Brian’s At the Ballpark Archives


At the Ballpark – Ernie Shore Field, Winston-Salem, NC
July 23, 2008, 6:50 am
Filed under: 2008, Reviews, Uncategorized

Ernie Shore Field, Winston-Salem, NC 

Ernie Shore Field has brought fifty years of professional baseball to the North Carolina piedmont. The 50th year will be its last, however, as the club is moving to a new facility in downtown Winston-Salem. The Carolina League, in which Winston-Salem plays, is a mixture of old and new facilities, with Ernie Shore joining Grainger Stadium in Kinston and City Stadium in Lynchburg as some of the grand older parks in the circuit. The park will be sold to Wake Forest University upon the Warthogs’ depature after this season.

Winston-Salem is a market with far more than just baseball, though, as it is the cradle of some of America’s most popular businesses (R.J. Reynolds, Krispy Kreme, Texas Pete, Wachovia, etc.), the home of a fine private university and the centerpiece of a large three-city area known as the Triad. Should Ernie Shore Field receive a grand sendoff, or just fade into the sunset? Let’s find out.

Concessions: C

This grade is a bit generous. I had what was easily the worst funnel cake in recorded history on this night. The funnel cake itself was cold, chewy and stale. Food with no taste and a $5 price point is not the way to start my night.

There are some pretty decent offerings (TCBY frozen yogurt among them), and an okay variety, but the prices hurt in some instances. Souvenir sodas are $4 and come with a block of ice large enough to be used as a weapon. Beer (if you drink – I don’t) will run you at least $6.50, and as with any park in North Carolina, you can only buy one per trip. There is a beer garden on the third base concourse, should that be your thing.

Most snacks will run at least $3 (pizza is $3.50 a slice, and is from Pizza Hut), with other larger items costing a bit more. The quality is unremarkable, as are the prices, though the different offerings somewhat make up for it.

Atmosphere: F

The previous park I reviewed (Myrtle Beach, SC) had less fans than did Winston-Salem on the night I attended, but the atmosphere was atrocious. There was a Christian music concert after the game, and most of the fans seemed to be more interested in that than the game. Combine that with the fact that the homestanding Warthogs lost 8-3, and the crowd was dead. The few fans that were emotive whatsoever were busy beating each other with those abominable thunderstick things, and not really paying attention to the game.

The Warthogs tried, with promotions such as the adult tricycle race, the dizzy bat race and the mascot race, but there wasn’t a lot of ground broken in terms of between-innings entertainment. They had one of the single worst promotions in all of the minors, the Pizza Hut Pizza Scream. This is basically an excuse for kids to scream their lungs out – and deafen everyone else in the process – for some lukewarm pizza. This promotion was about the only real life anyone showed all night, and the sooner they can that promotion, the better. The dead crowd, the “been there, done that” promotions and the canned soundtrack from the playbook of minor league sound clips (including the same ones almost ten times, in some cases) made this ballpark a complete failure in terms of atmosphere. Here’s to hoping the new ballpark inspires some creativity and fan interest.

Sight lines: B-

There are a lot of good seats at Ernie Shore, and you can even sit at field level for general admission prices, assuming you want to venture down the line a bit. There are some tall tables on the concourses above the seating bowls that would be perfect if there were some stools with them. If you are down the lines, chances are you will have a good seat.

The concourses, however, are very narrow, and they do not allow you to see the game in some places, due to the press boxes and other impedances. Also, if you have the seats directly behind either dugout, be sure to be tall or bring some phone books, as the dugouts may block your view due to their height.

Parking: B

There is parking available on the premises at Ernie Shore Field, but the availability is highly limited. To that end, there is parking available at the coliseum annex parking lot across Deacon Boulevard from the park. Parking is $2, which is annoying, but there is certainly more than enough parking in the annex lot than would ever be required for a Warthogs game. Be careful crossing Deacon Boulevard to get to the park, as there are no crosswalks.

