Brian’s At the Ballpark Archives

At the Ballpark – McNair Field, Forest City, NC
July 3, 2011, 8:51 pm
Filed under: 2011, Reviews
McNair Field, Forest City, NC – click for more photos of this visit

North Carolina is a great state loaded with numerous baseball outposts. The history of the game spans centuries, and from the days of teams based in mills and factories to present day, the sport has a part in households from the mountains to the coast.

Nestled between Charlotte and Asheville is one of these baseball outposts. Forest City, North Carolina gained a team in the collegiate Coastal Plain League prior to the 2008 season. The team was relocated to this quiet town from Spartanburg, South Carolina. The hometown Owls had a record-setting 2009 season, finishing the season 51-9, and that success has led to two straight league championships.

McNair Field, the home of the Owls, is named for Houston Texans owner Bob McNair. McNair is a native of Forest City, and contributed a large amount of money and resources to make the stadium happen. Does the stadium live up to the investment? Let’s find out.

Concessions: B

There are certain expectations in ballpark food, and all of those expectations are met at McNair Field. All of your favorites are available at the concession stand down the first base line. The prices are reasonable ($3-4 for most major items), and a beer garden is just behind the stand, for those who prefer the occasional libation at the park. Be careful, however, because the concession stand is in a very popular area of the park (the souvenir stand and entrance to the park are in the same area), so the area can get a bit crowded.

There is also a little bit of local flavor in the concession selection in Forest City. Two local establishments, Dino’s Pizza-a-Plenty and The City Table have a presence in the park. The pizza seemed rather popular in the park, especially with the kids. The City Table, meanwhile, is a local barbecue establishment, and they have a large stand down the third base line. It is no great upset to have a barbecue joint in a North Carolina ballpark, but this one seemed to get great reviews from the fans sitting near me.

Atmosphere: B

Forest City is a garden-variety small town park, with the usual mix of regulars, families and kids running about begging for baseballs. Most of the families were lined up along the third base line in folding chairs, talking about church and Little League. It was exactly what one comes to expect in these types of parks.

The focus is mostly on baseball here, but the between-innings entertainment that is at the park doesn’t really break down any barriers. There is a mascot race, a frozen t-shirt contest, a hula hoop ring (this was every bit as awkward as you might imagine), a pizza scream (ugh) and a t-shirt toss. There are very few sound effects in the park, but those they use are played to death (‘everybody clap your hands!”, “day-o”, etc.), and could easily be lost and never again found.

Sight lines: A-

The angling of this ballpark makes it pretty easy to see just about all the action going on in the park from any seat (or spot on the grass) you may have. The park is well-lit at night, and you can see toward the small downtown area of Forest City beyond the fences. I sat on the third base berm and never felt as though I was missing anything.

There are two areas that could stand to be slightly improved, though. If you are walking from the third base side to the first base side (or vice versa), the concourse actually winds around behind the seating bowl for part of the walk, prohibiting your view of the field while you traverse the area. The bullpens are also somewhat hard to see, as they are in each corner of the field, and a dark tarp covers the fence to the bullpen. The view of the bullpen could be improved just by taking down these tarps, even if nothing else could be done.

Parking: A

Parking is free at McNair Field, and there is a large paved lot just behind the entrance to the field. I went on a busy night and arrived about 15 minutes before the game, and there were still a few spots available in the paved lot. There also appears to be some parking at nearby grassy areas and other lots, should it be required.

Two things should be noted, however. First, there is a large cemetery next to the parking lot, which is unusual, if nothing else. Also, egress from the park is a bit of a problem on busy nights, as the city street onto which McNair Drive empties is not the widest roadway in the state. This can cause backups when exiting the park. Keep this in mind when leaving the park, and allow a little extra time.

Quality of baseball: A

I got the feeling this grade might have been a bit lower after the first inning, as Forest City jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first inning. Run-scoring hits from Eric Fisher (Arkansas) and Danny Canela (NC State) plated those three scores, but also produced the last major offensive threat from the home team until the ninth inning. The visiting Wilson Tobs gradually pecked away at the lead, tying the game on a Joe Costigan (Clemson) homer in the sixth, then taking the lead in the ninth on a Keith Morrisroe (Concord) hit, scoring Alex Jones (Northern Illinois). Forest City tied the game in the bottom of the frame on a double by Buddy Sosnoskie (Francis Marion), but the Tobs eventually won the game in the top of the tenth on a single by Jones.

Both teams pitched quite well – especially after the output from Forest City in the first – and played solid defense. The transition to wood bats seemed pretty seamless for most of the players, as there were a number of hard-hit balls on both sides. I have seen a lot of quality baseball in my exposure to the Coastal Plain League, and this game certainly did not disappoint.

Editor’s Note:  Wilson’s team (the Tobs) have quite the strange nickname, and I wanted to share the origin of said nickname.  “Tobs” is short for “Tobacconists”, which has been a common name for Wilson-based teams going back to the Class D leagues of the 1930s and 40s.  The team pays homage to this history with a tobacco leaf on their jerseys, along with their unique name.

Overall grade: A

The park is very symbolic of the town in which it resides – very small and friendly. All of the team staff were kind and professional. I also noticed that team staff stood at the gates and thanked patrons as they left, which is a great touch. This park is not Yankee Stadium, but all things considered, it is a must-see for real baseball fans in western North Carolina.

How to get there:

Forest City is accessible via US 74 or 221, and is (as mentioned) about halfway between Charlotte and Asheville. Take US 74 to exit 182 (US 221A – Broadway), then turn left toward the downtown area. Take this road to its end, then turn left (continuing on 221A – E. Main St.). Continue through the downtown area, and turn right on McNair Drive. The ballpark is straight ahead on the right.


1 Comment so far
Leave a comment

I really enjoyed your ballpark review.I am sure the folks who run the park,as well as frequent it,will enjoy reading what you wrote.It seems that these smaller parks who feature good baseball and friendly people get your best.As you can imagine,I am right there with you.Outstanding review.Once again you have captured the heart and soul of this town and ballpark,and most importantly,it’s people.

Comment by jerry wilmer

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: