Bowling Green Ballpark is the home of the Bowling Green Hot Rods, the Class A affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays, last season’s American League Champions.
“They broke ground [on the stadium] in July,” Hot Rods General Manager Brad Taylor said. “It’s pretty remarkable that, at the end of May, we’re sitting in an almost finished product. There is still work to be completed, but it’s largely work that doesn’t affect the fans. It’s remarkable that they could build a stadium in that amount of time and that we could build an organization from September to now.”
The Hot Rods, replacing the Columbus Catfish in the Rays’ organization, hosted their first game April 17 to a crowd of 6,886, more than 2,000 above the listed seating capacity of 4,500.
The mascot is a reflection of Bowling Green’s long history with the manufacture of classic American automobiles.
Taylor said the organization is still in the educational process, learning how to get fans interested in the product and regularly coming to games, and said the ballpark will go a long way toward helping that.
“A lot of people have had the reaction that they didn’t know they were getting this,” Taylor said. “They’ve been very impressed with the facility. Having been in minor league baseball for 15 years, I find it is a very nice facility. It’s very fand-friendly.”
The park boasts a large, high-definition video board in right field and an LED board embedded in the left field wall. Bowling Green is one of only eight minor league teams to have such a board, Taylor said.
“Two things we hear a lot that make us really happy: One, I can’t believe I’m in Bowling Green,” Taylor said. “We hope they’re saying that in a nice way because we think it’s a great town. The other one is, Thanks for bringing this here. There are things to do here, but now, this is another hub of summertime entertainment opportunity when there aren’t as many things going on with Western Kentucky University.”
The park will also host camps, concerts and games other than those involving the Hot Rods, which makes it more of a draw, Taylor said.
As for the games themselves, Taylor said the goal for the Hot Rods is to make each night a family experience.
“We have to do that because we can’t market these players,” Taylor said. “No one knows these guys yet. Hopefully they will and people can say they saw these guys in Bowling Green and got autographs and pictures with their kids. It’s our job to make sure we’re marketing what else we do here. If we’re relying on the team winning, we’re not doing our job as a management staff of providing a well-rounded opportunity for entertainment.”
Taylor said fans will find in Bowling Green’s new franchise affordable ticket and concession prices, in-game entertainment, fireworks shows and other things commonly associated with baseball and summer.
“We’re fortunate to have a good team this year, but we let Tampa worry about the product on the field,” Taylor said. “For us, it’s not getting you here, it’s getting you back here. If we can build repeat business because people think it’s such a great value and they can’t miss it, that’s great for us.”
In a nutshell, Taylor said his description to those who may just be learning about the team’s existence is to remember the experience isn’t all about baseball.
“When I speak to groups I ask two questions: How many of you like baseball? And, How many of you don’t like baseball?” Taylor said. “Talking to those who don’t like baseball, I ask who likes picnics, being outside with friends and having an affordable night out. If you like one of those things, we have something for you whether you like baseball or not. We may have even made baseball fans out of some of those people.”
The team: Being a Class A team, the Hot Rods’ roster is filled with young talent trying to take the first step toward a Major League career. The oldest Bowling Green player is 24-year-old pitcher Diego Echeverria, and the youngest is 19-year-old shortstop Tim Beckham, the top pick in the 2008 Major League Baseball Draft. Beckham was also featured on a giveaway magnet at Friday’s game against the Rome Braves.
Bowling Green plays in the Southern Division of the Southern Atlantic League. Heading into Tuesday’s game against the Lexington Legends, the Hot Rods held a record of 24-26, four games behind first-place Charleston.
The game: The Hot Rods lost 5-4 Friday to the Rome Braves.
Rome scored three runs in the top of the first inning, but the Hot Rods tallied single runs in the first and third and took a 4-3 lead after Kyeong Kang smacked an RBI triple and scored on a sacrifice fly by Michael Sheridan.
But the Braves rallied in the top of the ninth, scoring on a single by Ryan Barba and a bases-loaded walk by Shayne Moody.
Attendance was announced at 3,542.