Brian’s At the Ballpark Archives

At the Ballpark – Appalachian Power Park, Charleston, WV
August 7, 2011, 2:29 am
Filed under: 2011, Reviews

Appalachian Power Park, Charleston, WV - click photo for more pictures of this visit

(Ed. note:  This is my first West Virginia ballpark review.)   

West Virginia is, for right or wrong, the butt of a lot of jokes. Whether someone throws out insults about relations with family members or couches set ablaze, those who have never visited are never short on material about the Mountain State. Once you cross the state line, though, the natural beauty of the area becomes quite obvious. It’s even tough for those of us who grew up across the state line in Virginia to find much negative to say about the surroundings.

West Virginia’s state capital, Charleston, is loaded with baseball history. Professional baseball has made its home here off and on for over 100 years, and has seen many division and league titles come to the various inhabitants of the city. Fans can still purchase reminders of the city’s baseball past, as throwback jerseys of Dave Parker from the Charleston Charlies team in the 1970s are freely sold. A lot of Charleston’s baseball memories were made in Watt Powell Park, built in 1948. That park was decommissioned in 2005, though, and the Charleston baseball franchise moved a few miles down the road to Appalachian Power Park. Is this new downtown facility “almost heaven”? Let’s find out.

Concessions: C

I honestly expected more from a park that has this many concession options. The concourse looks almost like a food court, starting with the Power Alley Grill around the right field entrance and continuing all the way to the left field wall. Just about any concession item one could ever imagine – and some that would never cross your mind – is available at the park. Everything from deep-fried brownies to beef brisket sandwiches can be had here.

The big concern was the prices related to the portion sizes. I have been to a number of the parks in this league, and this park has what is probably the worst value of any of them in the concession realm. A 20-ounce bottle of Gatorade was $3.25 (outrageous on any day, but particularly terrible on this day), and I spent quite a bit of time in line trying to figure out how to convey to the servers what I wanted. The board listed “pepperoni rolls” (exactly that way) for $4.75, so I asked for that. After going back and forth for quite a bit of time while they tried in vain to explain that you get a roll (singular, not plural) for that price, I paid my $8 for a pepperoni roll and a bottle of Gatorade. The “roll” was a hot dog bun sparsely filled with pepperoni and cheese, and even with the marinara sauce provided, was chewy and flavorless. My father had a cheeseburger and seemed okay with it, but be cautious not to set your sights too high with the concessions here, as I did.

Atmosphere: B

This is one of the more visually unique ballparks you’ll see. There are historic buildings all around the park, and they are easily visible from your seat. If you look beyond the right field wall, you can see the golden dome of the Capitol building of West Virginia. Inside the park, there is not a lot to distract you from the game. There is pretty decent music between innings, a fairly unobtrusive set of between-innings promotions (including a “guess the lyrics” contest, which I’ve not seen), and there is not a sound effect on every pitch, which is nice. They do have commercials on the video board at times, though, which I despise. I understand the reasoning for having them, but I still hate them.

The thing that took away from the atmosphere on my visit was the fans – or lack thereof. The attendance was listed at 1198, but that had to have been considering the season ticket holders. The crowd was extremely sparse at first pitch, and continued to dwindle throughout the game. That may have been due to the heat (which was also falsely reported at 88 degrees), or the fact that it was a Sunday afternoon game. The end of the game felt similar to a spring training game, as I think most people there were just as content to see it end. I would imagine – or at least hope – that things are livelier there for night games, as this is a really cool area.

Sight lines: A

One of the few drawbacks of this park (the lack of an overhang to provide shade) is also a pretty large benefit to fans wishing to see the game. Virtually the entire concourse is open to the field, so if you go get an overpriced soda or food item, you can still see most of what is going on down at field level. There is netting around parts of the seating bowl, but it is kept to an absolute minimum. This is much appreciated. The bullpens are visible from the seating bowl, as they are right along each foul line.

