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A Contest to Remember

January 4, 2014

JHA in the Office

Hugh Atkins

The Nashville Sounds are getting a new home and it’s going in the most historic sports location in the city. Beginning with the 2015 season, professional baseball will return to north Nashville on the site of Sulphur Dell, home of the Nashville Vols, who ceased operations after the 1963 season.

The Sounds will abandon Herschel Greer Stadium over at Fort Negley, their home since 1978 when Larry Schmittou resurrected professional baseball in Nashville. Greer Stadium has served its purpose for 36 seasons and some great ball players have come through Nashville on their way to the big leagues. Willie McGee, Steve “Bye Bye” Balboni, Otis Nixon, Don Mattingly, Ryan Braun, and Prince Fielder all served apprenticeships at Greer Stadium.

I was finishing up my sophomore year at Austin Peay State University when the Sounds began their first season of play. I was excited about having to drive only a half hour or so from our home in Cheap Hill to see real minor league baseball. Promotions were big and plentiful that first year and I entered a contest to see who could guess the inning of the first home run by a Sounds player at Herschel Greer Stadium. The prize: two season tickets to Sounds baseball.

I decided this contest literally would be my ticket to unlimited nights of great baseball. I knew the odds of winning were long, but I decided on a strategy that I hoped would greatly increase my chances of landing those tickets. My first big decision was to spot all the other contestants the first home game following the entry deadline. I figured most contestants would pick an inning in the first game and, by gambling that no Sounds player would hit a homer in that game, I would be one of the few even left in the running for the tickets.

My next bit of strategy was a little more complicated. Of course, in a contest of this nature, only one entry per person was allowed. So in order to have full coverage of every inning of the second game, I needed to somehow get nine entries into the contest. Being the middle child of five siblings, I started by sending in entries for my three brothers, my sister, and myself–five innings covered. Then I sent in entries for my mother and dad–seven innings covered. With two innings left, I sent in entries for my grandmother and her brother (my great-uncle). I had all nine innings of the second game covered.

I listened to the first game on the radio hoping the Sounds would win, but would not hit a home run; and that is exactly what happened. Then rain settled into Nashville and four straight games were rained out before the next game was played on May 16. In the fifth inning of that game, Sounds catcher Greg Dahl hit a home run. I checked my notes and found that Uncle Charlie’s entry was for the fifth inning of the second game. I called him the next morning and told him of my scheme and asked him to let me know if he heard from the Sounds.

Later that afternoon Uncle Charlie called and told me that the Sounds had called him to let him know that he was the winner of the season tickets. It seems that he and one other contestant had picked the fifth inning of the second game and they had drawn Uncle Charlie’s entry out of a hat to break the tie. The Sounds mailed the tickets to Uncle Charlie, he handed them over to me, and that is how I became a season ticket holder in the inaugural season of the Nashville Sounds.

The Devil is in the Research

That is really how I wound up with the tickets, but it seems that as we get older our memories begin to play tricks on us. I clearly remember how I went about winning the season tickets, attending several of the games with buddies of mine, and giving several of the tickets to other friends on nights that I could not attend. Plus, unused tickets were good for general admission on other nights, so many were the times that several buddies joined me for a night at the ballpark. But when I went to the main branch of the Nashville Public Library to research this article, I found that things did not happen exactly as I remember them.

Earlier in this article I said, “My first big decision was to spot all the other contestants the first home game following the entry deadline.” First of all, construction on Greer Stadium was not complete in time for the Sounds first home stand, so Nashville had to start the season with a 10-day road trip. Then the home opener, set for April 25, was rained out, so the Sounds played their first game at Greer Stadium on April 26; they beat the Savannah Braves 12-4, banging out 16 hits in the process. Due to the weather, the Sounds played only two games at Greer Stadium before going back out on the road and, according to both the Tennessean and the Banner, Nashville’s two daily newspapers at the time, no Sounds player homered during that first home stand. This tells me that the Sounds must have launched the promotion that eventually landed me the season tickets while the team was on the road following the first home stand.

New Park Should Bring Out the Fans

No matter how it actually happened or how I remember it, the summer of 1978 was a fun time in my life due to me winning those season tickets. While the inaugural version of the Nashville Sounds was not very good (64-77), the new team in its new stadium drew 380,000 fans. But one year later the 1979 team was exceptional and exciting. With Duane Walker, Eddie Milner, and Paul Householder patrolling the outfield, the Sounds went 83-61 and won the Southern League championship.

Willie McGeeThe next season the Sounds began an affiliation with the New York Yankees and put a team on the field that was in reality better than a couple of major league teams that year. Balboni hit 34 home runs, drove in 122 runs and batted .301. Buck Showalter hit .324. McGee and Ted Wilborn slashed and dashed all summer long and the team won 97 games. More than 575,000 fans went through the turnstiles.

It’s difficult to predict how fans will respond to the new ballpark. There most certainly will be a renewed interest in Sounds baseball during the first season, but there is no guarantee that if they build it, they will continue to come. Unlike 1978, minor league baseball now has to compete with an abundance of televised major league baseball on a nightly basis. But minor league baseball is a very affordable entertainment option. According to their website, reserve tickets to Sounds games bought in advance sell for $12; they are only $15 on the day of the game. General admission tickets go for as little as eight dollars when purchased in advance; concessions, parking and souvenirs also are cheaper. In the cozy minor league ballparks, every seat in the house puts you close to the action. Triple-A is a good brand of baseball, featuring many future major league stars. And you occasionally can see a top-notch big leaguer come through on an injury rehab assignment.

So with a new park in a historic location with other new commercial venues close by, the Sounds should see an increase in attendance for years to come. And I plan to have season tickets to their inaugural season back at Sulphur Dell. This time I’m taking a more conventional approach; I’ve already called and put down my deposit on two seats.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Dale permalink
    January 5, 2014 5:54 am

    Great to see your column this morning. Hope it’s a regular event. And how’s the autobiog coming along? Eager to read more. Sure wish you’d consider writing a regular column for i24 again. Many people miss it.
    Dale

    Like

  2. January 5, 2014 6:03 pm

    I’m hoping to keep posting every week. The “autobiog” devolved into a work of bizarre fiction that took on a life of its own. I’m working on other projects, though. Thanks for the comments.–Hugh

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  3. January 10, 2014 11:41 am

    Fond memories of those days, I remember the year the Sounds out drew the Oakland A’s

    Dennis

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    • January 10, 2014 12:54 pm

      Dennis–I’m sure you were the beneficiary of more than one of those free Sounds tickets. Hope all is well out in your neck of the woods. When you retiring and moving back to Tennessee?

      Like

  4. Anonymous permalink
    October 31, 2014 12:36 pm

    Great article, Hugh…

    I never won Sounds season tickets, but for many years if you took advantage of the many byout nights sponsored by Hills, Walmart, Kroger, American General, Arbys, and just about every other major business in Nashville, you could scrounge enough free General Admission tickets to see most all of the Sounds home games during a season in those early days. Larry Schmittou was a master promoter. He was the Bill Veeck of minor league baseball.

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    • October 31, 2014 7:52 pm

      Hey–let’s plan to go to one of the afternoon games at the new park. We’ll have a hotdog dinner that can’t be beat and take in a game.

      Like

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