Quality of baseball: C

This game was seemingly interminable, as it clocked in just under three hours, despite feeling like three days. Myrtle Beach was up 7-3 after the third inning, and somewhat put it on cruise control, adding just one tack-on run in the ninth. There was some great defensive play in the game, and a lot of the Braves’ power prospects (Tyler Flowers, Ernesto Mejia, Eric Campbell, etc.) were on display in this one. Mejia hit a towering blast that cleared the thicket of trees behind the left field wall. The only Pelicans players not to join the hit parade were catcher Phillip Britton and shortstop Robert Marcial. Both teams banged out nine hits.

Overall grade: C-

Growing up around Carolina League baseball and the impending closure of this stadium put it at the top of my “must-see” list for 2008, but I was disappointed after the trip. The experience was very underwhelming, especially when compared to other parks even in the same league. Downtown parks are very hit-and-miss with fans, with no real in-between, and it remains to be seen how much of an improvement the downtown yard in Winston-Salem will provide. Another potential hindrance is the downtown park in Greensboro, less than a half-hour away. It would not take much to be an improvement on this experience, however.

How to get there:

There are a number of ways to get to the park, most of which take you through less than desirable areas of Winston-Salem. The best suggestion is to take the team’s suggestion of the Business 40 interstate loop to the Cherry Street exit, and to proceed north through downtown to Deacon Boulevard. The street address of the park is 401 Deacon Boulevard.

How I got there:

Total trip time (one-way):  96 miles (1 hour, 40 minutes).

You may also want to see:

  • Wake Forest University. One of America’s finest institutions of higher learning is in Winston-Salem, and the historic campus combines academic and athletic prowess in a beautiful setting. There are a number of beautiful buildings on the campus, and BB&T Field (Wake’s football facility) is right next door to Ernie Shore Field.

For pictures of this ballpark, visit this site.  For pictures of other ballparks from this feature, visit the photo archives.

To email the author with comments or questions, please send correspondence to footballjones AT gmail DOT com.



At the Ballpark – BB&T Coastal Field, Myrtle Beach, SC
July 9, 2008, 7:44 am
Filed under: 2008, Reviews, Uncategorized

  BB&T Coastal Field

BB&T Coastal Field, Myrtle Beach, SC

Concessions: B+

Concessions are relatively varied at BB&T Coastal, and despite some fairly high prices for advanced A -ball, they are of pretty good quality. The pizza is quite good – despite mine being dropped on the floor and replaced – and the ice cream is also rather tasty. A word of caution – the ice cream is a bit more frozen than most soft serve, but with a game-time temperature of 86 and a lot of humidity in the air, you won’t mind.

The cheeseburgers are also rather large, and as ballpark cheeseburgers go, more than passable. There is a grill on the third base side where the burgers are available, and it is one of the more popular features of the park.

Atmosphere: A

A lot of the between-innings entertainment was, at the least, inventive. There were the requisite things seen at the park, such as trivia contests and the like, but there was also a Hooters “frozen t-shirt” contest (which was rather funny to watch, honestly), two guys in sumo outfits squaring off against each other, and a contest where a child got to roll a beach ball around and collect money. I liked the touch that I saw in the park of “manipulating” contests so that kids won. Speaking of kids, one of the attractions that caters to kids is Dinger the Diamond Dog, a retriever that comes out between innings and puts on a show for the crowd, as well as taking water to the umpires. I really thought this was a neat touch, and it’s not a promotion that costs a team a ton of money to put together.

The real plus in terms of atmosphere here is the crowd. Whether it was the tourists in town for vacation or the locals coming out, the crowd was very vocal and into the action the entire time. There was a nice selection of music between innings (when a promotion was not taking place), and the place was quite lively. There were 3707 fans in attendance, and I have seen crowds five and ten times that size that were not as vibrant.

Sight lines: B-

The good thing about Myrtle Beach is that there is no general admission. There are several seating levels, including two seating decks between the baselines. Seats are relatively inexpensive, and there is a seating area behind the left field fence, as well. The concourse does not wrap completely around the field, but there are plenty of places to mill around.

Unfortunately, with the two decks and extra room, there are also support beams for the covered grandstand, and these beams can get in the way if you are sitting in the upper section. I started out behind one of the beams, and I could not see the scoreboard or some of the action in the center of the field before moving to a different seat. Be particularly careful when selecting a seat at BB&T Coastal, as the lesser price may come with an unwanted view of steel. That aside, the view of the field is great from most areas in the seating bowls, and there are television monitors all over the park should you need to get concessions – or even if you need to go to the bathroom.