There are a couple of things to watch out for, however, including a “blind spot” down the left field line from some of the third base seats. This may or may not be a concern, but keep it in mind on any balls hit into the corner. There is also a canopy on the third base side that could block your view at times. This and the support pillars of the lone modest overhang on the third base side proved to be a bit of an issue for me, as I escaped under that overhang to try to stay in the shade as much as possible. You may have to step out from under the shade or around the canopy to see the ball from time to time.

Parking: B

Parking is close, just outside the right field entrance to the park and across the street. The part that is not so good, however, is that it costs $3 to park and shares a lot with a Family Dollar store. There are a few other lots scattered about, but to park close to the stadium will cost you, and I didn’t feel good about taking a leisurely stroll through the surrounding neighborhood, even in the daytime. There is a parking garage near the stadium, but that appeared to be for the hospital next door. There may be some parking nearby for the various government offices, but it was not labeled in a fashion I could quickly identify and get out of the road.

Quality of baseball: C

The game was, for the most part, forgettable. The visiting Lakewood Blue Claws (Phillies) defeated the West Virginia Power (Pirates) 6-1, and the outcome of the game was almost never in doubt. West Virginia scored a run in the second on an Elias Diaz homer, but were barely heard from again. The Power left 12 runners on base while going hitless in four at-bats with runners in scoring position.

The foundation of what the Pirates are trying to do in terms of player development was pretty evident. There were quite a few “toolsy” players on the West Virginia side, including Diaz and third baseman Eric Avila. There appears to be a bit more focus on bringing in guys who have a high ceiling and can be “molded” a bit more, versus guys who have very little room to go and are so-called “safe” players. Time will tell how this strategy works, but considering the struggles of the Pirates chain in recent years, it’s worth a shot.

Overall grade: B

This park is – if you’ll pardon the expression – a real diamond in the rough. There is potential all over the facility with just a tweak here or there. Even with things as they were, it’s one of the cooler places I’ve seen. The integration of the park with the surrounding neighborhood is pretty darn cool, and almost gives the stadium a retro (I loathe that word, but it fits here) feel. Appalachian Power Park is certainly worth a visit if you’re anywhere close to Charleston, but be careful of day games unless you need to sweat off a few pounds.

How to get there:

Getting to the park is relatively simple. There are signs on I-77/64 telling you which exit to take, but the signs are not as visible once leaving the interstate. Take exit 100 from I-77/64 (Capital St./Leon Sullivan Way), then turn left at the first light onto Washington Street. Go to the second light on Washington, then turn left onto Morris Street. The park is ahead on the left after the first stop light, and the parking lots are on the right.


At the Ballpark – American Legion Stadium, Florence, SC
August 6, 2011, 6:33 pm
Filed under: 2011, Reviews

American Legion Stadium, Florence, SC - click photo for more pictures of this visit

If you’ve ever visited Myrtle Beach or gone south on I-95, the chances are pretty decent that you’ve passed through Florence, SC at some point. This burg of slightly less than 40,000 residents is served by two major interstates, and is just miles away from Darlington, famous for both NASCAR racing and being the home of MLB second baseman Orlando Hudson.

 Florence has made quite the name for itself, though, as many large businesses call it home. Florence also has quite the athletic history, with wrestling territories in the 1970s and 1980s finding the city to be a popular stop. Baseball also has deep roots in Florence, dating back to the 1920s. The city also served as a Blue Jays minor league affiliate from 1981-1986, hosting such future stars as Jimmy Key, Cecil Fielder and Fred McGriff. The Blue Jays’ reign in Florence ended after 1986 when they relocated 70 miles east to Myrtle Beach. Does the former Florence Blue Jays home still have its charm? Let’s find out.

Concessions: A+

This may be a smaller park, but you’ll never go hungry – or thirsty – here. I managed to catch a game where all beverages were $1, which helps. Even if you don’t go on a night with a beverage special, the sodas are only $2. There are tons of soda selections (see the pictures for this park), and a beer garden is just down the right field line, for those who wish to have a frosty one. The park also offers Powerade and water for hydration on the hot days in Florence, and they are quite common.

