Brian’s At the Ballpark Archives

At The Ballpark – Five County Stadium, Zebulon, NC
September 9, 2009, 2:25 am
Filed under: 2009, Reviews
Five County Stadium, Zebulon, NC - click photo for more images of this visit

Five County Stadium, Zebulon, NC - click photo for more images of this visit

Quick – look at a map of North Carolina and point to Zebulon. Time’s up. This impossible-to-find burg is the recipient of a baseball club due to territorial constraints.

Zebulon is the home of a franchise that relocated from Columbus, GA in the early 90s. The Durham Bulls owned (and still do) the rights to the entire Durham and Raleigh territory, so the Carolina Mudcats were born about a half-hour to the east of Raleigh. Most of what I read about the park before my visit stated that it was in the middle of nowhere – and it is – but that didn’t stop me or a few other patrons from making the trip. Is the trip to a ballpark in a former tobacco field worth it? Let’s find out.

Concessions: B+

I didn’t honestly know what to expect from the concessions at Five County, since there was very little information available on the web. What I found was a really good selection of items, and surprisingly low prices for a double-A park. Some offerings were disappointing (I’ve grown weary of seeing Papa John’s Pizza in ballparks), but the concessions are worthy on the whole.

Two quick recommendations – try the fresh-squeezed orangeade and the ice cream. There are a couple of ice cream stands in the park that are run by a local dairy, and the portions are huge and reasonably priced. A cup of ice cream is just $3.50, with a souvenir helmet just a couple of dollars more. The funnel cakes, which I didn’t try, looked to be kept in a warmer. As long as you choose carefully, you should enjoy your food and drink here.

Atmosphere: B+

One of the biggest complaints about a lot of ballparks is that they could literally be anywhere. There is not a real sense of location, and the emphasis is more on a generic setting. The Mudcats do a good job of taking a park that was built in a field and reminding you that your seat is in eastern North Carolina. The between-innings musical selections (local favorite The Embers, for instance) helped to emphasize the location. James Taylor’s “Carolina In My Mind” was played as everyone exited the ballpark, which was another nice touch.

The between-innings entertainment was fairly standard, with the sack race, the mascot race, the tricycle race and a number of things I’ve seen done 25 other times in 25 other parks. They did have an interesting take on the usual sumo wrestling contest held among fans. Two members of the grounds crew dressed up as sumo wrestlers and tried to make baskets past the two Mudcat mascots. This was amusing, particularly when one of the mascots hit one of the grounds crew members over the head with a trash can to end the contest.

The only real annoyance is that the team uses the video board to run some commercials between innings, and I have never been a fan of this. If fans want commercials, they can go home and turn on their television.

Sight lines: C

The seating itself at Five County Stadium is excellent. None of the seats are really far from the action, and the park is built for the fan’s enjoyment. There are, however, a few downfalls.

The major problem with the seating area is the net that stretches from bullpen to bullpen. This is seemingly to protect the fans in the lower levels, but it ends up obstructing the view of a good portion of the seats. I never have liked nets in ballparks, and this net, as well as the support structure that holds it, creates sight issues from foul pole to foul pole.

There is also a cutout area down the right field line called Catfish Corner, which is inventive and a nice feature, but blocks the view of the right field corner to the seats on the first base side of the field. Because of these issues, it is recommended that you choose seats in the general admission sections (most of the seats in both sections are inexpensive and above the level of the net) or in the picnic areas down the left field line. The metal risers housing the picnic areas still experience a few sight line issues (the supports for the net and the gate around the second level of the risers), but this is still a nice area to watch the game.

Parking: C

Parking is close to the stadium, and ingress and egress is made easy by the parking attendants. This is about all there is to say that is good about the parking situation.

Parking is on a gravel lot, and there is a $4 charge to park on the lot. There was an announcement during the game that a driver’s tire was going flat. It was impossible to tell if this was due to the surface of the lot, but it certainly could not have helped. A gravel lot that has this kind of charge to park in it is inexcusable, and was one of the worst parts of the visit.

Quality of baseball: B

This was a very well-pitched game on both sides. Alex Smit of Carolina (Reds AA) and Jose Ortegano of Mississippi (Braves AA) both pitched deep into the game and limited the respective opposing offenses. Mississippi led 2-0 until the bottom of the 8th, where Carolina tied the game. The Mudcats would eventually win 3-2 in the bottom of the 9th on a single by Logan Parker.

Overall grade: B

I have seen a lot of the Southern League parks, and Carolina ranks near the top of the league. The staff was tremendous, including one who invited me to the front of the seating area to take photos of the park. There’s a lot to like about Five County Stadium, and the feel of the park matches the feel of the town. I wish the Mudcats could take the revenue they collect from parking and pave the lot, assuming that there is a need to continue charging for the privilege. Come prepared for small-town charm, because this is certainly featured at Five County Stadium.

How to get there:

Take I-440 around Raleigh to US 264/US 64 East. Travel approximately 20 miles east on 264 (past the 64 split) to Zebulon. Take the exit for NC Highway 39 and turn right at the end of the ramp. The stadium will be just ahead on the right. There are signs leading the way to the stadium for the final portion of the drive.


