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The Nashville Sounds are a Minor League Baseball team of the International League and the Triple-A affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers. They are located in Nashville, Tennessee, and are named for the city's association with the music industry. The team plays their home games at First Horizon Park, which opened in 2015 on the site of the historic Sulphur Dell ballpark. The Sounds previously played at Herschel Greer Stadium from its opening in 1978 until the end of the 2014 season. They are the oldest active professional sports franchise in Nashville.
Established as an expansion team of the Double-A Southern League in 1978, the Sounds led all of Minor League Baseball in attendance in their inaugural season and continued to draw the Southern League's largest crowds in each of their seven years as members of the league. On the field, the team won six consecutive second-half division titles from 1979 to 1984 and won the Southern League championship twice: in 1979 as the Double-A affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds and again in 1982 as the Double-A affiliate of the New York Yankees.
The Sounds were replaced by a Triple-A American Association team in 1985. The Triple-A Sounds carried on the history of the Double-A team that preceded them. Nashville rarely contended for the American Association championship, making only three appearances in the postseason during their 13 years in the league. They joined the Triple-A Pacific Coast League in 1998 following the dissolution of the American Association after the 1997 season. Over 23 years in the Pacific Coast League, the team qualified for the postseason on five occasions. They won their lone Pacific Coast League championship in 2005 as the Triple-A affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers. In conjunction with Major League Baseball's reorganization of Minor League Baseball in 2021, the Sounds were placed in the Triple-A East, which became the International League in 2022.
Nashville has served as a farm club for eight Major League Baseball franchises. A total of 29 managers have led the club and its over 1,300 players. As of the completion of the 2021 season, their 44th year in Nashville, the Sounds have played 6,123 regular-season games and compiled a win–loss record of 3,146–2,977. They have a postseason record of 49–43. Combining all 6,215 regular-season and postseason games, the Sounds have an all-time record of 3,195–3,020.
Nashville has been home to Minor League Baseball teams since the late 19th century. The city's professional baseball history dates back to 1884 with the formation of the Nashville Americans, who were charter members of the original Southern League from 1885 to 1886 and played their home games at Sulphur Spring Park, later renamed Athletic Park and Sulphur Dell. This ballpark was the home of Nashville's minor league teams through 1963. In 1887, Nashville's Southern League team was called the Nashville Blues. The Nashville Tigers competed in the same league from 1893 to 1894. In 1895, the Nashville Seraphs won the city's first professional championship in the Southern League. The Nashville Centennials played in the Central League in 1897 but relocated to Henderson, Kentucky, during the season before the league's collapse.
The city's longest-operating baseball team, first known only as the Nashville Baseball Club and later renamed the Nashville Vols (short for Volunteers, the state nickname), was formed in 1901 as a charter member of the Southern Association. They remained in the league through 1961, winning eight pennants, nine playoff championships, and four Dixie Series titles. The Southern Association disbanded after the 1961 season, and no team was fielded in 1962, but the Vols played one final season in the South Atlantic League in 1963. Sulphur Dell was demolished in 1969, and the city went without a professional baseball team for 14 years until 1978.
Larry Schmittou, head coach of the Vanderbilt Commodores baseball team from 1968 to 1978, was instrumental in bringing professional baseball back to Nashville. Along with help from country musician Conway Twitty, Schmittou put together a group of investors including other country artists Cal Smith and Jerry Reed, as well as other Nashvillians, to finance a stadium and a minor league team. The Metro Parks Board agreed to lease to Schmittou the site of Nashville's former softball fields on the grounds of Fort Negley, a Civil War fortification approximately two miles (3.2 km) south of downtown, on which to build. The US$1.5 million ballpark was to be named Herschel Greer Stadium in posthumous honor of Herschel Lynn Greer, a prominent Nashville businessman and president of the Nashville Vols. Schmittou and general manager Farrell Owens landed the Cincinnati Reds as a Major League Baseball affiliate after meeting with Sheldon "Chief" Bender, Cincinnati's farm director, at the 1976 Winter Meetings. The new team was then granted membership in the Southern League, which operated at the Double-A classification.
