Sevier County gets a chance to shine at Smokies Park
The bases were still 90 feet apart but there was something special about Sevier County’s temporary home on Wednesday.
“It was a great feeling,” said Smoky Bears catcher Devante Matthews. “It’s a beautiful place.”
From the wide-open space of the outfield to the 17-foot video board displaying their names, the Bears got the professional baseball experience at Smokies Park. A grinding, 1-0 win over Jefferson County may have ultimately been secondary to getting to play at the home of the Chicago Cubs’ Double-A affiliate.
“It’s something special,” said Sevier County coach Casey Taylor. “It’s something they’ll remember and we will, too, as coaches. It’s not every day you get to come play at a minor league stadium. It’s a good step in the right direction for this group. We’re trying to get them familiar with playing against good opponents in different venues, different places.”
The Bears passed the test, scoring the winning run when Matthews came home on a passed ball in the fifth. Pitcher Nick Osborne made it stand up with a complete game one-hitter, giving Sevier County a sweep of the Patriots.
Tennessee Smokies general manager Brian Cox said the team has welcomed high school squads to the stadium since 2001. He said it’s a nice way to give back while also testing out any changes the team has made before opening day.
“Talking to Casey, the kids are having a blast,” Cox said. “We just completely replaced the field. He said, ‘My shortstop (Alan Silva) liked it out there. The dirt was pretty nice.’ That’s the positive thing. The kids get to play on it. For us, you want to make sure everything’s OK.”
Cox said the Smokies don’t charge the schools anything, helping the teams make a little money by selling tickets. They still get the full experience with a PA announcer and the scoreboard displaying each batter’s name and team logo.
“To watch (the players) just look around when they came in, it’s kind of like the first time you go to the circus,” said Jefferson County coach Gaines Cox. “You’re looking at everything.
“A lot of these guys have never played in a venue like this. They come back and visit they can say, ‘Yeah, I played here and I pitched off that mound and I made a play at third,’ and things of that nature.”
Osborne can say he got a gem of a win at the park. It’s those kind of performances the Bears need at ballparks big and small this spring if Sevier County is to return to the sectional playoff.
On Wednesday, the Bears were just celebrating a win on a special field. “I’m glad they let us come out here and play on it,” Osborne said. “I noticed how their infield was cut, very nice, very nice. “It’s just beautiful. It’s a great place to play baseball.”