Parking: A

I made a promise, and I shall keep said promise. I mentioned that the first park I reviewed in the Carolinas that offered free parking would get an A, and Myrtle Beach earns that A. There is a lot off Grissom Parkway that is behind the right field wall and offers more parking than would ever be humanly necessary at this park. Ingress and egress is not really a large concern at this park, as there are multiple streets that can get you back to the “main drags” (US 17, US 501 and Ocean Blvd.) in minutes.

The only real recommendation is that the plentiful group of volunteers that monitor the parking lot should allow drivers to choose the spaces in which they park, instead of trying to guide people into parking spaces. There are plenty of spaces to be had, and parking will not be an issue. There is no need to try to force people into cramped spaces behind and beside large trucks and SUVs. Let people pull through if there are spaces available to do so. I had to turn my car three times to get into the awkward spot the volunteer demanded I use, and this backed up the lot a bit.

Quality of baseball: B

I grew up watching Carolina League baseball, and have grown accustomed to a certain level of play from this advanced-A circuit. I was not entirely disappointed on this evening, as the teams combined for 10 runs on 18 hits. Myrtle Beach starter Ryne Reynoso gave up four runs in the 2nd inning, but settled down afterwards. Potomac defeated the homestanding Pelicans 6-4, though the Pelicans caused a large stir through the crowd with a 9th inning comeback, ending with an Eric Campbell strikeout with the bases loaded.

The one major problem with the game was base umpire Matt Arcovio, who blatantly blew two calls on the basepaths and was out of position for a large portion of the night. I have mentioned umpires in several previous reviews, but when a base coach immediately snaps after a call is made and the manager has to argue multiple calls, you are not correctly doing your job. It is shoddy work like this that makes people think so badly of umpires.

Overall grade: A

I have been trying to get to this park ever since it opened, and the build-up met the hype. The atmosphere is really cool (no other way to describe it, really), the video board is helpful, the seats are surprisingly comfortable for general admission, and the location really can’t be beat. The breeze from the ocean makes its way to the park, and there aren’t many better ways to spend a couple of hours outside. The classic song “Myrtle Beach Days” even plays as fans exit the ballpark, further lending to the experience.

The absolute best part of this park is the people that work there. Everyone was so unbelievably friendly, from the ticket booth to the concessions to the ushers. I have been in many southern ballparks that come nowhere close to meeting the fan experience in this park. There was even an usher that walked through the stands shaking hands with fans and talking to them, which makes a gigantic difference. That connection between team staff and fans sets BB&T Coastal Field apart from a number of other facilities I’ve visited, and it’s a difference I think you’ll notice as well, should your travels lead you to the Grand Strand.

How to get there:

Getting to BB&T Coastal Field is a breeze (pardon the pun). The park is located directly off 21st Avenue North in Myrtle Beach, between the Broadway at the Beach shopping complex and the coast. The stadium is located at 1251 21st Avenue North. If traveling from US 17, turn right at 21st Avenue North, and the park will be ahead on the right. If traveling from US 17 Business or oceanfront lodging, take 21st Avenue North away from the ocean, and the park will be on the left. Parking is located on Grissom Parkway, just beyond the outfield fence.

How I got there:

Total trip time (one-way):  3 hours, 41 minutes (167 miles).

You may also want to see:

  • Broadway at the Beach. This large shopping and entertainment complex within walking distance of the park contains a large number of both chain and local establishments, as well as a small waterway. There is also a section devoted to historic rides from the now-defunct Pavilion amusement park that was a long-time staple of Myrtle Beach. Whether you want to shop, dine or just walk, this is a great place to do so.

  • Charleston, SC. Just 90 miles to the south is a slice of American history in Charleston. There are a large number of historic homes, a beautiful coastline and the epitome of life in the old South. Charleston has lots to offer for the history buff, the weekend warrior and just those who love to witness a slice of Southern culture.

For pictures of this ballpark, visit this site.  For pictures of other ballparks from this feature, visit the photo archives.

To email the author with comments or questions, please send correspondence to footballjones AT gmail DOT com.