The team was called the Sounds in reference to the "Nashville sound", a subgenre of American country music that traces its roots to the area in the late 1950s. The team's wordmark and color scheme were lifted from the defunct Memphis Sounds of the American Basketball Association, who used them from 1974 to 1975. The color blue was added to Memphis' red and white palette. Nashville's original logo, which was used from 1978 into 1998, reflected the city's long-standing association with country music. It depicted a mustachioed baseball player, nicknamed "Slugger", swinging at a baseball with an acoustic guitar, a staple of country music, in place of a bat. Further illustrating the city's musical ties was the typeface, with letters that resembled G-clefs, used to display the team name and the cap logo which resembled an eighth note.
With a team in place and a stadium under construction, the Nashville Sounds were set to begin play in 1978 as an expansion team of the Southern League. As the Double-A affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds, the Sounds played their first game on April 15, 1978, against the Memphis Chicks at Memphis' Tim McCarver Stadium, which they lost, 4–2. They recorded their first win the next evening, defeating Memphis, 3–0. Their home opener was scheduled to take place on April 25, but was rained out and rescheduled for the next night. On April 26, the Sounds played their first home game, a 12–4 victory, against the Savannah Braves before a sellout crowd of 8,156 fans at Greer Stadium. Nashville placed fourth of five teams in both halves of its inaugural season, which kept the team out of the championship playoffs.
The Sounds had more success at the turnstiles than on the field as they led all of Minor League Baseball in attendance by drawing 380,000 fans to Greer Stadium in their debut season. Nashville went on to lead the Southern League in attendance in each of their seven seasons of membership. Schmittou's business philosophy revolved around earning profits not from ticket sales, but from the sale of souvenirs and concessions. This approach also involved promoting family-friendly entertainment rather than baseball games. Through the mid 1980s, the Sounds offered nightly promotions and treated fans to a carnival-like atmosphere between innings. The franchise was recognized with the Larry MacPhail Award for outstanding minor league promotions in 1978, 1980, and 1981.
Manager George Scherger led the 1979 Sounds to win the second-half Western Division title, qualifying them for the postseason. After defeating first-half winners Memphis, three games to one, for the Western Division title, they advanced to the league championship series against the Columbus Astros. Nashville won their first Southern League championship by defeating Columbus, three games to one.
Originally, the Reds allowed Nashville to use a designated hitter (DH) in their lineup. This allowance was later revoked since the Reds were a part of the National League in which pitchers bat instead of using a DH. Schmittou felt this put the Sounds at a disadvantage against other teams that utilized the designated hitter, so he looked for a new major league affiliate for 1980. After two seasons at Double-A for the Reds, Nashville had a 152–140 win–loss record encompassing all regular-season and postseason games.
Schmittou had been encouraged by the New York Yankees organization to establish the Sounds as a Triple-A team, but he refused to go back on his previous agreement to partner with the Reds at Double-A. After the split with Cincinnati, the Sounds made their first affiliation switch in 1980, becoming the Double-A affiliate of the Yankees. This partnership was the most successful period in team history. They experienced five winning seasons in a row and won five consecutive second-half Western Division titles, propelling them to the postseason each year.
Under manager Stump Merrill, the 1980 Sounds posted a franchise-best 97–46 record. They won the second half but lost the Western Division series to Memphis. The 1980 club was ranked as the sixty-ninth greatest minor league baseball team of all-time by baseball historians in 2001. Nashville set the league season attendance record that year when 575,676 fans attended games at Greer Stadium. The Sounds reached the 1981 championship series via another second-half title and winning the division over Memphis, but they fell to the Orlando Twins in the finals.
