Home opener set for 4 p.m. Sunday (June 22) versus Danville
By Scott Robertson
For those who love the crack of the bat, the smell of popcorn, and the thrill of a close play at the plate, late June is a welcome time in Johnson City. The Johnson City Cardinals of the Appalachian League bring live professional baseball back to town this time every year.
But to be perfectly candid, for those who aren’t natural denizens of the ballyard there’s been precious little reason to visit Howard Johnson Field at Cardinal Park over the years. If you were a non-fan accompanying a fan to a game, the ballpark promotions and between-inning music selections often proved as stale as the hot dog buns.
This year promises to be different. General Manager Tyler Parsons, whose promotional ideas helped dramatically increase attendance at Danville last year has brought those ideas, and a batbag full of new ones, to Johnson City.
“We have a new atmosphere we’re looking to bring to the ballpark,” said Parsons earlier this week. “Whether you like baseball or not, we’re going to make sure there are things for you to enjoy in your time at Cardinal Park. We want to be a true entertainment venue. I’m talking about everything from promotions to activities inside the stadium to concessions.”
In 2014, fans at Cardinal Park won’t just have to choose between hot dogs or nachos, snickers bars or skittles, and coke or diet coke. “We’ll have Chik-fil-A sandwiches,” said Parsons. “And for our pizza this year, we’ll be having Mellow Mushroom pizza at the ballpark. We’re very excited about that. We’ll have Blue Belle ice cream. We’ll also have some crazy things. We’re going to have a waffle burger. You’re going to see bologna burgers now.”
Pending a city hearing June 19, beer will also be making a return to Cardinal Park, which will become the seventh of the 10 Appalachian League parks to offer beer. The availability of beer at the ballpark is a negative for some fans, but Parsons said the organization under him will know how to manage beer sales. “Everyone who wants to buy beer will have to present ID and wear a wristband. We’ll also have only one point of sale. There are a lot of folks who are into craft beers now who will appreciate the chance to have a hot slice of pizza and a cold beer at the game. For those who have reservations about it, we just say, ‘Come to the ballpark and see for yourself.’”
The enthusiasm in the Cardinals front office is obvious, and, Parsons hopes, contagious. “The one thing we have no control over is the team itself,” he said. The St. Louis Cardinals own the Johnson City team and maintain control over baseball operations. So the product on the field is all theirs.
“But the rest of the experience,” said Parsons, “we can control. And we want to make sure everything about that experience is great for the fans.”