Jacksonville has played host to many players both legendary and soon to be legendary. These names include Jose Fernandez, Matt Kemp, Clayton Kershaw, Andrew Miller, Alex Rodriguez, Andres Galarraga, Giancarlo "Mike" Stanton, Randy Johnson, Tom Seaver, and Nolan Ryan. Not bad for a little club in the heart of the City of Jacksonville. If you head out to the Tiki Bar in left field, you will find the team sets from the years past. You will see all of these player and many more.
We sat down with Noel Blaha, the Assistant General Manager of the Suns, for a quick chat in the Sundowner Lounge located in what was the old press box. With it's large windows that captured every blade of grass on the field, it was the perfect backdrop to talk baseball and find out why Suns Baseball should be the go to choice of every family.
Parking - 8
A large benefit of being located in the middle of two other large venues is that parking is abundant and in close proximity to the stadium. The area is strictly commercial so you don't have a lot of people loitering around outside the arena. We quickly found two different areas to park, one being a garage by the home plate entrance and the other a lot directly behind center field. We chose the lot so we could get a good look a Everbank Field. The cost to park was $5 cash and the lot was well lit and provided a safe voyage both to and from the park.
This is always a difficult score to give. I know that parks can't usually dictate what happens around them, but it is an important score when trying to make it a day out of going to the ballpark and everything in the area needs to be factored in. In the case of the Suns, I am sure that it is very seasonal depending on what other sports are playing. The only option we had outside of the park was a local sports pub that had a decent review on Google. I can't speak to the family friendly environment of the pub, but if you are wanting more to do in the area then that is it. The kids gave it a 6 because of the opportunity of doing other things like a stadium tour or maybe a cool tailgate the closer you get to football season.
With a $5 ticket and the dedication to get up to the park early, a fan can race right up to the Sundowner Lounge and get an air conditioned seat in the sky. Not much of a chance to get a foul ball, so you will have to explain that to your little one. If you want assigned seating, your choices are either $9 terrace seats or right behind home plate for $18. There are also great group options that give you access to probably the best seats in the house in the Sky Decks.
The Sun's Souvenir Store is located at the top of the stairs when you enter the park from home plate. It is a well organized store with a good assortment of options for both adults and kids. As usual, my boys and I are all kids in a candy store. I make a break for the hats and my youngest heads straight for the mini bats. I was a bit disappointed in the hat selections. They had the usual adjustable hats and a few options of New Era 59 Fifties, but all of them in high crown. Do people really still buy those? Trying on one after another hoping for something that didn't make me feel like I was wearing a ten gallon hat, it reminded me of my grandpa strapping on his overalls and putting on his local farm implement hat. I eventually came across the hat that you see in the photo above. It was a promo hat that they had marked down to only $10. It won't get much dome time, but for 10 bucks...why not?
Let me first throw out my bias for the colors gold and black. As a Cubs fan, those colors have never been palatable to my eyes. With that disclaimer, I will do my best to provide a fair opinion. The logo can be seen in a couple of forms. It is either a winking sun or a capital J. The uniforms are different variations of yellow, white, grey, and black. There is nothing widely creative about the uniforms or the logo and nothing that indicates that they are a Marlins ball club, but they don't really have to. With traditions that date back to 1962 and a good brand in the local community and Minor League Association, it just kind of works.
Like rising into the gates of heaven your family is first greeted by music from a local musician and then an unbelievably refreshing breeze that sweeps off the concourse and right into your soul. You emerge right behind home plate and directly into everything that the Suns have waiting for you, and for our visit it was a Ninja Turtle, a face painter and a balloon guy. Arlis was not quite sure, but reluctantly posed for a brief picture. In the ballpark you can also play at the playground in center field or if you brought your cash and always give into the pleading of your children, you can pay to do the bouncy houses located behind the play set. Don't worry Dads, you still have a pretty good view of the field while hanging out with your little ones. At the Suns' ballpark, you will always have something to do. If you usually find it difficult to make it 9 innings, you won't have that issue here.
Other things that impressed our family were the activities that they had structured exclusively for the family. You can play family catch before the game on the field, run the bases after the game, and the general manager reads a book to the kids between innings. Wow...way to go!
We were given the opportunity to sit wherever we wanted to and chose to sit behind home plate about 5 rows down. They are great seats, but exposed to both sun and rain. A tip that was given to us by Noel and is applicable at this point of the review is that the weather changes at this point rather quickly. A rain poncho may come in handy, and you can probably guess it...we did not have one. With a storm approaching and the fact that the net behind the plate extends over the seating (making a foul ball impossible and one upset 7 year old because of it) we decided to try out Noel's favorite spot.
We relocated to Sky Deck 4 overlooking the entire field from the 3rd base line. What a view! I would also recommend trying to see a night game at the park from these seats. The lights of the park mix perfectly with the glow of the bridges off the water surrounding Everbank Field. Considering the view and the many options for general admission tickets, the kids scored the seating and easy 9.
After finally settling in to dry seats with a great view, it was time to find some grub. I had asked Noel to give me some ideas of the ballpark fan favorites. I was impressed at the unique choices, including grilled cheese sandwiches, brunswick stew, a Philly cheesesteak hotdog, and the always available $2 hotdog. The Philly hotdog was my top choice and kids decided to go with the $2 hotdog and the $4.25 Coke. I like the creativity of the Philly, but that was a lot of food. It is definitely a 2 person dog. The kids dogs were cooked perfect and they had them downed before we were back sitting in our seats.
The park also has food vendors that walk around with items such as peanuts and snow cones. I was talked into getting a snow cone, which turned to be more like snow cubes. I found out that my children do not discriminate the type of sugar that enters their body and made quick work of the them. There are plenty of options and many places to enjoy those options with great customer service at each locations. You can see above that the Philly hotdog team wanted us to know just how much fun they have each day. The prices were fair and the food was decent. The kids decided that a Family Friendly Score of 8 should be the number.
The bathrooms were clean, and I felt that it was a safe environment for a family to use. There was nothing flashy, but as my wife says..."They're just bathrooms!" They served their purpose, and I was glad that they had them scattered throughout the park.
I love seeing how different teams handle this role. In the case of the Suns, they use an announcer that stays in the booth and their mascot Southpaw. Being a southpaw myself, I liked the silent dog that did a great job at visiting with the crowd and being the center piece of all of the on-field antics. It is my opinion, but I prefer an on-field hype man over a "voice from above". They get the crowd going and make mid-innings games flow much smoother. I am not saying the the Suns did not do a good job at getting the crowd going, I have just seen better results from a live person.
Noel told us that the motto of the ballpark is to provide you with excellent customer service and an experience that you will always remember. The Jacksonville Suns delivered on that promise. We were entertained the moment we hit the front gates. The new owners have not only lowered the ticket cost, but decreased the price of some food items. They have created new areas for families to watch the game, and provided great activities that do not distract you from the real reason you are there...to watch the greatest game ever played.