Brian’s At the Ballpark Archives

At the Ballpark – Sims Legion Park – Gastonia, NC
July 24, 2010, 10:40 pm
Filed under: 2010, Reviews

Sims Legion Park - Gastonia, NC - click image for more photos of this visit

Gastonia, North Carolina is an easy area to miss. Nestled between Charlotte and the South Carolina state line, this suburb is home to a lot of commuters and those who prefer the small town lifestyle to that found just up the interstate. Gastonia has also been the home of baseball since 1950, seeing many affiliated and unaffiliated clubs march into both iterations of Sims Legion Park (the stadium opened in ’50 and was renovated and reopened in 1977).

There is another interesting bit of history in the background at Sims Legion Park. The stadium once hosted a professional softball team. The Carolina Diamonds of the Women’s Professional Fastpitch League spent two years in Gastonia, including a first-half season title and a championship appearance. The Diamonds were contracted by the league in 1999, ending their run in Sims Legion Park.

Is Sims Legion Park as easy to drive past as Gastonia can be for some? Let’s find out.

Concessions: B-

There is not a major league assortment of concessions in Gastonia, but what is there does the job. The ballpark “staples” are there, and the prices are good. I sampled a piece of Simonetti’s Pizza (this is a local pizza place, and I highly recommend it) and a Diet Coke for a very reasonable $5.50. The concession workers are very nice (as is most of the rest of the staff – more on this later), and lines move quickly.

There is another grouping of items that I did not have the guts to try, but if you are truly curious, go to the team’s website for photos. Gastonia offers a Krispy Kreme dog and burger. The burger and hot dog are “standard issue”, but a Krispy Kreme donut serves as the bun. With all of the whining about obese children and non-healthy foods these days, the donut-shrouded foods make for an interesting choice.

Atmosphere: D

There is very little atmosphere at Sims Legion Park. This is good, because the focus is mostly on baseball, but bad because there was very little that was memorable. The between-innings entertainment is generic (mascot race, etc.), except for a strange contest where two couples battle against each other, with the man putting on a wedding dress and catching a bouquet from the woman. I wasn’t quite sure how to react after seeing this, but it was at least different. There was also a dunk tank, in which fans tried to dunk the GM of the team. The GM engaged in some light trash talk with the fans trying to dunk him, but he seemed legitimately angry after being dunked several times. This was a great idea that seemed to go south after repeated trips into the tank.

There is an odd mascot named Chizzle, which is – I guess – a blinged-out grizzly bear with six-pack abs. He did exactly nothing, aside from (shockingly) losing in the mascot race and participating in a choreographed dance with some Grizzlies players. The PA announcer was among the only real noise heard in the park, as he produced his own sound effects on foul balls (I guess times are hard when you can’t get a $3 sound effects CD to play) and did some reads for local advertisers between innings. The worst part of the lack of atmosphere, though, was the totally disinterested fans. The Grizzlies were offering discounted beer in their beer garden, and that area was completely packed, with the stands virtually empty. The patrons seemed more interested in getting hammered at discount prices than in the baseball going on just feet from them, and that made for a pretty miserable experience.

Sight lines: A-

I have to say that this is a ballpark that caters well to the fan. The general admission seats are in the bleachers down either baseline, and you can see everything from any of those seats. There is a lot of foul territory at this park, so the seats feel somewhat far from the field, but don’t let that concern you. There is also quite a bit of room to stand down the baselines, if that is more preferable.

There are only a couple of problems with the sight lines in this park, and one is easily-avoided, while the other is not. If you choose to sit in the first couple of rows behind either dugout, your vision may be obstructed by the dugout structure itself. Keep this in mind when choosing seats. Also, due to the angle of the setting sun, the scoreboard can be invisible for multiple innings. The sun sets right into the scoreboard, which makes for a terrible glare. This can be avoided by looking at the field instead of the scoreboard, but just realize that you will likely have no idea of the score for about three or four innings. If the scoreboard on the hill in right field worked, this would be a nice “workaround” for the issue.

Parking: A

Sims Legion Park is a small stadium, and as such, there is very little parking. However, parking is free, and it is reasonably plentiful for all but the very busiest of nights. Be aware that some of the parking is in a gravel lot, and parking should never be attempted anywhere off of the premises. The local business and home owners in the area are not big fans of baseball traffic on their property.

