Brian’s At the Ballpark Archives


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!

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2 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Real nice site, Brian. I came across it when this Yank was interested in Greenville, SC. There park appears nice, and your comments supported the ridiculous posturing of protective netting almost half-way down each foul line. I guess your naivete is showing when you actually expect the fan to keep his attention on the ballgame (!). You can’t fight the Nanny State, can you? Liked your writing, too.

Only three months to spring training.

Take care,
Rich

Comment by Rich Rosner

Thanks for the kind words, Rich! I’m finding more and more that the protective netting is becoming an issue in parks, and as a fan of the game, I hate it. Part of the allure of minor league baseball is the closeness to the action and the players, and the net makes me feel as though I’m at a hockey game. I like hockey, and I like baseball, but the two shouldn’t meet.

I’m glad that you stopped by to visit. This is a recurring series that will be in its seventh year in 2010 (I need to get the archives that are scattered about the internet and put them all here), and I usually make about 6-8 trips per year, as time permits. There are years, of course, where I do more. I hope to get things kicked off in early April, so stop back often!

Oh, and on Greenville, I truly did (despite all appearances to the contrary) want to like that park. That review got me beaten up more than just about any other I’ve written, and I came to realize that people in Greenville really love their baseball and the stadium in which it is played. I may try to make another visit to “re-review” the park, but I’m still up in the air.

Best wishes, and thanks for the visit!

Comment by attheballpark




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