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  • Writer's pictureDavid Welch

Thomas Stadium - East Tennessee State Buccaneers




Photos by David Welch, Stadium Journey


Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.71

Thomas Stadium 410 Lee Street Johnson City, TN 67604

Year Opened: 2013 Capacity: 1,000

 

In the Shadows of the Mountains, Under Skies of Blue

Opened as a full stadium in 2013, Thomas Stadium became the home field of the East Tennessee State University Buccaneers baseball after 55 seasons at the off-campus Howard Johnson Field.  The Bucs had shared the field with the Johnson City Cardinals of the affiliated Appalachian League, now known as the Johnson City Doughboys, of the summer collegiate version of the Appy League.


Members of the Southern Conference since 2013, East Tennessee State is still in search of their first SoCon baseball title since returning to the conference after a 9-year stint as members of the Atlantic Sun Conference. During their stay in the A-Sun, the Bucs would claim the 2013 tournament championship, advancing to the NCAA baseball regionals.

 

Food & Beverage   3

Concession choices are a bit light when it comes to items of substance. Outside of a hot dog or nacho chips with cheese, there is not much by way of filling options. However, while entrees are limited, there are several snacks, including  candy, chips, pretzels, and peanuts.


Drinks include Pepsi products, Gatorade, and bottled water. Alcohol is sold but is limited to White Claw, Miller Lite, Michelob Ultra, and Coors Light. With several craft breweries just a mile away, it is a bit disappointing local craft beers are not available.

 

Atmosphere   4

Upon their initial approach to Thomas Stadium, fans are greeted by a small, brick entryway with ticket windows on either side; most likely the window to the first base side of the field will be open to purchase tickets.


Visitors pass through a small rotunda of East Tennessee State baseball history before making their way to the seating area. From here the nearby Round Knob and Buffalo Mountain are on display in the foreground, while the mountains of the Appalachian Trail are visible in the distance.


Thomas Stadium has a fully FieldTurf surface backed by a symmetrical, 8’ wall running 325’ down each line, 370’ to each power alley, and 400’ to center. A traditional inning-by-inning scoreboard is topped by a large LED board, which was not working during the visit when this review was conducted.


The seating bowl is built into the side of a rather large embankment. A steep grassy area runs down the third baseline where strategically placed landscaping deters fans from accessing the area, but there are no signs asking fans to stay out. While watching the game from the grassy hill can be relaxing, the pitch of the embankment would make it difficult to sit anywhere other than at the very top. In a bit of an old time baseball tradition of “stealing” a peak of the game from outside of the stadium, some fans choose to watch from the small berm of the neighboring apartment complex’s parking lot, rather then coming into the stadium.



Tracks of the East Tennessee Railroad pass just beyond the right field fence, bringing back a bit of nostalgia from the early days of baseball, when many fields were located close to the town train depot. It is not uncommon for a train to pass by during the game, or during pre-game warmups.


The in-game presentation is very reminiscent of a typical minor league game, just without scoreboard games and interactions. Down times between pitches are filled with a trumpeted call of “CHARGE,” or a variety of other audio drops designed to rattle the pitcher. Their use at almost every opportunity does seem to be a bit of overkill, and comes close to crossing a line of inserting itself a bit too much into the game at times.


A nice amenity for those seated in the covered section behind home plate is the overhead heater that runs the entirety of the section, providing some relief from the possible chill of the Tennessee mountains during night and early season games.


Covered seating is available in the section behind home plate, which does provide relief from the sun. Those looking to take in some sun, but not wanting to have the glare in their faces. will want to look for a seat along the first base side of the field.

 

Neighborhood   5

Thomas Stadium is set in amongst a handful of off campus housing and apartment complexes, just outside downtown Johnson City off West State of Franklin Road, which runs through downtown and to the East Tennessee State University campus.


Johnson City is a stealthy, hip town with a vibrant arts scene, several breweries, and restaurants in its downtown area, just over a mile from Thomas Stadium. King Commons Park is a popular gathering area where adults can grab a pint, while kids play on the nearby playground or explore the stream that runs through the greenspace. A bit closer to the stadium, the former buildings that made up the East Tennessee & Western North Carolina Depot have been repurposed into the popular Burger & Barrell, Yee-Haw Brewing Company, and the White Duck Taco Shop.


The downtown area has no less than a half-dozen breweries in the few city blocks that make up the area. The city has also done a wonderful job moving into the 21st century while keeping its 19th century charm.

 

Fans   3

Johnson City has a long history of baseball, dating back over 90 years, when they began hosting the Appalachian League. This love of baseball in Eastern Tennessee runs deep and is still evident today.


Averaging close to 400 fans per game, ETSU ranks in the top half of the Southern Conference in attendance. In addition, Buccaneer fans do a good job of making that 400 seem to be much larger, with their boisterous support of the Bucs – the East Tennessee State faithful are into the highs and lows of every inning.


 

Access   3

Thomas Stadium is less than two miles off I-26 that runs locally from Asheville, North Carolina to nearby Kingsport, Tennessee. I-26 meets up with I-81 15 miles outside of Johnson City; I-81 is a bit more of a traveled interstate, running east of Knoxville up through the northeastern states.


Accessing Thomas Stadium is rather straightforward. A sizable parking lot is positioned outside of the first base side of the stadium, just a short walk to the front entrance. A smaller parking lot runs along the outside of the third baseline, but does present more danger of wayward foul balls.


Fans enter a small rotunda that accesses either side of the stadium to an upper-level concourse around the top of the seating bowl. Due to the press box and television camera location, fans must return to the rotunda to access the opposite side of the field. It is not that it is cumbersome to get to the other side of the seating bowl, but just a bit inconvenient.

 

Return on Investment   5

Reserved seating behind home plate between each dugout goes for $10, while general admission seating goes for just $5, and extends from the dugouts down each line. Reserved seating does come with overhead cover, so the extra might be worth the expense, but $5 seating would be just fine too, as plenty of the seats in these areas will be in the shade for a majority of the game. Parking is also free, so even $10 with no parking fee is a great deal.


Despite limited concession options, prices are kept reasonable and not subject to stadium inflation.

 

Extras   3

The entry rotunda provides fans a deep look at the history of Buccaneer baseball. On display is an extensive biography of the career of former ETSU baseball player and coach, Jim Mooney – a part of the St. Louis Cardinals legendary “Gas House Gang,” Mooney won the 1934 World Series. The careers of other Bucs who have gone on to professional baseball are also recognized, most notably Atlee Hammaker – Hammaker most recently starred for the San Francisco Giants and earned All Star honors in 1983.



Both sides of the grandstand have large patches of grass that give kids an area to play or toss a baseball around during the game.


A small but nice touch is the open-air radio booth; games when the window is open give fans in nearby seats real time play-by-play commentary of the game.

 

Final Thoughts

Johnson City has a rich baseball history dating back nearly a century, and the Buccaneers have played a large role in building the area’s love of the sport. From the days of sharing the historic Howard Johnson Field with the Appalachian League teams in the city, to opening their own stadium, the history of baseball here goes a long way in curating the city’s love of the sport.


Thomas Stadium gives visitors a highly enjoyable college baseball experience with an atmosphere that is extremely supportive of the Buccaneers. Even though Johnson City might be a bit challenging to get to, all that the city has to offer more than makes up for the time it might take to get here. In all, baseball at ETSU is a sneaky, impressive college baseball experience.




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