Quality of baseball: B

(Editor’s note: I originally attended a game between the Grizzlies and Martinsville Mustangs. That game was rained out before it began, and though I got some pictures on that night, this is a review of the Gastonia-Thomasville contest.)

Taking into account that one side was a first-place team that tied its franchise record for victories on this night, and the other was…well, not, this was a reasonably watchable game. The homestanding Grizzlies defeated the visiting Thomasville Hi-Toms 6-3 in a game that featured quite a bit of offense and some outstanding defense. There were multiple diving stops, well-turned double plays and good throws to gun out attempted base stealers.

Gastonia first baseman David Chester, fresh from winning the Coastal Plain League home run derby earlier in the week, hit a three-run shot that helped propel the Grizzlies to the win, and closer Seth Grant reached double figures in saves, which is tough to do in a summer league.

Overall grade: C

The baseball was fun to watch here, and the employees (except for the slightly upset GM) were super nice. It was a “pure” baseball experience, and I am most definitely inclined to return. I was, however, quite disappointed in the fan base that showed up. The interest in drinking beer instead of watching baseball really sucked the life out of the place, and to call those in the stands apathetic would be putting it mildly. These guys are some of the best in the nation in the college ranks, and they deserve more support than they got.

How to get there:

Take Interstate 85 from Charlotte to US 321 (exit 17). Go right off the exit ramp, then take a nearly-immediate right onto Rankin Lake Road. At the end of the road, turn right onto Marietta Street. The ballpark will be on the right just after you cross the bridge over Interstate 85.


At The Ballpark – Capital City Stadium – Columbia, SC
July 12, 2010, 12:41 am
Filed under: 2010, Reviews

Capital City Stadium - click photo for more pictures of this visit

South Carolina’s capital city, Columbia, is rich in history. Almost half of the city’s 224-year history has seen some off-and-on level of baseball. The University of South Carolina has added the latest chapter to Columbia’s baseball story by winning the 2010 NCAA College World Series, the final such event to be held in Omaha’s historic Rosenblatt Stadium.

The college baseball season doesn’t end in Columbia with the final out of the Gamecocks’ season, however, as the Coastal Plain League takes up residence in Columbia each summer. This wood bat summer league features college players from around the Carolinas, Virginia and beyond. Some of the more impressive alumni of this fifteen-team league include Ryan Zimmerman, Kevin Youkilis and Justin Verlander. Affiliated baseball left Columbia five years ago to move to Greenville, SC, but is this an acceptable substitute? Let’s find out.

Concessions: B

Many people like the “ballpark staples” when eating at a game. Capital City Stadium is full of those staples. Popcorn, hot dogs and Pepsi products, among other normal ballpark items, are freely available and inexpensive. One other item that is available – and really must be tried at any ballpark in the south that has them – is the boiled peanuts. A reasonably-sized bag is just three dollars, and they provide the only real sense of location in the park.

That said, since the park is so close to Columbia’s rather eclectic downtown area, it may be a better idea to eat somewhere before venturing to the park. There are chain restaurants (Mellow Mushroom – well worth the visit!), Italian restaurants, Mexican eateries and so much more available within a short drive or walk of the park. It’s not as cheap or convenient as ballpark food, but with all the choices available, there’s something for everyone.

Atmosphere: C

I talk all the time about the focus being on baseball in parks, and it is rarely more on display than in Columbia. This ballpark could literally be dropped in the middle of any American city, and probably have the same feeling. The mascot is “Blowie”, a blowfish that makes several appearances throughout the game. He is joined by a jester mascot that advertises a local pizza place, a guy in a purple outfit that looks like a Nexium advertisement and several other odd characters throughout the game.

A lot of the between-innings entertainment that takes place is pretty standard, except for two notable differences. There is one half-inning break where a large group of kids gathers behind the third base bag and runs across the outfield to the other side of the field, led by the aforementioned gaggle of mascots. This was fairly entertaining to watch. The more entertaining “promotion”, however, happened later in the game. The song “Sandstorm” played, and the lights in the press box flashed on and off like at a rave while everyone in the press box danced along with the song. I actually laughed at this, and this was very well-done.

Sight lines: B

This park was (mostly) a breath of fresh air after the previous ballpark I visited. There is a chain link fence around the seating behind the plate, but no netting above the majority of the seating bowl. All of the action between the dugouts is clearly visible, and the sun is not a concern for evening games. The sun sets behind home plate in this park, and while it is warm, it will not set in your eyes.

The main drawback comes if you happen to be sitting on the third base side of the park. There are a couple of tents set up in a children’s play area past the third base bleachers, and these tents block the view of the action down the left field line. The visiting bullpen was not visible from my bleacher seats, and there were a couple of balls hit into the corner that were completely obscured. The tents are a fine idea, but if they could be moved out of the line of sight, it would be beneficial.

Parking: B

There is an extremely large parking lot behind the right field fence, and there appears to be plenty of room for even the most heavily-attended games at this park. There were, however, two minor annoyances.

There was a $3 parking charge in the sizeable lot, and there was not a tangible or visible place where that money was being returned into the park. The seats, signage and other portions of the park – while functional – had obviously not been upgraded in quite a while. The bleachers are quite painful to sit in after a few innings. There is even still a sign above the scoreboard that references the Capital City Bombers, a team that played its last game in 2004.

There is also only one obvious point of egress from the park, and getting back to any of the main highways around Columbia (US 21/US 76/US 176/I-126) requires a left turn out of the park across a busy street. There is no stop light leaving the park. Another thing that makes exiting the park more of a pain is that there are exit signs that lead to nowhere. I was confused – and I was not the only one – by these exit signs, and had to turn around to get out of the park. Any incorrect signage should be removed from the park.

Quality of baseball: B

I was unsure what to expect, considering these were college players using wood bats. Those concerns were unfounded, as the two teams combined for 16 runs and 22 hits in a 10-6 victory by the homestanding Blowfish over the Florence (SC) Red Wolves. The bats were lively on both sides, though the ball did not carry very well at all.

There were some control issues on both sides, though, as walks and hit batsmen caused issues at times throughout the game. Florence had three errors, but these were mostly “hustle” errors. Both teams made some outstanding defensive plays, and despite a lot of the players being from small schools, the effort was quite impressive.

Overall grade: B-

There were a lot of really “generic” aspects of this park, and I thought that might detract from the experience. My first Coastal Plain League game, however, was a fun one to watch. The stadium was comfortable, though the seating was uncomfortable. The stadium had character, despite it feeling as though it could be placed anywhere. I cannot recommend this league enough, though…and the park is worth a trip, too. If your travels lead you to the capital of the Palmetto State, stop on by.

How to get there:

The stadium is located at 301 S. Assembly Street in Columbia. It is just past downtown and the University of South Carolina campus. All of the major thoroughfares in Columbia are within a couple of miles of the park, though a GPS is recommended to find the ballpark, as well as some of the nearby restaurants and attractions.

At The Ballpark – American Legion Post 325 Field – Danville, VA
July 7, 2010, 3:33 am
Filed under: 2010, Reviews

American Legion Post 325 Field - Click photo for more pictures from this visit

Every star has to start somewhere. Whenever a Joey Votto, Andre Ethier or Jason Heyward comes to the plate, keep in mind that they all rode the bus in the minors for a time. One such place these stars – and many others – get their start is the rookie-level Appalachian League. The Appalachian League consists of teams from Virginia, West Virginia, Tennessee and North Carolina, and features players just out of high school or college.

One of the Appalachian League outposts can be found about six miles north of the North Carolina state line in Danville, Virginia. The home of the Danville Braves since 1993, American Legion Post 325 Field has seen such greats as Tommy Hanson, Jason Heyward and Yunel Escobar pass through its gates.

Concessions: B

Good and bad can be found in the concession offerings at American Legion Field. The prices are surprisingly good ($1.50 for a large order of french fries – they will even add cheese at no cost), and the portions are really good for the cost. There is even a taste of the unusual, including a “bologna burger”, which I did not have the guts to try. All of your favorites are here, so come hungry.

As good – and reasonably-priced – as the concessions are, I cannot recommend enough that any concessions purchases be made well before the game starts. The concession area is behind the plate and completely out of view of the action on the field. I also noticed long (and slow) lines at 6:20 before a 7:00 first pitch, and throughout the game. There was a near-sellout on the night, but even with those conditions, the sales could have been processed a bit faster. The only sales I saw in my area of the seating was a man walking around with a cooler full of drinks.

Atmosphere: C

There is a considerable focus – for the most part – on the baseball in Danville. There are a few between-innings contests, and most are of the usual variety (mascot race, dizzy bat race). There are very few corny sound effects, and most of the music between innings is quiet and non-obtrusive.

