Brian’s At the Ballpark Archives


At the Ballpark – Joseph P. Riley, Jr. Park, Charleston, SC
May 28, 2009, 3:05 am
Filed under: 2009, Reviews

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Joseph P. Riley, Jr. Park - click photo for more photos of this visit

Charleston, South Carolina is a port city known for its churches and its military presence. The history in Charleston runs deep, from architecture to methods of speech. There have also been a number of television shows, films and books set in the lowcountry, giving this area a worldwide sense of appeal and intrigue.

This same sense of history extends to the baseball diamond, as baseball first made its appearance in the Holy City in 1886. Affiliated baseball came to Charleston 50 years ago, featuring such future big-leaguers as Danny Jackson, Kevin Seitzer, B.J. Upton and Carl Crawford, among others; however, the 50 years in Charleston has not produced a championship or playoff victory.

Does the lack of postseason success mar the experience at the park? Let’s find out.

Concessions: C

In looking at the concession offerings on the team’s website before my visit, I was hopeful about the number of offerings at the park. The food selection is fairly varied, and there are a few things one would not expect to see at a ballpark, including a number of hot dog “creations”.

Upon arriving, however, the concessions disappointed. A large majority of the concession areas are crammed into the third base side of the park, and as convenient as this may seem considering the main entrance on this side, there are a couple of problems in implementation. The abundance of stands (including the team store) on this side of the concourse creates a huge problem with crowding before the game starts. I also immediately gravitated toward the Mellow Mushroom pizza stand, but my slice of pizza was overpriced ($4 for a slice) and undercooked. It also did not taste like any Mellow Mushroom pizza I had previously eaten.

I would recommend bringing a picnic lunch or getting something from one of the fast food establishments in the area and eating in Brittlebank Park before the game (see the Parking section of this review) instead of getting concessions.

Atmosphere: B

Charleston has a very comfortable ballpark. The pre-game music soundtrack was enjoyable and the video scoreboard was not overused.

The PA announcer uses a wireless microphone and walks around the park to do various things at times. He alternated between amusing and annoying, with the annoying “high point” being when he copied the “auto-tune” fad going around the web now to announce the Lexington lineup using a synthesizer during a couple of innings. He did conduct an interview with the player of the game on the video board after the game had ended, which was a nice touch.

They also had the ZOOperstars in town during this visit, which was mildly funny, despite the act being the same as it is in every town. The between-innings contests were very common to most parks (save for the hot dog toss), but were unobtrusive.

Sight lines: A

This park is very well-designed for the paying customer. I have seen some reviews (including one from the great Brian Merzbach at Ballpark Reviews) indicating that the water was not visible; however, my seats on the third base side afforded me decent views of the Ashley River beyond the outfield fence. The only problem as far as sight lines has to do with the left field corner, which inexplicably features a foul pole with the left field fence several feet behind the pole, causing a “blind spot” in the corner for any balls hit in that direction.

I strongly recommend the general admission seating on the third base side, as it is a great value for the money ($5 per ticket, not counting any convenience fees), though a bit far from the action. These seats also allow you the aforementioned good views of the water.

Parking: B

This can be an interesting situation, as there are two distinct parking possibilities at Riley Park. The stadium is set directly next to Brittlebank Park, which faces the water. Part of the parking is available at Brittlebank Park, with the rest being in lots on the side street that travels near the park. Parking is $5 at either location, which is a ripoff.

That said, choose the Brittlebank location. No matter where you park in Charleston, you will have a considerable walk to the stadium. If you choose to park at Brittlebank, you can have a nice meal overlooking the water, then walk along palm-lined sidewalks to the stadium. Despite the excessive charge for the privilege, this is truly the way to go.

Quality of baseball: B

This game resulted in a 4-3 victory for the homestanding Riverdogs (Yankees A, South Atlantic League) over the Lexington Legends (Astros A), but the game itself did not match the score. The teams combined for 18 hits and 13 men left on base, and the teams started a bit choppy. An error from Charleston left fielder Dan Brewer on a reasonably easy grounder that got under his glove and rolled to the wall led to Lexington’s first run.