The 1982 Sounds, managed by Johnny Oates, finished with a 77–67 record and won the second half. After defeating the Knoxville Blue Jays, 3–1, in the Western Division finals, the Sounds advanced to the league championship series against the Jacksonville Suns, where they won the franchise's second Southern League championship with a 3–1 series victory. The Sounds qualified for the Western Division series in each of the next two seasons, but fell to the Birmingham Barons in 1983, and to Knoxville in 1984. One highlight of the 1984 season was Jim Deshaies pitching the club's first no-hitter against Columbus in the second game of a seven-inning doubleheader on May 4. Otis Nixon set the franchise career record for stolen bases (133) over the 1981 and 1982 seasons. Nashville had a 431–320 record during their five-year affiliation with the Yankees, their best record among all affiliations. Their seven-year record in the Southern League was 583–460.
In response to a decline in attendance and a decrease in local media coverage, Sounds president Larry Schmittou sought to boost interest in the team through an elevation to the Triple-A classification. He attempted to purchase and relocate one of two available Triple-A franchises late in the 1983 season, but each chose to continue in their markets for 1984. His desire to land a Triple-A team was part of a larger plan to put Nashville in a position to contend for a Major League Baseball franchise in the future.
Schmittou arrived at terms in July 1984 to purchase the Triple-A Evansville Triplets of the American Association for a reported sum of $780,000, with plans to move the franchise from Evansville, Indiana, to Nashville for the 1985 season. The Southern League wanted Schmittou to surrender his franchise to the league, but he had plans to relocate the team to Evansville to continue as the Triplets at Double-A. However, a combination of the league's disapproval of the move and the City of Evansville being unwilling to upgrade Bosse Field resulted in a move to Huntsville, Alabama, where the team became the Huntsville Stars. The Triple-A Sounds carried on the history of the Double-A team that preceded them. The Triplets' legacy was retired, and the Stars were established as an entirely new franchise.
The Sounds began Triple-A competition in 1985 as a member of the American Association affiliated with the Detroit Tigers, continuing the major league affiliation that was in place with the Evansville franchise. Their first Triple-A game was a 3–1 win against the Buffalo Bisons at Greer Stadium on April 11. Though narrowly missing the playoffs in their first season with the Tigers, the Sounds ended their affiliation with Detroit after two years of poor attendance and a lackluster 1986 season. Over two years with the Tigers, they had a 139–144 record. Their all-time record stood at 722–604 after nine years of play.
The Sounds rejoined the Cincinnati Reds farm system as their Triple-A affiliate in 1987 in a bid to increase attendance. Schmittou indicated that market surveys consistently showed the Reds to be the most popular MLB team in the area. In 1990, Nashville set its all-time attendance record when 605,122 fans attended games at Greer Stadium. The Sounds experienced their most successful season with the Reds at Triple-A and as members of the American Association that year when they compiled an 86–61 record under manager Pete Mackanin. Ending the regular season in a tie with the Buffalo Bisons, the Sounds won the Eastern Division title in a one-game playoff. They advanced to their first American Association championship series, but they ultimately lost to the Omaha Royals.
Apart from the 1990 season, the Sounds finished too far back to qualify for the postseason in the other five years of affiliation with the Reds. However, several franchise records were set during this period. Skeeter Barnes, who had previously played with Nashville in 1979, set the career records for games played (514), at bats (1,848), and hits (517) during his second stint from 1988 to 1990. Pitcher Hugh Kemp started a record 73 games from 1987 to 1989. Greer Stadium, once one of the best stadiums in Triple-A baseball in terms of player and fan amenities, began to be outshined by newer ballparks being built in the late 1980s. The Reds let their player development contract with the Sounds expire so they could place their Triple-A affiliate in Indianapolis, which was closer and planning to build a new stadium. Nashville's record after six years with Cincinnati at Triple-A was 431–436. Through 15 total years of competition, their all-time record stood at 1,207–1,040.