At the Ballpark – Fluor Field at the West End, Greenville, SC
May 26, 2008, 6:22 am
Filed under: 2008, Reviews

Fluor Field

Fluor Field at the West End, Greenville, SC

Greenville, South Carolina is a market rich in baseball history. In fact, much of the foundation of the 1990s Atlanta Braves passed through Greenville, including Chipper Jones, Javy Lopez, Tom Glavine and more. This group brought several Southern League pennants to the city. The current baseball-playing inhabitants of the market, however, are not as entrenched in the area.

The Greenville Drive came to be in late 2005 after relocating from Columbia, South Carolina. The team in Columbia was named the Capital City Bombers. After departing the Palmetto State’s capital, the team played in Greenville Municipal Stadium, the former home of the Greenville Braves. The team changed its name to the Drive during the 2005 offseason, and the new team took over a new home in 2006, the then-West End Field. Despite some resistance from some of the residents of South Carolina’s Upstate region, the new ballpark, combined with a player development contract with the Boston Red Sox, helped to revitalize the downtown area of Greenville. Does this Fenway replica play like its big brother? Let’s find out.

Concessions: B-

There are a number of different concession options at the park. There is a presence from Chick-Fil-A and Salsarita’s on the concourse, as well as typical ballpark fare. Dunkin’ Donuts is also, not surprisingly, prominently featured throughout the park.

Among the standard ballpark eats is pizza by the slice ($2.50), which was reasonably good, but not outstanding. Stick with the bottled sodas ($2.50), as a souvenir cup is ridiculously priced at $5.00. I was pleased when I saw one of my ballpark preferences in the soft pretzel case, but was disappointed at how stale and bland they were.

The concessionaires are really nice, but the food is, on the whole, fairly average.

Atmosphere: D

The musical soundtrack was pretty decent in the park, but there are a number of negatives surrounding the experience. The between-innings entertainment included the already-done (the “build-a-burger” contest I had previously seen in Hickory), the eye-rolling (the Jam Cam, where fans were shown dancing to a song on the video board) and the moronic (fans attempting to guess what the last name would be if two famous people married). Dolly Parton marrying Salvador Dali would be Dolly Dali? Get it? Yeah, it was every bit as stupid as it sounds.

There is also an on-field DJ/emcee who is at best extraneous and at worst annoying, as he oversaw the Singing Bee contest (another embarrassingly bad “promotion”), sang “Take Me Out to the Ball Game”, and led the crowd in “Sweet Caroline” (which, by the way, is horrendous – it’s bad enough at Fenway, but it’s worse when you try to blatantly copy what they do).

Finally, there is a guy dressed in a mixture of a baseball uniform and clown get-up, and I believe I heard that he goes by The Baseball Guy. He seemed like a nice guy and a big fan, but his act was highly corny and reeked of the 1980s. He wrote silly messages on a chalkboard, led the fans in chanting “foul ball” whenever a ball was fouled into the stands and participated in the t-shirt toss promotion. The intent was good, but the result was horrible. At least the mascot (Reedy, a frog) was mildly amusing during the limited exposure between it and the fans.

Just stick to playing music between innings, folks. That was the best thing you had to offer.

Sight lines: D

The stadium was full on the night I attended (or, at least it was announced as full – more on this in the overall comments), and more grass seating was sold than was available. This led to a lot of standing room only seats, and fans were lined up two and three deep at the top of the seating bowl in some areas. This, along with the beams behind the seating area, led to some obstructed views.

There are also a couple of structural problems in terms of seeing the action. First, the netting that normally shields the area behind the plate extends past the dugouts on either side. While this is a nice idea to protect the fans from stray foul balls (the seats do not extend further back than 13 rows in any area of the lower level), fans should be paying enough attention to not get hit with a foul ball in the stands. Also, the construction of the park prevents balls hit into the left field corner from being seen on the third-base side of the stands, which means well-hit balls down the line essentially disappear into the abyss until the relay throw emerges. There are video cameras all over the park for the Drive Vision program, and they could at least use these to help out the fans with the obstructed views.

Parking: F

Fluor Field is located in downtown Greenville, and in going to a game there, you need to hope for both a decent GPS and a really good sense of direction.  There are several signs on interstates 85 and 385 to lead you to the park, and a couple of signs provided by the City of Greenville, but the signs mysteriously disappear before you ever arrive at the ballpark. I ended up in a pretty questionable neighborhood that even confused my GPS before I finally turned around and found, then followed, the light stanchions.