I was, however, disappointed at some of the “borrowed” between-innings items, such as the playing of the drastically overused “Sweet Caroline” (complete with the team employees trying to sing along on a malfunctioning microphone, cutting off ¾ of their singing), and the even more overplayed “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” (twice!). These things are popular (why, I have no idea) in a lot of major league stadiums, but it would be good to see Danville start some of their own traditions, instead of using those of Boston and of their parent club. The one tradition they absolutely need to keep in Danville is the team employees standing at the gates to thank patrons as they leave the park. I loved this in Dunedin, and even had a wonderful conversation with a really nice person in their front office about this very subject. This was a small touch that costs nothing for the team, and means so much to the fans. Please don’t ever stop doing this, Danville.

Sight lines: D

I often say of parks that there is virtually not a bad seat in the house. In American Legion Post 325 Field, there is virtually not a good seat in the house. The park seats 2588 patrons, and all of the seats behind the plate are reserved seating. I very rarely recommend the reserved seating, but this may be the best place to be in Danville. There are large fans on the roof of the reserved areas (perfect for the extremely hot and humid Danville summer nights), and as much as I hate the nets behind the plate, this is actually the best view.

There is a six foot chain link fence that spans the entirety of both base lines. This is apparently in place to protect the fans, but it ends up creating a terrible view for all but the top couple of rows of the general admission seats. It feels almost as though you are peeking through the fence from outside of the park to try to watch the game. The lower levels of the bleachers are a tough sell, both because people are walking back and forth to get concessions, and because the seats are particularly low to the ground. The front row of bleachers is no more than a couple of inches off the ground, and leaves tall patrons (such as your humble correspondent) quite uncomfortable.

I stood in an empty area down the third base line for most of the game, and there appeared to be room for another set of bleachers in that area. I enjoyed being able to stand, despite the fence blocking my view. A number of creative patrons moved some of the picnic tables, and that seemed to work well. Two words of advice – if you don’t smoke, steer clear of certain areas of the third base line. There is a designated smoking area behind the third base bleachers, and I saw a few fans smoking in those relocated picnic tables and near the bleachers. Also, try to avoid the general admission on the first base side for the majority of any game you may see in Danville. Your line of sight is not only blocked by the fence, but by a blinding sun for the majority of the contest.

Parking: A

American Legion Post 325 Field is located in the middle of Dan Daniel Park, which includes a number of community fields and a memorial to veterans. That said, there is plenty of parking within a short walk of the park, and – the best part – it’s all free. Even on nights when the ballpark is full, as on this night, finding a place to park your car is relatively easy.

Getting out of the park is a bit of a challenge, as there is only one way into and out of the park, and that road is on a hill. This gives you a bit of time to leisurely stroll to your car and prepare yourself for your drive home.

Quality of baseball: B

I am always hesitant to criticize rookie-level baseball, as a lot of the guys on the field are just out of high school or college and are new to wood bats. Two of the better teams in the bigs were represented on this night, as the homestanding Danville club (Braves) defeated visiting Princeton (Rays) 5-3. Princeton managed to score three runs on only four hits, while the D-Braves managed 11 hits. Princeton capitalized on three walks and two balks from Danville reliever Ronan Pacheco, who put together an odd line of a hit allowed, an unearned run, the aforementioned three walks and two balks and four strikeouts in two innings.

Several highly-regarded prospects were in play on both sides, including Princeton’s Todd Glaesmann, Scott Lawson and Jeff Malm, and Danville’s Joe Leonard, Joey Terdoslavich and starting pitcher Carlos Perez, who fanned eight Rays in seven solid innings of work. The usual (for this level) miscues happened at times, but the level of baseball was, at the least, watchable.

Overall grade: C

I know that team employees read these reviews, and one may easily come to the conclusion that I hated this park, which is simply not the case. There were a few bright spots in the park, and I did enjoy my visit. There are a lot of things on which to work, however, including the fence, the speed of the concession lines and the overall fan experience.

I would certainly return, should my travels lead me back to Danville. I should also mention that the July 4 fireworks spectacular (as it was billed) was very well-done, and was better than a lot of the shows I have seen at higher levels. This was a job well done by Danville, though there was little to no promotion of the show on the team’s website, that I saw.

How to get there:

As mentioned above, the field is located in the middle of Dan Daniel Park in Danville. The park is accessible via US 29 bypass. Take the River Park Drive exit (one exit south of US 58 on the US 29 bypass), and follow the signs to Dan Daniel Park. The field is on the right side of the entry road.