At the recommendation of the Office of the Commissioner of Baseball and with few options available, the Sounds signed a new player development contract with the Chicago White Sox, who wanted to move their Triple-A farm club closer than its previous location in Vancouver. The White Sox then presented a list of complaints about the relatively poor condition of Greer Stadium. Unable to convince the city to pay for a new ballpark, and deciding against moving the team elsewhere in the Nashville area, Schmittou made significant improvements to Greer. One of those was the addition of its signature guitar-shaped scoreboard, which was installed before the 1993 season. At one point, Schmittou considered dropping the Sounds back to Double-A due to the difficulty of bringing Greer up to the specifications of a Triple-A ballpark. Instead, renovations continued over the next several years in an attempt to meet Triple-A standards.
Greer Stadium was shared between the Sounds and the Southern League's Nashville Xpress, previously known as the Charlotte Knights, during the 1993 and 1994 seasons. This came about when Charlotte acquired a Triple-A expansion franchise in 1993, leaving the existing Double-A team without a home. Schmittou offered Greer as a temporary home ballpark for the team. To accommodate an additional club, the Xpress' home games were scheduled for during the Sounds' road trips.
The Sounds reached the American Association playoffs in each of their first two years with the White Sox. The 1993 team, led by manager Rick Renick, clinched the Eastern Division title but lost the championship series to the Iowa Cubs. The 1994 Sounds qualified for their second consecutive postseason under Renick. In the first round, Nashville swept the New Orleans Zephyrs in three games to advance to the league finals, but they were defeated by the Indianapolis Indians. The team failed to reach the postseason again during their remaining three years with Chicago. The five-year White Sox affiliation ended after the 1997 season with the Sounds having a 390–342 record with four winning seasons over that period. After 13 years, their American Association record stood at 960–922, and their all-time 20-year record was 1,543–1,382.
The 1996 season marked the last that Schmittou was the team's president and part majority owner. With the city poised to welcome a National Football League franchise, the Tennessee Titans, Schmittou felt that revenue would be drawn away from the team. So, he and another investor sold their controlling financial interests in the Sounds to Chicago-based businessmen Al Gordon, Mike Murtaugh, and Mike Woleben.
The American Association, of which the Sounds had been members since 1985, disbanded after the 1997 season, and its teams were absorbed by the two remaining Triple-A leagues—the International League and Pacific Coast League (PCL). Nashville joined the PCL, becoming the easternmost team in the circuit. Along with a new league, they began to adopt new colors and logos over the course of the 1998 and 1999 seasons, phasing out the original colors and marks in use since their foundation in 1978. The new primary logo, replacing the original "Slugger", consisted of a black, red, and white eighth note with a baseball at the top set against a circle of the same colors, plus silver, bearing the team name in white around the sides.
The Sounds entered the Pacific Coast League as the top farm club of the Pittsburgh Pirates, who sought to escape the chilly climate and lengthy travel associated with their previous affiliate in Calgary. The team regularly finished third or fourth in their four-team division, leaving them out of the playoffs. One of their three winning seasons occurred in 2003 when Trent Jewett managed the Sounds to clinch the American Conference Eastern Division title, giving them their first postseason berth in the PCL and first playoff appearance since 1994. Nashville defeated the Albuquerque Isotopes in the conference series but then lost the league finals to the Sacramento River Cats. Earlier in 2003, right-hander John Wasdin pitched the first perfect game in Sounds history on April 7 against Albuquerque at Greer Stadium. The 4–0 Sounds win was the second nine-inning perfect game in the PCL's 101-year history.
Several franchise records were set during the affiliation with Pittsburgh. Chad Hermansen, a Sound from 1998 to 2002, holds the career records for runs (303), home runs (92), and runs batted in (286). Tike Redman hit a record 32 triples from 2000 to 2003. Closing pitcher Mark Corey set the record for saves (46) during the 2003 and 2004 seasons. Seeking to place their Triple-A club at a newer, more desirable stadium and to escape the high travel costs associated with playing in the PCL, Pittsburgh ended their affiliation with the Sounds after the 2004 campaign. Over seven years as a Pirates affiliate, Nashville had a 493–508 record. Through 27 years of competition, the Sounds' all-time record stood at 2,036–1,890.