At the Ballpark – Nationals Park, Washington, DC
September 7, 2009, 1:30 am
Filed under: 2009, Reviews
Nationals Park - Click photo for more images of this visit

Nationals Park - Click photo for more images of this visit

Washington, DC is obviously a site that evokes a lot of emotion and stirs a lot of history throughout the United States of America.  The nation’s capital contains all branches of the federal government, as well as a storied sports record.  The Redskins, Capitals and Wizards (formerly Bullets) have taken residence in the District, as well as the upper echelon of each of their individual sports.

The baseball history in Washington is also storied, but there is a vast gap in the baseball record books.  Washington lost two teams to other cities – the Twins to Minnesota in 1960 and the Rangers to Texas in 1972.  Washington was without baseball for over 30 years until Major League Baseball relocated the Expos in 2005.  Along with this relocation came a brand new facility, Nationals Park.  Is the third time a charm for baseball in Washington? Let’s find out.

Concessions: A

There is virtually no dining choice a fan could have that is not available at Nationals Park.  The selection is widely varied and is available on every seating level.  The Nationals’ website contains a listing of the concessions available at the park, and from burgers to brats, from ice cream to the “curly W” pretzel, it’s all there for you.

Prices are high, as one would expect in a major league park.  The quality and portion sizes make up for this, however.  I had an ice cream sundae that weighed in at $8, but it was worth the price.  Bring a little extra money to eat at the park, but you won’t go home hungry.

Atmosphere: A

I never expected to say this, considering the locale, but Washington has a very understated ballpark.  There are some between-innings promotions, including the hilarious Presidents Race and the groan-inducing Flex Cam, but baseball is the primary focus here.  The music soundtrack was very enjoyable and not over the top.

There was a considerable rain delay (over three hours) on the night I attended, but the staff was all very patient and nice throughout.  The Nationals even showed two other games on their scoreboard during the delay.  A lot of people left through the delay, but those who stayed were treated well.

Sight lines: B

There is really not a bad seat in the park at Nationals Park.  As long as you are in the seating bowl, there will be no problem with obstruction or the action being too far away to view.

The one downfall with the sight lines in Nationals Park is the concourses.  The action is visible from the concourses and bathrooms – via television.  This is very convenient, but seeing the game from the concourses is pretty tough.  The overhangs of each seating level above you can cause blind spots.

Parking: F

If coming to a Nationals game, don’t plan on parking anywhere near the park.  There are some lots near the center field gate that cost $40, which is highway robbery.  Just about every spot anywhere near the park is at a premium, in terms of both space and cost.  With that said, don’t even bother bringing your car to Nationals Park.  There is no circumstance under which it would be worth the drive.

There are many forms of public transportation, including the form I chose, the Metro.  The Metro line features free parking at their garages on weekends, and the system is relatively easy to follow.  The Navy Yard station is within a couple of blocks of Nationals Park, and makes for an easy method of transport.  The Metro ride, while longer, is much easier and cheaper.

Quality of baseball: F

To be fair, this game took place before both the Padres and Nationals went on their respective “hot” streaks.  Even taking this into consideration, this game was barely watchable.  The Nationals won the game 13-1 after a rain delay of 3:11.  Padre righthander Luis Perdomo gave up five earned runs in three innings, while striking out seven.  Perdomo pitched in relief of Tim Stauffer after the rain delay.

The Padres mustered just six hits (to the Nationals’ 16) and featured several players who were not normal starters or contributors.  The Nationals got a grand slam from Adam Dunn and a two-run shot from Ryan Zimmerman to lead their offensive attack.

Overall grade: A-

Nationals Park is a pretty fun place to take in a game.  Be sure to build in extra time for transportation (which was a bit painful at 12:57am, when the game I attended was ending), and to come to the park ready to enjoy baseball – and maybe even a burger from Boardwalk or Five Guys.  You can even check out the pre-game and post-game shows from the MASN television network, just behind sections 101 and 102.

The real highlight of this ballpark visit was getting to meet up with Padres TV producer Ed Barnes, who is a great friend of mine and the co-founder of my weekly radio show.  Ed was a great help on the trip, which was much appreciated.

How to get there:

Frankly, ride the Metro.  The ride is cost-effective and takes a lot of the guesswork out of visiting Nationals Park.  There are other forms of transportation, including bus and cab.

Should you wish to drive, the address to enter into your GPS is:

1500 South Capitol St., SE
Washington, DC 20003

You may also want to see:

  • United States federal buildings.  The Washington Monument, the Pentagon, the White House and many more are all within a short drive, walk or Metro ride of the ballpark, and dot the skyline of Washington and northern Virginia.  These structures tell the story of our country, and are must-see buildings.
  • National Mall.  This downtown park contains the aforementioned Washington Monument, as well as a number of memorials and other historic sites.

The sights in Washington are too numerous to mention, including museums and other attractions that could occupy a week or more.  Be sure to plan your trip carefully, and research any sights you wish to see.