The City of Sevierville welcomed the chance to host its first-ever professional sports team in 1999 with the approval of a brand new, state-of-the-art facility. Elected officials from both the city and Sevier County pushed the $19.4 million facility through and in 2000 the Tennessee Smokies opened the ballpark located just off Interstate 40 at exit 407. With the 1999 season in the rear-view mirror, the club opened Smokies Park with a 10-7 win over arch-rival Chattanooga.
Tennessee wasn't finished with the sweeping changes, however. At the conclusion of the 2002 season, the Smokies ended their longtime relationship with Toronto. The run with the Blue Jays lasted for 22 years before the Smokies ushered out one bird for another. The St. Louis Cardinals were on deck for the '03 season.
In the first year of the player development contract between St. Louis and Tennessee, the Smokies made the playoffs for the first time since the 1999 season. The Cardinals' farmhands did even better in 2004. After winning the first half of the season, Mark DeJohn's Smokies coasted in the second half and headed into a match-up against Chattanooga in the Eastern Division Championship Series. The Lookouts were favored by some in the EDCS due to the fact that they were playing well heading into the series, but the Smokies pounced on the red and white squad, taking the series 3-games-to-1. After such a hard-fought series, the Smokies were ready for a showdown with Mobile for the SL crown. Tennessee, however, never had the opportunity to face the BayBears due to Hurricane Ivan. Southern League President Don Mincher made the decision to cancel the series rather than risk lives and property, so Mobile and Tennessee were declared co-champs. It was the fourth championship for the Knoxville area and a fitting end to the Cardinals short run in East Tennessee.
In 2005, the Smokies made the switch from St. Louis to Arizona. The Diamondbacks' farmhands finished their inaugural SL campaign with a record of 64-76, and their second season with a 70-69 record. After two years with the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Smokies are now affiliated with the Chicago Cubs and scored a wildcard playoff birth thanks to a 73-65 finish in 2007. In 2009, under the guidance of Manager and Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg, the Smokies returned to the Southern League Championship Series. The Smokies collected the second half North Division Championship Series. The Smokies clinched the series with a 3-1 series win in Game 4 at Smokies Park. Tennessee faced Jacksonville in the Southern League Championship Series, but fell three games to one to give the championship to the Suns.
2010 proved to be a repeat of the 2009 season. The Smokies won both halves and then defeated West Tenn 3-1 in the North Division Series to set up a rematch with Jacksonville. Tennessee won game one but blew an early lead in game 2 at Smokies Park that fueled the Suns series momentum. The series again was decided 3-1 giving Jacksonville back-to-back Southern League titles over the Smokies.
Tennessee continued their winning ways in 2011, winning the first half with Major League veteran Brian Harper at the helm. It was the club's fourth consecutive victory in a half, a Southern League record. The club ended their campaign with a 83-57 clip and a playoff series win over Chattanooga to reach the Southern League Championship series for the third straight year. Unfortunately for Tennessee, the team ran into a red-hot Mobile BayBears squad, and lost 3-2 in the five-game series to the champion BayBears.
After missing the postseason in 2012, the Smokies returned to the Southern League playoffs in 2013 after a scorching second half that was keyed by the arrival of heralded shortstop Javier Baez. Baez blasted 20 home runs and drove in 54 runs in his 54 contests in a Smokies uniform, leading the club to a 42-27 second half mark, easily topping the Jackson Generals by nine games. 2013 also saw history made by southpaw Eric Jokisch, who no-hit the Jacksonville Suns on August 6 at the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville, the 12th no-hitter in club history and first individual nine-inning no-no since Gerardo Garcia accomplished the feat in 2002.
In a hard-fought Divisional Series round with the first half champion Birmingham Barons, the Smokies fell in the fifth and deciding game of the series despite the Smokies' comeback from a two games to none deficit in the series. The Barons would go on to top the Mobile BayBears in the Championship Series to claim their sixth league title.
The prospects would continue to march into Kodak in 2014, which saw six of Baseball America's Preseason Top 100 Overall Prospects wear a Smokies uniform. Leading that group was third baseman Kris Bryant, who annihilated Southern League pitching in the first half of the season, leading almost every league offensive category while batting .355 with 22 homers and 58 RBI. Bryant would go on to be named a Southern League Mid-Season All-Star and win the circuit's Home Run Derby before being promoted to the Triple-A level.
Bryant was joined by other top Cubs prospects Addison Russell, C.J. Edwards, Jorge Soler, Albert Almora and Pierce Johnson as part of a star-studded 2014 roster. Tennessee, however, failed to make the postseason for just the third time since the club became affiliated with the Chicago Cubs in 2007, totaling a 66-73 overall record while finishing second place in both halves.
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