Brian’s At the Ballpark Archives


At the Ballpark – Fieldcrest-Cannon Stadium, Kannapolis, NC
April 21, 2008, 1:14 am
Filed under: 2008, Reviews

 Fieldcrest-Cannon Stadium

Fieldcrest-Cannon Stadium, Kannapolis, NC

Kannapolis, North Carolina is a typical small industry town. Cannon Mills first appeared in Kannapolis in the late 19th century, and they continued to produce textiles from this north Charlotte burb for the next century and a quarter. The company, later known as Fieldcrest-Cannon, provided the name for the baseball facility in Kannapolis.

There are more things for which Kannapolis is famous – including its citizens. Kannapolis was the home base of NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt (in fact, the major thoroughfare one exit south on the interstate is Dale Earnhardt Boulevard), and the local team, the Kannapolis Intimidators, gets its nickname directly from his on-track moniker. Does this stadium live up to Earnhardt’s standards? Let’s find out.

Concessions: B

The food at “The Cannon” is not tremendously imaginative in terms of offerings – think mostly ballpark food. There were a few somewhat unusual offerings (a funnel cake with chocolate, which I wasn’t brave enough to try), but things tend to stick more toward the norm here. The cheeseburgers are pretty decent, but the fries could use a little work. If you get them, hang out near the ketchup dispenser, as it will become your best friend.

One true bonus in terms of concessions is the availability of Cheerwine and Diet Cheerwine. For those of you who have never sampled this Southern “delicacy”, it is a true must upon any visit to this fair part of the country. Cheerwine is a cherry soda with a bit of cola taste, and is a good companion to the other offerings of Pepsi products in this park.

A cafe (Double Play Cafe) helps round out the concession offerings, along with a few other stands around the park. Prices are decent, as is the quality of the food.

Atmosphere: A

There is a really cool, yet tough to describe, feeling in the park. The musical soundtrack is outstanding, and I unfortunately had an hour and change to sample the music selections during a pre-game rain delay. The one low point of the musical selection was the seemingly requisite playing of “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” during one of the inning breaks. The person who got that craze started needs to take a fiddle to the head several times.

Most of the between-innings activity was understated (this is not a bad thing, trust me), and I am unsure as to whether this is a common thing for this market, or the rain held off some of the activities. There was the usual mascot race (we get it, the kid always wins, but I’ll give them a break), a contest where two kids had to put together a North Carolina Department of Agriculture jigsaw puzzle and a few other giveaways. A couple of comments on the giveaways: 1) having everyone scream for an ice cream bar may seem like a great idea, but not on a 57-degree night with swirling winds and 2) the t-shirt launcher thing did well at rewarding fans near the concession stands and the concourse area, but if your seats are near the field, forget it. I am still deaf as I write this from the kids screaming trying to get a $2 ice cream.

Kannapolis’ mascot Dub is a big bluish creature that wanders the stands and is tremendously popular with the kids. I must admit laughing at him too, as he stood in front of me while I was watching the pitcher warm up between innings, and he moved as I moved. He shook my hand twice and gave me a high-five. I seem to be attracting mascots in North Carolina parks this year.

Sight lines: A

This stadium is, for the most part, a spectator’s dream. The sight lines are beautiful, and everything that is not directly behind the press box has a clear view of the field. The seating bowl is not too tall, so even the top rows of seats have a short distance to the action on the field. The bullpens are virtually impossible to see, as the home bullpen is behind a wall and some other equipment down the left field line, and the visitors’ bullpen is behind the right field wall, with only a small cutout to show what is going on. This is about all that keeps things from being perfect in terms of seeing game action.

The view beyond the outfield wall is not overly enticing, as a number of trees and a winding road traverse the area. The stadium itself is inside a city park-type area, and this limits the scenery a bit.

Parking: C

There are tons of parking spaces, which is good, even for a park which only seats around 4700, as this one does. However, there is a $2 charge to park here, which, as I have said before, is dumb. The first park I find in the Carolinas that does not charge for parking gets an A, even if there are only five dirt-lined parking spaces behind the outfield fence. The drive into the park is nice, as there is a drive through a winding tree-lined road. Leaving the park, however, is a completely different story. The same tree-lined road backs up for quite a way as traffic tries to turn left onto the “main drag” to get back to the interstate.