The food selection is also outstanding, as burgers with just about any topping known to man are available. There is also the $5 Wolfburger, which I did not try. If you are more into hot dogs or smoked sausages, no worries, as those are also served here. Corn dogs, brats, pizza, various snacks and candy round out the menu, and everything is reasonably priced. I have seen a number of affiliated parks that came nowhere close to the selection and prices here, and that certainly deserves note.

Atmosphere: A-

Considering this game was a 10pm (local) start and the ballpark in Florence is surrounded by virtually nothing, things were rather lively on the night I attended. There were a number of kids at the park for that late hour, and despite their ignoring the PA announcer stating that they had to be accompanied by an adult to go after foul balls, they were mostly well-behaved. The locals really love their hometown Redwolves, and that was made apparent on this night. A number of umpires were in the stands, if you catch my drift.

The team has a mascot named Homer, who is (appropriately) a red wolf. He was involved in a number of the between-innings promotions, including the dizzy bat race (which almost saw a collision between two dizzy kids) and two different occasions where free items were tossed to fans in the stands (t-shirts and water bottles). He was around enough to where the kids could see him and such, but not so much that he was annoying or intrusive. This park also features a good selection of music from nationally and locally-recognized artists, and I also got to see a fan shag dance to Kool and the Gang’s “Celebration” for the first – and probably last – time.

Sight lines: F

Unfortunately, there is not an unobstructed seat in the house at American Legion Stadium. Every seat is behind a fence, net, pole, support beam or some combination of such. When you combine this with the fact that the seating bowl is away from the field by a decent distance because of a sidewalk and another couple of rows of fixed seats, it really helps to kill the atmosphere that already seems to exist in the park. There is one section of seats in the general admission area that is inexplicably angled toward the first base bag, and if you are sitting in that area and trying to look straight ahead, you are blocked by a) a railing, b) a support beam and c) a net. If someone hits a ball down the left field line, you turn to track the ball and end up looking directly into yet another railing. I understand the need for safety and such, but if the team ever gets the budget to do so, it’s time to just scrap any seat that isn’t fixed and start over. When you can’t see either bullpen down the line and even the scoreboard is obscured by netting, that’s a problem.

Parking: B

Parking here is close to the park, which is great – except for the several cars that got hit by foul balls, despite all the overkill of netting and fencing. The parking is free, but is in a huge grass lot. This has to be nightmarish on days when the random pop-up storm heads through the Pee Dee region of South Carolina, but I was luckily not affected. Ingress and egress are relatively quick, as the park is quite close to US 52 (Irby Street) and US 76 (Palmetto Street). My recommendation is to bring some rain boots just in case, and to park as far away as you realistically can.

Quality of baseball: A

Edenton came into this game with the longest active win streak in summer collegiate baseball, but Florence, who did not even make the playoffs in the Coastal Plain League, was up to the task. The homestanding Red Wolves defeated the visiting Steamers 5-3, despite Edenton collecting 11 hits on the evening. Red Wolves starter Hunter Adkins (Middle Tennessee) started a bit shaky, but managed to settle down and keep Edenton mostly at bay. Edenton third baseman Vinnie Mejia (UT-Pan American) hit a monster home run into the trees in left-center. Both teams played solid defense (despite four total errors) and made some outstanding plays to keep the game as close as the final indicates.

Overall grade: A

This visit was totally unplanned, but I am truly glad I made it. I had a wonderful time, even with not being able to see things at times. The concessions are cheap, the staff is super-friendly (I can’t emphasize this enough – great job, everyone), and if you make the trip, you won’t be disappointed. I’ve had a great experience every time at Coastal Plain League facilities, and this one continues the streak.

How to get there:

As mentioned earlier in the piece, Florence is located just off interstates 95 and 20 in eastern South Carolina. The park is just outside of downtown Florence, and is virtually next to the Florence Regional Airport. Continue through downtown Florence on either US 52 or 76 to Darlington Street, then to Oakland Avenue. The park is ahead on the right. It may be helpful to use Google Maps for directions.