The game did seem to settle down quite a bit as it advanced, though, as the two teams combined for 3 2/3 innings of hitless relief to go along with some solid defensive play. Ambidextrous Charleston closer Pat Venditte recorded the save (his 12th on the season to that point), and it was definitely a memorable experience to watch him pitch, despite the annoying “slide to the left!” “slide to the right!” crowd actions (led by the PA announcer) whenever Venditte switched hands to face a batter.

Overall grade: B

This was my first visit to Charleston, and I love the city – and like the ballpark. There is great potential at Riley Park, including the possible relocation of some of the concessions, eliminating the “test of strength” carnival-type attraction behind the general admission seating and some other minor improvements that could really make this a jewel among South Atlantic League parks. As it was, I still had a very comfortable and enjoyable experience, and the considerably toned-down atmosphere versus what I had experienced in Greensboro was a wonderful touch.

How to get there:

Take US 17 (just past the I-26 intersection) in Charleston to Lockwood Drive. The stadium is on the left, just past Brittlebank Park and the Marriott. Lockwood is the last major intersection before the bridge crossing the Ashley River. There are also directions from any area of Charleston available on the Riverdogs’ website.

You may also want to see:

  • Charleston beaches. Folly Beach, Kiawah Island and Isle of Palms (among others) are a short drive from Charleston and feature lots of sun, sand and water-based activities. The humidity in Charleston can be a real problem in the summer, but with all these beaches nearby, you won’t mind it as much.

  • Historic Charleston. There are numerous historic buildings and sites in Charleston, and you can see them all from your feet, a carriage or your vehicle. You can see mansions, churches and eclectic homes, which makes for a fun day of being a tourist.



At the Ballpark – NewBridge Bank Park, Greensboro, NC
May 3, 2009, 9:36 pm
Filed under: 2009, Reviews

 

NewBridge Bank Park

NewBridge Bank Park

(click photo for more pictures of this visit)

Greensboro, North Carolina has graced the Piedmont with professional baseball for over a century. Throughout numerous affiliations, leagues and stadiums, the tradition of baseball has remained strong. A large portion of that tradition in Greensboro was made in World War Memorial Stadium, which opened in 1926 and remains open to this day. The stadium even appeared in the movie Bull Durham.

The existing facility in Greensboro was nearing its 80th birthday when the new home of professional baseball in Greensboro made its debut. NewBridge Bank Park hosts the Greensboro Grasshoppers, the single-A affiliate of the Florida Marlins.

Can a Marlins affiliate draw support without an apparent natural connection to the area? Let’s find out.

Concessions: B

My initial feeling on the concessions available in the park was a good one – and then I tried to actually buy something. Most of the food offerings are what you will find in other parks, but there were two main drawbacks.

The first problem was the prices. Things are a little expensive for a park at this classification, as a personal pizza and souvenir soda cost me $10. For reference, a bigger souvenir soda and a “boat” of garlic fries cost me $11 at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. One of the relatively few unusual offerings at the park, stuffed pretzels, will run you $4.

The second – and bigger – problem was the service. I had to repeat my order several times, and had to wait almost ten minutes to get a personal pizza. Fans who ordered whole regular size pizzas got their food before mine came up. I was lucky not to have missed the opening of the game. A lot of the concession workers in this classification are volunteers, but I was not very pleased with the service and the delay. The pizza, once I finally got it, was greasy and average.

Atmosphere: B-

As nice and unobtrusive as the atmosphere was in Augusta, Greensboro is the polar opposite.

If you like to go to games to, you know, enjoy the game itself, NewBridge Bank Park is not the place for you. There is literally a sound effect for the moments between every pitch (if you’ve ever seen the episode of the television show Family Guy where Brian and Stewie host a morning radio show and load it with loud, wacky sound effects, this was pretty close), and between the PA announcer and the on-field emcee (“Spaz”, complete with wireless headset microphone), there was plenty of noise to be had. There was a “woo-woo!” call and response with the fans that must have been done 20 times if it was done once, along with several other sounds that were repeatedly played. Every event during the game had a song, a sound effect or both. It was total overkill, especially compared to the really good musical soundtrack playing as everyone milled around the concourse before the game.

