Day 8 of the 2018 Baseball Road Trip began at the Knight’s Inn in West Memphis, AR, following a doubleheader at AutoZone Park the night before. Our ultimate destination that day was Chattanooga, TN, to catch a Lookouts’ game in the evening. Google Maps informed us that the trip would take a litle more than five hours to reach AT&T Field, home of the Lookouts. That left plenty of time to explore Memphis during the morning hours.
Our first stop in Memphis (upon the request of my brother Jeff) was the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel, site of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. Seeing the motel in person proved to be a sobering experience. Dr King was killed before I was three years old, and of course I don’t remember the tragedy. However, walking through the motel and seeing the room where he stayed, connected me to the event more intensely than I expected. Though the balcony where he died is inaccessible (as is his room), seeing the layout lends perspective to the videos of the event I’ve seen all my life.
Following our visit to the room where Dr King was assassinated, we made our way to the main section of the National Civil Rights Museum. Though we arrived at the museum just about as it opened on that sunny morning, there were lines of school children and visitors waiting to enter. As was the case with our visit to the rooms on the second floor of the motel, strolling though the museum was more powerful than I anticipated.
We spent about an hour at the museum, and could have spent more. However, there were other sites we wanted to see in Memphis, but I’m glad this was our first stop. If you visit Memphis, this is a must-see.
Our next stop was Sun Studio, on Union Avenue. This stop was my idea; how could I pass up an opportunity to see one of the crucibles from which rock and roll sprung? Well, for a moment, it appeared as though it might not happen. Unbeknownst to us (but probably known to the locals), there is not much available parking immediately surrounding the studio. After several approaches, I was about to give up, but my brother insisted we try again. Finally, we were able to secure a spot close enough to the studio to take the tour.
From the outside, the studio presents a fairly unassuming profile. It belies the studio’s iconic status, and as might be expected, the place was busy. Just inside the right door was a small counter where we could buy soft drinks and snacks, as well as a small souvenir area. Luckily, we didn’t have to wait long for the next tour, which began promptly at the top of the hour.
The first part of the tour wound us through a museum of the early days of the studio, complete with displays of musical instruments and equipment. As a lifelong fan of rock and roll, I drank in the experience. The tour through the museum lasted about 40 minutes, followed by a visit to the studio itself.
While I thoroughly enjoyed the stroll through the museum, the studio is what I truly wanted to see. Sun Studio is still a working studio, as our informative and engaging tour guide reminded us. Though ancient by today’s standards, there was undeniably a presence in this place. Elvis recorded his first hit, That’s Alright Mama, in this very location. For me, it was almost a spiritual experience, knowing I was standing where Elvis helped popularize rock and roll.
On the floor of the studio, there is a taped “x” in the spot where Elvis stood when he recorded his first hit. Our tour guide told us that when he first visited, Bob Dylan bent down and kissed that spot. When our guide asked in anyone in the tour would like to do the same, two people actually did!!! While I was truly enchanted by the place, that was not my idea of fun.
The tour concluded in the studio, and we were welcome to stay for a while before the next tour. However, the size of the crowd made viewing the studio difficult, so we chose that moment to leave. If you have a deep connection to rock history like me, you cannot leave Memphis without visiting the studio.
With precious little time left before we had to head out toward Chattanooga, we headed for Beal Street. Visiting during the day most assuredly did not afford us the best taste of the area, though we did manage to obtain some feel for the place. Walking down the road, I couldn’t help but hear “Walking in Memphis” by Marc Cohen echo through my head.
After a quick walk up and down the street, we were forced to start on our way to Chattanooga. Of course, we only scratched the surface in Memphis, and I have every intention to visit this place again, making sure to see Beale Street at night. Before heading out on the road, we stopped at a Memphis Welcome Center in preparation for the drive. Memphis had one more surprise for us. Inside the center was a statue of B.B King, which was fitting considering his deep ties to Memphis.
2. Memphis to Chattanooga
Leaving Memphis shortly after noon left us about seven hours before game time in Chattanooga. Luckily, the weather was clear, and the traffic driving across Tennessee this afternoon was generally light. Being from the Northeast, we were pleasantly surprised by the light traffic on Interstates across the Southeast. Even during times when traffic should be relatively clear across the Northeast, there is seemingly some problem (be it slow drivers in the passing lane, people afraid to pass trucks, accidents and endless construction) that slows our progress below an acceptable level.
The drive itself was non descriptive, though we did notice many dead armadillos along the highway. Not knowing much about armadillos, I suspected that they lived further south, where winters are largely mild, even at night. Unfortunately for us (and the armadillos), we did not see a single specimen alive along the side of the road. Following a quick stop for lunch we were on our way again, reaching the hotel in Chattanooga shortly after 500 pm. We stopped long enough to drop off our luggage and freshen up before heading out to the park for the 700 pm game start time
3. AT&T Field, Chattanooga TN
Arriving at AT&T Field about 45 minutes before game time, we found parking at a public lot down the street. Being unsure of the parking layout at the stadium itself, we decided to park away from the field. We have found that parking near the stadium, especially for a well-attended game, can result in a significant slowdown exiting the vicinity.
The ballpark is located on a hill, which is evident as you approach the park. From a distance, it was not clear how to access the park on the hill, until we got closer. There is an escalator behind home plate that makes reaching the ballpark easier, especially to those with mobility issues. As we usually do when visiting a ballpark for the first time, we walked around the outside of the stadium taking pictures. Following the short tour of the outside of the park, we entered the stadium behind home plate. Before going to our seats,, we visited the concession stand, where I partook in a couple of hot dogs, which were unremarkable.
Taking our seats just before game time, we discovered that the seats were directly in the line of the setting sun. That resulted in some difficulty seeing the action that occurred in left field for the first part of the ballgame. On this evening, the Chattanooga Lookouts hosted the Tennessee Smokies in a Southern League game. Skies were clearing, and the temperature at first pitch (717 pm) was about 70 degrees. Despite being a Friday night (which typically means a good crowd), AT&T Field was only about half full.
Sitting down the right field line, we discovered that many of the seats further down the line were in fact general admission seats on an aluminum platform. These seats followed the wall into right field, though there were not many fans in the seats. Overall, the ballpark was on par with some of the Double A stadiums we have visited in the Eastern League. The sight lines were good, and from our seats we had a great look at the field.
Early during the game action, Lookouts catcher Brian Navaretto was injured by a bat during a backswing at the plate. Navaretto was visibly shaken after the incident, wobbling while trying to walk with help from the trainer. Despite his best efforts to remain in the game, it was clear he could not continue. Upon leaving, he received a standing ovation from the hometown crowd.
After scoring a run in the top of the second, the Smokies tacked on four more runs in the top of the fourth, aided by a critical error by the Lookouts. That outburst essentially put the game out of reach. The Lookouts scored their only run in the bottom of the third. Once the game became out of reach, Lookouts fans starting leaving, and by the end of the game, there were few fans left.
Due to the thinned out crowd, our getaway was smooth and quick. The warm evening was quickly turning into a chilly night, not surprising for late April. As ballparks go, it was about average for a Double A team, though it wasn’t without its charms. Our timing was good; unfortunately, the Lookouts are on the chopping block. MLB’s plan to eliminate 40 minor league teams leaves Chattanooga on the outside looking in. Hopefully, for the sake of the fans and the community, AT&T Field will host baseball in 2021.