Quality of baseball: C

I have seen four games this season as I write this, and three of them have ended in a 1-0 score. The Greensboro Grasshoppers (the Marlins’ low-A affiliate) defeated the homestanding Intimidators (White Sox low-A) by that score on this evening. The pitching and defense was fantastic, but the offense left a ton to be desired. The two teams combined to strike out 25 times over the course of the game, and the only run that was scored came in the top of the first inning. There was not even a ball hit to the warning track in the game. One somewhat unrelated item that I noticed was the performance of home plate umpire Mario Seneca. He was very convincing in his calls, hustled to constantly get in position, and kept control of the game.

Overall grade: B

This park has a really good vibe to it, as the people are nice, there is plenty of room to move and all of the seats are close to everything. The lack of a covered area near the seating bowl is a problem, particularly when it rains, as it did on this night. Also, if this is something to which you are sensitive, take note: there are a LOT of smokers at this park. Smoking is allowed on the concourse, and patrons really do take advantage of this. I scrambled for cover from the rain under the concession and picnic areas, and was greeted both times by smokers. I would definitely come back, however, and will likely make the effort to do so considering the proximity.

How to get there:

Fieldcrest-Cannon Stadium is easily accessible by taking exit 63 off Interstate 85 in Kannapolis. If traveling north, turn left at the top of the ramp; if traveling south, turn right. The stadium is just ahead on the right, and you will be greeted with a sign at the top of Stadium Drive.

How I got there:

Kannapolis trip

Total trip time (one-way):  45 minutes (43 miles).

You may also want to see:

See the reviews for Knights Stadium in Fort Mill, SC. Just as that park is located just south of the city center, Kannapolis is 20 miles (or so) north of the city center, and features many of the same attractions. Charlotte’s center city is easily-reached by a short drive or bus ride.

For pictures of this and other ballparks from this feature, visit the photo archives.

To email the author with comments or questions, please send correspondence to footballjones AT gmail DOT com.

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At the Ballpark – Knights Stadium, Fort Mill, SC
April 14, 2008, 8:35 am
Filed under: 2008, Reviews

Knights Stadium

Knights Stadium – Fort Mill, SC

The baseball history in Charlotte, North Carolina runs deeper than most. Names from Tony Oliva to Harmon Killebrew to Cal Ripken to Manny Ramirez have roamed various pastures in the Queen City and surrounding suburbs. The legendary Griffith Park (later renamed Crockett Park) was the victim of arson in 1985, and the franchise relocated to Fort Mill, South Carolina in 1989, playing in a temporary facility until the current Knights Stadium was completed.

Charlotte’s baseball history book is currently awaiting the addition of another page, as an attempt is underway to bring a new ballpark to the 3rd Ward area of Charlotte. This would return baseball to North Carolina and would continue the revitalization of the center city. A number of attempts have been made through the legal system to stop the facility; all of the attempts have thus far failed.

We know that a movement is afoot for a new facility in North Carolina’s largest market, but is there anything wrong with the current one? Let’s find out.

Concessions: B

If it’s food variety you crave, Knights Stadium is a good place. All the typical ballpark favorites are here (nachos, popcorn, hot dogs, et al), along with some unusual offerings. There is a Papa John’s Pizza location (not recommended, as the pizza was chewy and not very hot, especially at a $5 price point), as well as a Subway location and several other standalone eateries throughout the concourse. The cheeseburger basket is a nice value, as $4.50 gets you a decent-sized and passable cheeseburger, as well as a bag of Lay’s chips. Buy your sodas in the souvenir size, as they are $3.50 in the souvenir cup versus a somewhat high $3 in 20 ounce bottles.

Knights Stadium also features the Home Run Cafe on the general admission level of the stadium, which is more of a full-service dining experience. This establishment offers great views of the game through the huge windows, as well as everything from salads to cheesesteak sandwiches to quesadillas. The cafe also offers three different all-you-can-eat theme days on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

Prices are on par with most facilities at this level, and the food selection is quite good – just steer clear of the pizza and the bottled sodas.