Once I finally maneuvered my way into downtown Greenville, the parking situation was not much better. There are very limited amounts of parking spaces, as people are downtown doing other things, and those that are available are $5 spaces in various lots within walking distance of the park. There is a trolley which apparently goes to a free parking area, but this was so poorly-marketed that I had no idea where to go to get to the parking area or how to utilize the trolley. I was honestly so annoyed by the time I found a parking place that I was loathe to the idea of further exploration, just finally agreeing to suck up the charge and get out of the car. I know parking is limited in downtown areas, and I know that the limitations of the park size itself make it worse, but at least market your parking areas better.

Quality of baseball: F

Let me first say that I know host families read these reviews. I know of their love for the players they host, and I appreciate that connection. I am not saying anything negative of these players as people, just of the performance I saw.

That said, the quality of baseball was downright awful, even for low-A.  The visiting Savannah Sand Gnats (Mets low-A affiliate) defeated the homestanding Drive.  Three errors were credited between the two teams, but more than three actually occurred. For instance, one player was given a hit on a ball that was mishandled by the Drive’s third baseman. Another play featured four players circling around a fly ball in short left-center that was eventually dropped by the shortstop. The Greenville center fielder dropped a ball hit in his general vicinity that was about letter-high on his uniform. The Greenville first baseman dropped a ball. There was more than what I have described.

The pitching was average, the defense subpar and the hitting, for the most part, anemic. Greenville DH Jered Stanley looked decent at the plate – until you consider that he was recently demoted from AA Portland and is old for the league. The Drive’s first baseman, Mike Jones, looks somewhat solid at the plate, but lacks power. There was not a lot in terms of talent that looked to be immediately promoted, and the level of play did not even match a lot of the other South Atlantic League clubs I have already seen this year.

Overall grade: D

As I mentioned above, the announced attendance at this game was 6249. The ballpark seats 5700. There were several rows of open seats behind the plate and down the lines from where season ticket holders did not attend the game, but for those poor fans with only grass seats left to stand, the ushers at the top of each row prevented them from actually filling the seats. This has happened before at Louisville’s park, and it is inexcusable. I understand the desire to cater to season ticket holders and to maximize profits, but do not deny fans the ability to take empty seats after the second inning or so. I lucked out and was behind a man who allowed me to take his seat early on in the game, but not everyone was so fortunate.

The park is limited in terms of space for seating, but this could be remedied by adding seats in the second deck. I seriously doubt this club would have a problem selling the seats. This could help overcome the problems of the standing room and the extended netting.

A lot of my contemporaries (including those at Ballpark Digest and BallparkReviews.com) love this park, but for someone who loves the baseball experience with a lot of conveniences, there are much better parks in the Carolinas. The only word to describe the experience was disappointing, particularly after the drive I had to make to get there. I wish some of these things could be remedied by the time I get back, but I honestly do not know if they will – or can – be.

How to get there:

Your guess is as good as mine. The easiest way to describe to get there is to take Interstate 85 to Interstate 385 (exit 51) toward downtown Greenville, then follow the roadway until the freeway section ends. This will turn into Buncombe Street. Follow this road to either South Main Street or Academy Street, and turn left on either street. I ended up parking off Oneal Street, and if you take Buncombe to Academy, go left on Oneal, then look for the small parking lot ahead on the right. The street address of the park is 945 South Main Street, but I would suggest trying to find directions on the team’s website or call ahead, because the signage is terrible.

How I got there:

Greenville

Total trip time (one-way):  1 hour, 46 minutes (112 miles).

You may also want to see:

  • The Greenville Zoo. This attraction in Greenville’s Cleveland Park district features a number of animal exhibits for kids of all ages. The zoo is open 362 days a year and is reasonably priced. There are walking, biking and picnic areas and athletic play areas to go along with the animals.

  • Furman University. Furman is a small private school that is very academically prestigious and renowned. The Paladins’ athletic teams are also competitive in most major sports, and play in the nationally-recognized Southern Conference. Furman has won a football national championship in what is now the Football Championship Subdivision (Division I-AA), making the school as well-known on the athletic fields as it is in the classroom.