The promotions were, for the most part, pretty common. There was a Deal or No Deal knockoff, a Neese’s Country Sausage race (which was interesting, if not derivative), and the usual suspects, including sumo wrestling, build-a-burger, and the mascot race. I just got the impression that it was more about the goofy sounds, the wacky personalities and the promotions than the baseball, and that was disappointing.

Sight lines: C

I was feeling pretty excited when I booked my tickets for this game. I purchased seats in the second row directly behind the visiting dugout, and I expected to have a pretty good view of the action. I soon saw why those seats were available.

There is a net that runs along the entirety of the seating bowl (probably because people aren’t paying attention to the game due to all the ADD-riddled wackiness going on around them), and it hinders the view of most of the lower-level seats. I started to feel as though I was watching a game through a chain-link fence without paying admission after a while, and moving up or out to the berm areas to get away from the net defeats the purpose.

The overall sight lines in the park are reasonably good, and no seat feels far away from the action. The net, however, detracts from the entire experience, despite the apparent placement to keep all of the fans safe.

Parking: B

There is certainly no problem with locating parking near the ballpark. There are multiple lots surrounding the ballpark (I used the one behind the left field gate, and would absolutely recommend it if you don’t have will call tickets, as will call is on the other side of the park), and most lots charge $3-$5. I am still no fan of paying to park, but the lots are close and spacious. Fans may also use the parking decks in downtown Greensboro at no charge after 6pm and on the weekends, but those are a bit trickier to locate and further from the park. Looking at a map is suggested if this is your chosen route.

Getting to the park is relatively easy once downtown, as the signage directing you to the park is ample. It is also easy to exit the downtown area, as there are plenty of surface streets. Just make sure to familiarize yourself with the way you need to get back to I-40 or 85, as there are a lot of one-way streets and not a lot of directional indicators.

Quality of baseball: A

Part of the reason I love the South Atlantic League is because I can usually expect a quality effort every time out on the circuit. Sure, there are duds, but the play is usually quite good for a low-A league. This game did not disappoint.

Greensboro defeated the Delmarva Shorebirds (Orioles A affiliate) 7-3 behind a pretty strong effort from starter Brad Hand and some timely hitting. (Ed. Note: This also breaks the five-game losing streak of home teams for my reviews!) Greensboro first baseman Ben Lasater – who was also on this Grasshoppers team last year when I saw them in Kannapolis – got the night off, despite his .415 average.

This game had pretty much everything – great defense, good pitching (for the most part) and even a couple of pickoffs of Grasshopper runners (which would drive me crazy as a coach). First baseman Brandon Turner and right fielder Isaac Galloway also homered for Greensboro.

Overall grade: B+

This grade may surprise you a bit, but I really did enjoy myself here. The stadium was very comfortable, and had a pretty good buzz throughout the game. The park is set in downtown Greensboro, and it is rather picturesque. I got to be among an announced crowd of 5709 (in a park that holds just under 7500) and take in a great game on a beautiful night.

The park was built to double-A specifications, and it felt a lot more like a facility at that level than some of the ones I have visited. If the club tones down the over-the-top wackiness and remembers that the focus should be on the field, not in the stands, there is the strong potential to make that jump work.  I might also recommend that the club use their really nice video scoreboard in right field to display what a batter has done in the game to that point.  Each at-bat features a static photo of the batter at the plate, and that would be one way to again improve on the baseball portion of the experience.

How to get there:

The easiest way to get to the park is to take the business loop of I-40 in Greensboro to exit 218B (Freeman Mill Road). Freeman Mill Road turns into Edgeworth Street, and will take you directly by the ballpark. There are also plenty of signs available to guide you. Should it be necessary, the street address of NewBridge Bank Park is 408 Bellemeade Street in Greensboro.

You may also want to see:

  • North Carolina Zoo. The zoological park for the state is located just a short drive away in Asheboro, and there are exhibits to keep animal and nature lovers of all ages happy. Speaking from experience, plan for an entire day if you visit, as the park is extremely large.

  • Grandover Resort golf courses. The Grandover Resort features two professional golf courses, and if golfing is your thing, this is probably the first place you want to check out. The resort is a beautiful place, even if you don’t golf.