Visit Rocket City's Toyota Field
Welcome to Toyota Field, home of the Rocket City Trash Pandas. Procure a Dumpster Wrap, visit the Junkyard and make your acquaintance with a space-traveling racoon.
Rocket City Trash Pandas (Double-A affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels since 2021)
Ballpark: Toyota Field (opened 2021)
League: Double-A South, North Division
The Rocket City Trash Pandas are located in Madison, Alabama, in close proximity to Huntsville. The Rocket City portion of the name references the region's deep ties to NASA and the aerospace industry. A Trash Panda, meanwhile, is a racoon.
The Trash Pandas -- Double-A Angels affiliate -- were set to debut in 2020 after relocating from Mobile, Alabama. COVID-19 put the kibosh on the entire season, pushing the inaugural Trash Pandas campaign to 2021. Toyota Field hosted its first Trash Pandas game on May 11. This marked the first time that Minor League Baseball had been played in the region since the Huntsville Stars, who relocated to Biloxi following the 2014 season.
500 Trash Pandas Way
Madison, Alabama, 35758
Dimensions: left field, 326 feet; center field, 400 feet; right field, 326 feet
Madison is an affluent and growing suburb. Toyota Field, so named because Toyota has a motor manufacturing plant in Huntsville, is a key element of a larger development project. Thus, the landscape surrounding the ballpark is in flux, as more residences, businesses, shops, restaurants and hotels are constructed. Perhaps most notably, there are plans for a giant Margaritaville hotel (and lazy river) that will be situated beyond the outfield. The ballpark is located right of I-565, with a new interchange open on the eastbound side and another one due to open westbound.
Toyota Field's main entrance is located far down the first-base line, the most prominent element of a ballpark exterior that mixes brick, stone and metallic building materials. A two-story VIP entrance is located closer to home plate, with a staircase and elevator providing swift access to the suites and group areas of the second level.
Like virtually all new ballparks, Toyota Field features a 360-degree concourse. Batting cages are located on the first-base side of the concourse - fans can peer in - and The Junkyard team store is located a short walk from the cages as one proceeds toward right field. From the time the team announced their name, Trash Pandas merchandise has sold very, very well. Plan accordingly as regards to time spent in The Junkyard (it's likely to be crowded) as well as budget. Toyota Field is a cashless ballpark and this extends to the parking lot. Discounted parking is available by using the Clutch! app; inside the ballpark the team accepts debit, credit and their in-house form of payment, Trash Cash.
A large, sloping berm seating area is located directly across the concourse from the team store. Additional berm seating can be found on a grassy patch directly beneath the scoreboard. The Inline Rock Porch bar is situated in right, offering plenty of room to mingle as well as rail seating that looks directly onto (and in fact hangs slightly over) the field. The outfield wall zigs and zags from right field to center, an architectural quirk that makes playing balls off the wall all the more treacherous for the outfielders.
Both bullpens are located in left field, in full view of those standing on the concourse. Home is located next to the batter's eye, while the visitors' pen extends just past the foul pole. A literal "elevator to nowhere" stands on the concourse in the left-field corner, indicating that the second level of the ballpark will eventually extend to that area as well. Currently the second level runs roughly from first base to third base. It includes the spacious SportsMed Stadium Club season ticket area, 15 suites and a third-base-side party deck.
The area beyond and between the two bullpens has been dubbed the Toyota Outfield Experience. The most notable aspect of this experience is a mobile barber unit. Kevin "Da Barber" Thomas and/or members of his Global Barber Federation (GBF) are on hand to cut hair from the first pitch to the last.
The Trash Pandas embrace garbage-related puns throughout the ballpark -- even when it comes to food. The Dumpster Dive is one of two primary concession areas located on the concourse behind home plate, along with the Gravity Grille. Perhaps the Dumpster Dive's most notable offering is the Dumpster Wrap, consisting of a smorgasbord of ingredients that could only be found in the finest of garbage cans. Other notable items on offer at Toyota Field include a Mint Julep Chicken Sandwich and a rotating Eat Your Opponent Dog (a hot dog inspired by the name and/or location of the visiting team).
Champy's, a regional chicken-centric fast food chain, has a stand on the first-base-side of the ballpark. All-Stars Grille, on the the third-base-side, features signage that incorporates the logo of the now-defunct Huntsville Stars.
It should come as no surprise that the Rocket City Trash Pandas' mascot is a garbage can-bedecked raccoon with interstellar aspirations. His name is Sprocket, which is also the regional nickname for Huntsville's U.S. Space and Rocket Center.
We're talking about Rocket City, after all, so the aforementioned U.S. Space and Rocket Center should go without saying. It includes a planetarium, flight simulator, theater and a very large collection of rockets and space memorabilia.
If the vastness of space is too much too contemplate, focus on the great outdoors. Monte Sano State Park, chief among the region's bounty of options, includes the North Alabama Japanese Garden (a great area for bird watching).
And, of course, support your local (and not-so-local) record store. Huntsville's Vertical House Records is located within Lowe Mill Arts and Entertainment, a repurposed industrial space which also includes artist studios and hosts a variety of cultural events. Madison is now home to Black Dog Vinyl and HiFi, an uber-friendly establishment which opened in the summer of 2021.
Food and Drink
On the "drink" side of the equation, those of a certain age and disposition should note that Huntsville is home to a thriving craft brewery scene. There is even a craft beer trail upon which imbibers can travel.
Stovehouse, like Lowe Mill Arts and Entertainment, is an example of adaptive reuse. What was once a stove factory (hence the name) is now a sprawling "campus" that features a wide variety of bars, restaurants and businesses.
Huntsville's oldest restaurant is the Big Spring Cafe, established in 1922. Among other things, it is the self-proclaimed "Home of the Greasy Burger."
Fans of ballpark proximity should note that there is a cluster of over a dozen hotels off of I-565, all within two miles of Toyota Field. These establishments are generally a bit cheaper than those near the Space and Rocket Center (or, further northeast, downtown Huntsville).
The closest team to the Trash Pandas are the Chattanooga Lookouts. From there one can continue heading east to the land of baseball plenty that is the Carolinas. An interesting north-south road trip option would be to start with the Louisville Bats and then proceed to the Bowling Green Hot Rods, Nashville Sounds, Trash Pandas, Birmingham Barons, Montgomery Biscuits and, finally, Pensacola Blue Wahoos. See if you can get the schedules to align and do it in a week's time.
The Road to Los Angeles
The Angels' system is sprawling, to say the least, with the Trash Pandas being the easternmost team by a margin of some 1700 miles. It goes from southern California (Inland Empire) to Washington state (Tri-City) to Alabama (Rocket City) to Utah (Salt Lake).