Atmosphere: B

(Ed. note:  This is a new category as of the final review of 2007  This replaces “Between-Innings Entertainment” and “Promotions”.)

I commented in my previous review of L.P. Frans Stadium in Hickory, NC that the public address system was really hard to hear in certain sections of the seating bowl, and Knights Stadium has the same issue. I spent the first few innings of the game sitting at one of the picnic tables on top of the berm section down the right field line, and I had to strain to hear the announcement of the players. Of course, when I moved to the upper deck general admission section, it was considerably louder – almost too much so. If the sound could be evened out a bit, this would be a nice touch.

Promotions-wise, there were quite a few nice touches at Knights Stadium. The first 2000 fans received Charlotte Knights wall calendars, which were decent enough giveaways. The better giveaway, however, is the free program I received upon entering the stadium. The program is an actual magazine-like book, and features coupons to several local establishments, rosters for both teams, some bios on Knights players and much more. Considering how most teams love to gouge fans for programs in their parks, this was a pleasant surprise. The other promotion on the evening was the typical Saturday night fireworks display. Anyone who reads my reviews knows my love of fireworks displays, and this one was very well put together.

The between-innings entertainment was, for the most part, fairly pedestrian. This is not such a bad thing, as the Charlotte market focuses mainly on the on-field action. Charlotte’s racing history came into play here, as there was the dizzy bat race, the mascot race and a race of two children on customized bicycles made to look like choppers. There was also a very lame effort at a contest that featured two children trying to do push-ups, and the one that completed the most won a prize.

One final note – the on-field emcee needs to avoid giving play-by-play of every single thing that happens in a contest. I was so happy for the end of the contests for the obvious reason of the return of baseball, but also because the emcee would finally be quiet.

Sight lines: A

The park does not look like anything special as you approach the entrance, but once inside, the view is rather beautiful. The game action is visible from just about everywhere in the park except for the concourses in the general admission upper deck area. There are berm areas down each line, and a series of picnic tables at the top of the right-field berm that provide a comfortable seat and a great view. The general admission seats, while rather high, still provide a great view of the action on the field. The advantage to the upper deck is that you can see a play develop from above, which is handy if a runner is trying to score from second on a ball hit to the outfield. There is no wraparound concourse in the park, but the concourse areas that do exist are nice and wide and provide good views of the game action.

Parking: B

Parking will never be a problem at Knights Stadium. There is a figurative sea of open parking places surrounding the stadium, and there are two lanes for entering the parking area and the same two lanes for exiting after the game. There are two methods of entrance and exit, as well, which is very helpful in terms of traffic control.

The one downfall of the parking area is the cost. The Knights charge $3 to park in their vast lots, and with no public transit serving the stadium, this is disappointing. There is no excuse to charge patrons to park when there are as many spaces as there are here.

Quality of baseball: B

Charlotte defeated Columbus 9-4 on the night I attended, and with both clubs in the Triple-A International League (affiliated with the White Sox and Nationals, respectively), the overall play was about what one would expect. Most of the Columbus players are former big leaguers, as well as quite a few players on the Knights’ squad. Columbus starter Jason Stanford pitched four innings, giving up eight hits and six earned runs, while walking out three and striking out three. Amazingly enough, this actually lowered his ERA from 16.62 to 15.12. The offenses were on full display here, as both teams combined for 13 runs and 23 hits.

Overall grade: B+

A lot of people who have visited this park have less nice things to say about it, as the drive to South Carolina (though short) and lack of ambiance behind the outfield wall turn some people off. The key thing about this park is that it is truly a comfortable baseball viewing experience. There are some annoyances (lose the “Cotton Eyed Joe” and other typical corny ballpark music, guys, especially when you had a great soundtrack of music playing before the game), but overall, it just really felt good to be at this park. There are also quite a few really nice souvenir choices, but avoid the team store unless you are not prone to claustrophobia.

How to get there:

Knights Stadium is just off Interstate 77 (look for the water tower painted like a baseball) at exit 88, Gold Hill Road. The exit is the second exit into (or second-to-last leaving, depending on the direction from which you are approaching) South Carolina. Follow the signs and lights, as the stadium is just off the interstate.

How I got there:

The trip

Total trip time (one-way): 17 miles (20 minutes).

You may also want to see:

  • Columbia, SC. Columbia is about an hour or so (approximately 70 miles) south of the park via Interstate 77, and is known mainly for being the home of the University of South Carolina. The Riverbanks Zoo can also be located in Columbia, and is a great place to take kids of any age for a short day trip.
  • Charlotte. The center city area of Charlotte is about 13 miles or 15 minutes north of Fort Mill, and is one of the business and entertainment meccas of both North Carolina and the south. The Carolina Panthers, Charlotte Bobcats and Charlotte Checkers hockey team all call the city home, and the city itself is divided into a number of diverse “neighborhoods” that offer fine dining and quality entertainment. The historic Lowe’s Motor Speedway NASCAR facility is also north of the city in Concord, and is reachable via Interstate 85.

 



At the Ballpark – L.P. Frans Stadium, Hickory, NC
April 7, 2008, 5:22 am
Filed under: 2008, Reviews

Welcome to the return of At the Ballpark for 2008!  Please email any ideas or comments to footballjones (at) gmail (dot) com.

And now…on with the show!

L.P. Frans Stadium

L.P. Frans Stadium – Hickory, NC

L.P. Frans Stadium opened its doors to Hickory, North Carolina’s baseball fans 15 years ago in 1993, and it has since hosted the South Atlantic League affiliates of the Chicago White Sox and Pittsburgh Pirates. Sluggers such as Carlos Lee and Magglio Ordonez have called this ballpark home during its existence.

An interesting note about this ballpark is that the city in which it sits is split among three counties (Catawba, Burke and Caldwell). The Catawba/Burke line is just up the street from the ballpark. Do the three counties in the area triple the baseball fun?  Let’s find out.

Concessions: F

A number of factors all converged to produce this grade. Where do we start? Considering that this stadium seats over 5000 people, having only two concession stands is probably not the best idea. Making the two stands even worse is the fact that neither of them have a clear view of the game action. The stands face away from the field.

The food selection is tremendously limited – if you don’t like burgers, dogs, peanuts, chips, nachos or popcorn, you’re probably out of luck. There is pizza, but there’s a problem with that, too. The sign on the pizza stand offers pizza by the slice, but when a customer tried to order it that way, they were told that it wasn’t selling that well, so only whole pizzas were available. Do not advertise things you cannot or will not deliver.

Speaking of concession problems, a number of people ordered hot dogs from the four active windows on the third base side. The only problem was that there were no hot dogs ready at the time, so the customers had to wait. Instead of serving the other customers, who were not waiting for hot dogs or something else, the worker manning my line just stood there for several minutes waiting. I missed over an inning of the game due to this wait. This is unacceptable.

If you plan on eating at the ballpark, bring a lot of money. The “jumbo” popcorn I got (which was laughable, as much bigger bags are available at Wal-Mart and most places for considerably cheaper) was $3, and a bottled soda was also $3. Burgers range between $3-5, and a burger and a soda can cost more than you pay for your ticket. Small portions, high prices and questionable selection will probably encourage you to eat somewhere outside the ballpark.

Atmosphere: B

(Ed. note:  This is a new category as of the final review of 2007  This replaces “Between-Innings Entertainment” and “Promotions”.)

One of the most beneficial things about going to a ballpark in a city with which you are not entirely familiar is to listen to the public address announcer mention the names of the players. This is nearly impossible to do, however, unless sitting in the seating bowl right behind the plate. The PA volume is really low, and having to strain to hear the (frankly, pretty funny) public address announcer takes away from the enjoyment of the atmosphere of the game.

The between-innings activities contained a lot of the usual “favorites”, such as the dizzy bat race. Where this park differs from most, however, is that it had a few non-standard promotions, including the egg toss, the tire race, and one of the funnier ones I have ever seen in a park, the Build Your Own Burger contest. The way this works is one partner of the two on the “team” (both are dressed as buns) poses as the bottom bun on the ground, while the other partner piles various burger toppings on them, then jumps on top to “complete” the burger. I normally groan at a lot of between-innings events, but this one actually got a laugh from me. Good job.

This stadium also mirrors most in the south, as the people in and around the ballpark were tremendously nice. Many of the team and stadium employees went out of their way to say hello to me, not even knowing who I was. I even got to speak with one of the two team mascots, Conrad the Crawdad. Conrad (male) and Candy (female) Crawdad wander the park playing with kids, and the kids seem to love them both.

Sight lines: C-

The ballpark itself is in a bowl area in a city park, and there are not a lot of things to impede one’s view outside. This is a different story inside, however. One of the appealing parts of walking into a ballpark is the so-called “money shot”, as the entire stadium is visible within one’s vision from the concourse. This does not exist in L.P. Frans Stadium, as the entrance is behind the plate, and one gets a great view of brick – and lots of it – straight ahead upon entering the park. The game action is only visible if you walk down one of the lines to get around the brick walls, or peek through one of the narrow tunnels leading to the seating bowls. There is also the aforementioned problem with vision from the concession areas.

Once arriving at your seat, another problem presents itself. The protective net that normally surrounds the home plate area in most parks surrounds virtually the entire seating bowl at L.P. Frans Stadium. This inhibits the view of the field from almost any seat in the house, and the only real respite comes on the top of the concourse or sitting in one of the couple of seats near the photographers’ cutouts at the bottom sections of the net. The net did not appear to even help much with the foul ball problem, as plenty of balls still reached the seating bowls.

Parking: C

This park combines one of my most favorite and one of my least favorite occurrences. My most favorite – parking within a very close proximity of the stadium – is very much in play here, as every spot is within a very short walk of the stadium. No shuttle is required, and you will not be gasping for air as you arrive at your seat.

The least favorite? Paying for parking. This is particularly egregious here, as all of the parking is on the property. There is not a city-run parking garage, a parking company charging “event parking” fees for their limited spots, just charging for the privilege to park on their property. Sure, $2 is a small enough fee, but in a town the size of Hickory, charging for parking is horrible.

Quality of baseball: B-

A doubleheader was played on this day (doubleheaders in the low Class A South Atlantic League are seven inning games), and both games resulted in 1-0 Hickory victories. Neither game lasted two hours. Both games ended in walk-off fashion, with one being on a base hit and the other on a wild pitch. The double that set up the victory in the first game was apparently lost in the sun. The pitching was far ahead of the hitting in both games, which is expected coming out of spring training. Pirate prospect Marcus Davis appeared for Hickory, and did not particularly impress. This should change as the weather warms and the hitters catch up. The defense was crisp at times and steady at most others, with a couple of gaffes here and there.

Overall grade: C

I was asked my first reaction when speaking to my father after leaving the ballpark, and all I could muster was “eh”. The park is pretty, and has some very interesting characteristics (the quadruple-decker wall in right, for instance) and some not-so-good characteristics (the virtual entirety of the seating bowl is uncovered, making games miserable in rainy or extremely hot conditions). There is very little atmosphere around the park, save for the city park surrounding the stadium. There is a large Pepsi plant beyond the outfield fence, but not much else. The people are really nice, and the baseball was decent, but the overall feeling of the stadium is very average. I expected a bit more from this park, especially with the other nice facilities in the South Atlantic League.

How to get there:

Take Interstate 40 from the east or west of Hickory to exit 123 A/B (US Highway 321 North). Once on 321 North, turn left at the fifth stop light (Clement Boulevard). The park will be ahead on the right.

How I got there:

Total trip time (one-way):  72 miles (1:15).

You may also want to see:

  • Asheville. Asheville is approximately 80 miles west of Hickory, and this beautiful mountainous area contains a number of attractions such as the Biltmore Estate with easy access to the Blue Ridge Parkway. This reasonably-sized city has something for just about anyone.
  • Charlotte. Charlotte is 75 miles or so to the south via US 321 and Interstate 85, and is one of the business and entertainment meccas of both North Carolina and the south. Charlotte contains art museums, history centers, professional sports and music venues to provide the kind of eclectic mix expected from a market of its size.

 To see photos from this visit and many others, visit my ballpark photo page!