For pictures of this and other ballparks from this feature, visit the photo archives.

To email the author with comments or questions, please send correspondence to footballjones AT gmail DOT com.



At the Ballpark – Fieldcrest-Cannon Stadium, Kannapolis, NC
April 21, 2008, 1:14 am
Filed under: 2008, Reviews

 Fieldcrest-Cannon Stadium

Fieldcrest-Cannon Stadium, Kannapolis, NC

Kannapolis, North Carolina is a typical small industry town. Cannon Mills first appeared in Kannapolis in the late 19th century, and they continued to produce textiles from this north Charlotte burb for the next century and a quarter. The company, later known as Fieldcrest-Cannon, provided the name for the baseball facility in Kannapolis.

There are more things for which Kannapolis is famous – including its citizens. Kannapolis was the home base of NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt (in fact, the major thoroughfare one exit south on the interstate is Dale Earnhardt Boulevard), and the local team, the Kannapolis Intimidators, gets its nickname directly from his on-track moniker. Does this stadium live up to Earnhardt’s standards? Let’s find out.

Concessions: B

The food at “The Cannon” is not tremendously imaginative in terms of offerings – think mostly ballpark food. There were a few somewhat unusual offerings (a funnel cake with chocolate, which I wasn’t brave enough to try), but things tend to stick more toward the norm here. The cheeseburgers are pretty decent, but the fries could use a little work. If you get them, hang out near the ketchup dispenser, as it will become your best friend.

One true bonus in terms of concessions is the availability of Cheerwine and Diet Cheerwine. For those of you who have never sampled this Southern “delicacy”, it is a true must upon any visit to this fair part of the country. Cheerwine is a cherry soda with a bit of cola taste, and is a good companion to the other offerings of Pepsi products in this park.

A cafe (Double Play Cafe) helps round out the concession offerings, along with a few other stands around the park. Prices are decent, as is the quality of the food.

Atmosphere: A

There is a really cool, yet tough to describe, feeling in the park. The musical soundtrack is outstanding, and I unfortunately had an hour and change to sample the music selections during a pre-game rain delay. The one low point of the musical selection was the seemingly requisite playing of “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” during one of the inning breaks. The person who got that craze started needs to take a fiddle to the head several times.

Most of the between-innings activity was understated (this is not a bad thing, trust me), and I am unsure as to whether this is a common thing for this market, or the rain held off some of the activities. There was the usual mascot race (we get it, the kid always wins, but I’ll give them a break), a contest where two kids had to put together a North Carolina Department of Agriculture jigsaw puzzle and a few other giveaways. A couple of comments on the giveaways: 1) having everyone scream for an ice cream bar may seem like a great idea, but not on a 57-degree night with swirling winds and 2) the t-shirt launcher thing did well at rewarding fans near the concession stands and the concourse area, but if your seats are near the field, forget it. I am still deaf as I write this from the kids screaming trying to get a $2 ice cream.

Kannapolis’ mascot Dub is a big bluish creature that wanders the stands and is tremendously popular with the kids. I must admit laughing at him too, as he stood in front of me while I was watching the pitcher warm up between innings, and he moved as I moved. He shook my hand twice and gave me a high-five. I seem to be attracting mascots in North Carolina parks this year.

Sight lines: A

This stadium is, for the most part, a spectator’s dream. The sight lines are beautiful, and everything that is not directly behind the press box has a clear view of the field. The seating bowl is not too tall, so even the top rows of seats have a short distance to the action on the field. The bullpens are virtually impossible to see, as the home bullpen is behind a wall and some other equipment down the left field line, and the visitors’ bullpen is behind the right field wall, with only a small cutout to show what is going on. This is about all that keeps things from being perfect in terms of seeing game action.

The view beyond the outfield wall is not overly enticing, as a number of trees and a winding road traverse the area. The stadium itself is inside a city park-type area, and this limits the scenery a bit.

Parking: C

There are tons of parking spaces, which is good, even for a park which only seats around 4700, as this one does. However, there is a $2 charge to park here, which, as I have said before, is dumb. The first park I find in the Carolinas that does not charge for parking gets an A, even if there are only five dirt-lined parking spaces behind the outfield fence. The drive into the park is nice, as there is a drive through a winding tree-lined road. Leaving the park, however, is a completely different story. The same tree-lined road backs up for quite a way as traffic tries to turn left onto the “main drag” to get back to the interstate.

Quality of baseball: C

I have seen four games this season as I write this, and three of them have ended in a 1-0 score. The Greensboro Grasshoppers (the Marlins’ low-A affiliate) defeated the homestanding Intimidators (White Sox low-A) by that score on this evening. The pitching and defense was fantastic, but the offense left a ton to be desired. The two teams combined to strike out 25 times over the course of the game, and the only run that was scored came in the top of the first inning. There was not even a ball hit to the warning track in the game. One somewhat unrelated item that I noticed was the performance of home plate umpire Mario Seneca. He was very convincing in his calls, hustled to constantly get in position, and kept control of the game.

Overall grade: B

This park has a really good vibe to it, as the people are nice, there is plenty of room to move and all of the seats are close to everything. The lack of a covered area near the seating bowl is a problem, particularly when it rains, as it did on this night. Also, if this is something to which you are sensitive, take note: there are a LOT of smokers at this park. Smoking is allowed on the concourse, and patrons really do take advantage of this. I scrambled for cover from the rain under the concession and picnic areas, and was greeted both times by smokers. I would definitely come back, however, and will likely make the effort to do so considering the proximity.

How to get there:

Fieldcrest-Cannon Stadium is easily accessible by taking exit 63 off Interstate 85 in Kannapolis. If traveling north, turn left at the top of the ramp; if traveling south, turn right. The stadium is just ahead on the right, and you will be greeted with a sign at the top of Stadium Drive.

How I got there:

Kannapolis trip

Total trip time (one-way):  45 minutes (43 miles).

You may also want to see:

See the reviews for Knights Stadium in Fort Mill, SC. Just as that park is located just south of the city center, Kannapolis is 20 miles (or so) north of the city center, and features many of the same attractions. Charlotte’s center city is easily-reached by a short drive or bus ride.

For pictures of this and other ballparks from this feature, visit the photo archives.

To email the author with comments or questions, please send correspondence to footballjones AT gmail DOT com.



At the Ballpark – Knights Stadium, Fort Mill, SC
April 14, 2008, 8:35 am
Filed under: 2008, Reviews

Knights Stadium

Knights Stadium – Fort Mill, SC

The baseball history in Charlotte, North Carolina runs deeper than most. Names from Tony Oliva to Harmon Killebrew to Cal Ripken to Manny Ramirez have roamed various pastures in the Queen City and surrounding suburbs. The legendary Griffith Park (later renamed Crockett Park) was the victim of arson in 1985, and the franchise relocated to Fort Mill, South Carolina in 1989, playing in a temporary facility until the current Knights Stadium was completed.

Charlotte’s baseball history book is currently awaiting the addition of another page, as an attempt is underway to bring a new ballpark to the 3rd Ward area of Charlotte. This would return baseball to North Carolina and would continue the revitalization of the center city. A number of attempts have been made through the legal system to stop the facility; all of the attempts have thus far failed.

We know that a movement is afoot for a new facility in North Carolina’s largest market, but is there anything wrong with the current one? Let’s find out.

Concessions: B

If it’s food variety you crave, Knights Stadium is a good place. All the typical ballpark favorites are here (nachos, popcorn, hot dogs, et al), along with some unusual offerings. There is a Papa John’s Pizza location (not recommended, as the pizza was chewy and not very hot, especially at a $5 price point), as well as a Subway location and several other standalone eateries throughout the concourse. The cheeseburger basket is a nice value, as $4.50 gets you a decent-sized and passable cheeseburger, as well as a bag of Lay’s chips. Buy your sodas in the souvenir size, as they are $3.50 in the souvenir cup versus a somewhat high $3 in 20 ounce bottles.

Knights Stadium also features the Home Run Cafe on the general admission level of the stadium, which is more of a full-service dining experience. This establishment offers great views of the game through the huge windows, as well as everything from salads to cheesesteak sandwiches to quesadillas. The cafe also offers three different all-you-can-eat theme days on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

Prices are on par with most facilities at this level, and the food selection is quite good – just steer clear of the pizza and the bottled sodas.