The Sounds became the Triple-A affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers in 2005. One factor in the Brewers' choice to partner with Nashville was the hope that the Sounds would soon get a new stadium to replace the then-27-year-old Greer. The team also debuted a new oval-shaped logo with a baseball player silhouetted against a yellow background hitting a ball toward the Nashville skyline with the city's name written above within a red border and the team nickname written in red and black script below. The affiliation started well as manager Frank Kremblas led the club to win the American Conference Northern Division title with a 75–69 record. The team went on to win the conference title against the Oklahoma RedHawks, three games to two, before sweeping the Tacoma Rainiers in three games to win the Pacific Coast League championship. This was Nashville's first championship at the Triple-A level since moving to the classification in 1985 and their first since the 1982 Southern League crown.
From May 5–6, 2006, the Sounds participated in a 24-inning game against the New Orleans Zephyrs, which was played over the course of two days and lasted eight hours and seven minutes. This matched the PCL record for the longest game, in terms of innings played. The Sounds finished the season tied with the Iowa Cubs for first place, but won the division title and advanced to the postseason via tiebreaker by means of having won the regular-season series versus Iowa. Nashville lost to the Round Rock Express in the conference series.
On June 25, 2007, Manny Parra pitched the club's second perfect game, the third nine-inning perfect game in the PCL's history, against Round Rock. Kremblas led the team to capture the division title for the third year in a row and finish the season with a league-best 89–55 record. Ultimately, they were defeated by New Orleans in the conference series. The Sounds failed to win the division and qualify for the postseason during the next seven years of their Brewers affiliation despite narrow second-place finishes in 2009 and 2014. The 2013 team set the franchise record low win–loss record with a 57–87 campaign.
The Sounds had planned to leave Greer Stadium in the mid 2000s for a new ballpark to be called First Tennessee Field, but the project was abandoned when a financing agreement could not be reached. After the 2008 season and failing to secure a new facility, Al Gordon's Amerisports Companies sold the team to MFP Baseball, a New York-based group of investors consisting of Masahiro Honzawa, Steve Posner, and Frank Ward. Keeping the team in Nashville was one of the PCL's top criteria for approval of the sale. MFP made significant renovations to Greer while it continued to explore building a new stadium.
Prior to the 2014 season, the team, Metro Nashville, and the State of Tennessee finalized a plan to build a new downtown ballpark in time for the 2015 season. On August 27, 2014, the Sounds played their final game at Greer Stadium, an 8–5 loss to the Sacramento River Cats. The attendance at the game was a standing-room-only crowd of 11,067, the first sellout since 2010, and the largest crowd since 2007.
The Sounds severed ties with Milwaukee after the 2014 season citing poor on-field performance from recent Brewers Triple-A teams. Over the 10-year affiliation, the longest in Nashville's history, the Sounds had a 732–721 record. Overall, the Sounds' 37-year record stood at 2,768–2,611.
Nashville affiliated with the Oakland Athletics in 2015 due in part to the organization's commitment to fielding competitive teams at the Triple-A level, an area in which co-owner Frank Ward felt Milwaukee lacked. The Sounds also introduced a new set of logos that incorporated elements reflecting Nashville's "Music City" moniker, such as guitars, picks, and sound holes, as well as neon signs like those in the city's Broadway entertainment district. They retained the previous red and black palette but added platinum silver as an accent color. The new primary logo was a red "N" set against a silver guitar pick, both with black borders.
The start of the 2015 season marked the first time that the Sounds played at the new $91 million First Horizon Park, then known as First Tennessee Park, which is located at the site of the historic Sulphur Dell ballpark just north of the Tennessee State Capitol in downtown Nashville. In the facility's inaugural game on April 17, the Sounds defeated the Colorado Springs Sky Sox, 3–2 in 10 innings, with a walk-off RBI double in front of an announced paid attendance of 10,459 people.
In Nashville's second season as an A's affiliate, they reached the postseason for the first time since 2007 with a league-best 83–59 record and the American Conference Southern Division title, but they were unable to advance past the conference series versus the Oklahoma City Dodgers. Joey Wendle hit a franchise career-record 102 doubles from 2015 to 2017. Nashville declined to renew their contract with the Athletics after the 2018 season, choosing instead to seek a new major league affiliate. Over four years with Oakland, they had a 291–279 record. Through 41 seasons, their all-time record stood at 3,059–2,890.
Nashville became the Triple-A affiliate of the Texas Rangers in 2019. The Sounds sought out the Rangers after identifying them as one of the most popular MLB teams among local baseball fans—behind the Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals—and for their geographical proximity. Also in 2019, just four years after their previous rebranding, the team debuted new colors and logos which pull together elements from their original visual identity and the musical imagery present throughout their franchise history. The new colors, navy blue, red, and white, are modernized versions of their original 1978 colors. The primary logo is a pair of concentric red rings with the team name in navy between the two divided horizontally at its center by twin red and blue stripes; a navy "N" resembling the F-hole of a guitar or violin is in the inner ring, which is styled like a baseball.
Veteran sidearm pitcher Tim Dillard, previously with the Sounds from 2007 to 2014, returned to the team in 2019. In his second stretch, he set the franchise career records for games pitched (242) and strikeouts (437) while adding to his existing marks for wins (48) and innings pitched (710). The 2019 season became the Sounds' only year of play as a Rangers affiliate. The start of the 2020 season was initially postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic before being cancelled altogether.
Following the 2020 season, Major League Baseball assumed control of Minor League Baseball in a move to increase player salaries, modernize facility standards, and reduce travel. Affiliations were rearranged to situate Triple-A teams closer to their major league parent clubs. The Texas Rangers chose to move their Triple-A affiliation back to Round Rock, Texas, where it had been prior to partnering with Nashville. As a Rangers farm club, the Sounds had a 66–72 record, their lowest record among all affiliations. Nashville held a 1,582–1,580 record over 23 years in the Pacific Coast League, while their all-time record stood at 3,125–2,962 after 42 seasons played over the course of 43 years.
The Sounds became the Triple-A affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers for a second time in 2021 upon signing a 10-year Professional Development License that runs through 2030. The Brewers desired reuniting with Nashville because of the quality of the player facilities at First Horizon Park and convenient travel options to and from the city. Along with Major League Baseball's restructuring of the minors, the Pacific Coast League disbanded, and the Sounds were placed in the Triple-A East.
Opening Day for the 2021 season was postponed for nearly a month to temporarily eliminate commercial air travel and give players the opportunity to be vaccinated against COVID-19 before the season started. Nashville eventually began competition in the new league on May 4 with an 8–6 loss to the Toledo Mud Hens at Fifth Third Field in Toledo, Ohio. Following another loss and a rainout, they won both games of a seven-inning doubleheader on May 7 against Toledo, 5–0 and 5–4, for their first league wins. Under manager Rick Sweet, who previously led the team in the last season of their former affiliation with Milwaukee, Nashville ended the season in fourth place in the Southeastern Division with a 63–56 record. Ten games that had been postponed from the start of the season were reinserted into the schedule as a postseason tournament called the Triple-A Final Stretch in which all 30 Triple-A clubs competed for the highest winning percentage. Nashville finished the tournament tied for fourth place with a 7–2 record.
In 2022, the Triple-A East became known as the International League (IL), the name historically used by the regional circuit prior to the 2021 reorganization. Nashville began IL play with an Opening Night win against the Durham Bulls, 5–4, at First Horizon Park on April 5. Through 43 completed seasons of play, the Sounds have an all-time record of 3,195–3,020 encompassing all regular and postseason games over 44 years in Nashville.