Professional baseball abounds in our backyard

Baseball and BeerA cold beer in your hand. The golden brown infield dirt. The bright green outfield. The crack of the bat. The snap of a baseball into a glove. Those are the best indicators of hot summer nights and the annual return of America’s favorite pastime.

A trip to a Major League ballpark is delightful, but you can also get close to the game by staying close to home. We are fortunate in East Tennessee to have an abundance of ballparks where you can watch the stars of tomorrow while they toil in the minor leagues from rookie to advanced levels.

The Chicago Cubs, one of America’s favorite teams, has its Double A team, the Tennessee Smokies, in our backyard in Kodak, Tenn., just off Interstate 40 and 20 minutes from downtown Knoxville. The Smokies offer fun promotions all season long from dogs being welcome at the ballpark every Tuesday to $1 domestic draft beer on Thursdays.

Catch the Kingsport Mets, the Rookie League club of the New York Mets, at Hunter Wright Stadium this summer in Kingsport, Tenn. Kids 12 and under can run the bases after the game on Fridays, and Thursdays offer $1 hotdogs and sodas.

The Johnson City Cardinals are the Rookie League club of the St. Louis Cardinals, and play at Howard Johnson Field in Johnson City, Tenn. Your youth baseball or softball team can run out on the field and stand with the players for the national anthem, a staple at minor league ballparks.

East Tennessee has yet another Rookie League-level team in the Greeneville Astros. The farmhands for the Houston Astros play at Pioneer Park on the campus of Tusculum College in Greeneville, Tenn. Promotions include the offer of a 22-ounce souvenir beer mug for $6 with $5 refills in that mug for all remaining Monday home games and “Thirsty Thursday” serving up discounted sodas and $1 off beers.

The fourth and final Rookie League club in our region is the Elizabethton Twins, the budding first-year ballplayers for the Minnesota Twins. The youngsters play at Joe O’Brien Field, located along the banks of the Watauga River and overlooking the Appalachian Mountains, in Elizabethton, Tenn. Like most minor league parks, you can schedule your child’s birthday party and have him or her recognized on the field before the game.

East Tennessee has yet another destination for fans with the Chattanooga Lookouts, the Double A team of the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Lookouts play downtown at AT&T Field alongside the Tennessee River and are in the Southern League, along with the aforementioned Smokies, creating a nice regional rivalry.

Those are the six teams in East Tennessee, and Minor League baseball has this great map so fans can locate clubs across the country. The state of Tennessee has three more minor league clubs in Memphis, Jackson and Nashville. Baseball is played without a clock, and the game unfolds at its own pace. It is an ideal setting to sip a beer and watch the boys of summer try to get ready for the big leagues.

Baseball fans have a lot of stadium and beer options all summer long from the classics of Miller Lite and Coors Light, both brewed by MillerCoors, to the Mike’s Hard Lemonade products that now come in everything from Shandy to Mango Punch. These and more delicious brews and beverages are offered at ballparks across the country.

So, sit close to the field, savor a cold beer, drink responsibly and play ball!

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