Atmosphere: B

(Ed. note:  This is a new category as of the final review of 2007  This replaces “Between-Innings Entertainment” and “Promotions”.)

I commented in my previous review of L.P. Frans Stadium in Hickory, NC that the public address system was really hard to hear in certain sections of the seating bowl, and Knights Stadium has the same issue. I spent the first few innings of the game sitting at one of the picnic tables on top of the berm section down the right field line, and I had to strain to hear the announcement of the players. Of course, when I moved to the upper deck general admission section, it was considerably louder – almost too much so. If the sound could be evened out a bit, this would be a nice touch.

Promotions-wise, there were quite a few nice touches at Knights Stadium. The first 2000 fans received Charlotte Knights wall calendars, which were decent enough giveaways. The better giveaway, however, is the free program I received upon entering the stadium. The program is an actual magazine-like book, and features coupons to several local establishments, rosters for both teams, some bios on Knights players and much more. Considering how most teams love to gouge fans for programs in their parks, this was a pleasant surprise. The other promotion on the evening was the typical Saturday night fireworks display. Anyone who reads my reviews knows my love of fireworks displays, and this one was very well put together.

The between-innings entertainment was, for the most part, fairly pedestrian. This is not such a bad thing, as the Charlotte market focuses mainly on the on-field action. Charlotte’s racing history came into play here, as there was the dizzy bat race, the mascot race and a race of two children on customized bicycles made to look like choppers. There was also a very lame effort at a contest that featured two children trying to do push-ups, and the one that completed the most won a prize.

One final note – the on-field emcee needs to avoid giving play-by-play of every single thing that happens in a contest. I was so happy for the end of the contests for the obvious reason of the return of baseball, but also because the emcee would finally be quiet.

Sight lines: A

The park does not look like anything special as you approach the entrance, but once inside, the view is rather beautiful. The game action is visible from just about everywhere in the park except for the concourses in the general admission upper deck area. There are berm areas down each line, and a series of picnic tables at the top of the right-field berm that provide a comfortable seat and a great view. The general admission seats, while rather high, still provide a great view of the action on the field. The advantage to the upper deck is that you can see a play develop from above, which is handy if a runner is trying to score from second on a ball hit to the outfield. There is no wraparound concourse in the park, but the concourse areas that do exist are nice and wide and provide good views of the game action.

Parking: B

Parking will never be a problem at Knights Stadium. There is a figurative sea of open parking places surrounding the stadium, and there are two lanes for entering the parking area and the same two lanes for exiting after the game. There are two methods of entrance and exit, as well, which is very helpful in terms of traffic control.

The one downfall of the parking area is the cost. The Knights charge $3 to park in their vast lots, and with no public transit serving the stadium, this is disappointing. There is no excuse to charge patrons to park when there are as many spaces as there are here.

Quality of baseball: B

Charlotte defeated Columbus 9-4 on the night I attended, and with both clubs in the Triple-A International League (affiliated with the White Sox and Nationals, respectively), the overall play was about what one would expect. Most of the Columbus players are former big leaguers, as well as quite a few players on the Knights’ squad. Columbus starter Jason Stanford pitched four innings, giving up eight hits and six earned runs, while walking out three and striking out three. Amazingly enough, this actually lowered his ERA from 16.62 to 15.12. The offenses were on full display here, as both teams combined for 13 runs and 23 hits.

Overall grade: B+

A lot of people who have visited this park have less nice things to say about it, as the drive to South Carolina (though short) and lack of ambiance behind the outfield wall turn some people off. The key thing about this park is that it is truly a comfortable baseball viewing experience. There are some annoyances (lose the “Cotton Eyed Joe” and other typical corny ballpark music, guys, especially when you had a great soundtrack of music playing before the game), but overall, it just really felt good to be at this park. There are also quite a few really nice souvenir choices, but avoid the team store unless you are not prone to claustrophobia.

How to get there:

Knights Stadium is just off Interstate 77 (look for the water tower painted like a baseball) at exit 88, Gold Hill Road. The exit is the second exit into (or second-to-last leaving, depending on the direction from which you are approaching) South Carolina. