiches and plates and a hot chicken schnitzel sandwich. Customers can also enjoy a lengthy list of beers in the outdoor beer garden before the game.
Jack Browns Beer & Burger Joint hits you with a smack of grill burger smell as you walk into the building. It could be from the fried bacon that coats the grill or 100% all-natural Wagyu beef that has the placed packed and people waiting near the door. The Greg Brady is a popular choice with house-made mac n’ cheese and BBQ potato chips. The only problem is the small, tight parking lot outside of the building, my advice is to park on the street. The Germantown Cafe is a wonderful spot to grab a bite or drink before the game. Happy Hour menu items are $5 and last from 3 pm to 7 pm and feature veal meatballs, Big Easy Fries with crayfish étouffée, and pork belly tater tots. Beers range from $2.50-$4, while libations are $5.
Across the Cumberland River is one of the city’s favorite breweries, Little Harpeth Brewing. I would suggest arriving before the game since the taproom is opened only from Thursday-Sunday and hours are from 5-9, 2-7, and 2-6 respectively. The Chicken Scratch American Pilsner is probably the tastiest pilsner you will have and is also served at the ballpark.
For the Ballpark Traveler: Bowling Green Ballpark is about an hour north on I-65 across the border in Kentucky and about an hour further is Louisville Slugger Field. If you are in town during the college baseball season, Hawkins Field is home to Vanderbilt baseball and the Vandy Boys usually pack in a good crowd. Other ballparks within two hours of town include AT&T Field (Chattanooga Lookouts), Smokies Stadium (Tennessee Smokies), and The Ballpark in Jackson (Jackson Generals).
As of this review the Sounds are averaging 8,651 fans per game that puts them number two in all of Minor League Baseball only behind Las Vegas Ballpark that debuted this season. Those totals are indeed impressive since the club also finished in the top last year in minor league baseball. The ballpark has attracted a lot of new customers who want to enjoy a night out on the town but also provides a canvas for the typical baseball fan who enjoys keeping scoring and focusing on the game instead of the sights and sounds of The Band Box. It is a common theme at many Triple-A ballparks where the crowd is divided between hardcore fans keeping score at their seats and others who might not even be aware of a game taking place as they drink and socialize. Many buy a ticket just to hang out in The Band Box and being that it’s open to fans of all ages, a nice way to enjoy a night out in town.
The ballpark is easily accessible off I-65, I-40, and I-24 on Jefferson and Spring Streets. At this time, the parking deck has not been completed in time for the inaugural season at the stadium, but there are various lots located within the vicinity, many featuring shuttle service to the game. There are various lots near the stadium and they range from $5-$10; however, they did not appear to be a fee to park in the main lot in the back of the right field during our visit to the ballpark on a Wednesday night. Once inside the building, the wide-open concourse offers large colorful displays, some with their logos of menu options. Seating sections and bathroom signs are nicely displayed and easily accessible.
Return on Investment 4
Ticket prices for Sounds games have separate prices for weekday (Monday to Wednesday) and weekend games (Thursday to Sunday). Depending on what day you take in a game and when you purchase your tickets, customers save two bucks in advance, you could pay anywhere from $10 to $17 for corner seats and between $33 and $37 for Diamond Club seating. Perhaps one way to watch a game at a low price is to purchase a Zander Insurance Berm seat for $10 on game day and then either spread out your blanket or hang out in The Band Box. Many in The Band Box seem to have taken this route and are satisfied with their return on investment. Throwback Thursdays is an ideal way to enjoy a game at discounted pricing. The club dons pullover uniforms from the 1980s and the cost of a 12 ounce domestic and craft beer is $2 or $3 and Pepsi products are $2.
First Tennessee Park earns a star for bringing baseball back to the city’s ancestral grounds. When Sulphur Dell closed up shop after the 1963 season, the sunken field was leveled and filled with concrete and dirt; much of the playing field is in the right field section of the ballpark. The classic Sulphur Dell signage is situated in the back of the batter’s eye in the center field for great photo opportunities. The Band Box is the coolest spot in all of minor league baseball. The area is filled with millennials, but one can find many fans of all ages enjoying themselves at the ballgame.
Are they necessarily watching the game on the field, perhaps not, but they are enjoying their surroundings. Fans can take in games on giant size Connect Four boards, play a few rounds of putt-putt, or toss a few corn hole bags. The ballpark also has the best scoreboard in minor league baseball. The guitar-shaped design was essential to old Greer Stadium and now has placed its essence at First Horizon Park. This updated version has more features and can even resort back to its old-school form on Throwback Thursdays.
Perhaps it may or not be noticed when attending a game, but the Nashville Sounds are the first ballpark to use paper straws in recent memory. Fans can purchase a reusable souvenir stainless steel straw at The Band Box, and paper straws will be available upon request. First Tennessee Park has also done what it was supposed to do, attract fans to the new ballpark and help develop the Georgetown area that surrounds it with retail and residential units. The area has been blossoming for the past five years and has become a destination for local restaurants and attractions.
First Horizon Park keeps getting better with every visit, the aesthetics from the nearby city skyline and surrounding Georgetown neighborhood sets it apart from other minor league ballparks of its kind. The Band Box is the “hippest spot” in the game providing a unique environment for fans of all ages. Oh, yes the stadium is also great for doing what many of us like to do best, watch a game for a few hours during the season.
Follow all of Marc’s stadium journeys on Twitter @ballparkhunter and his YouTube channel.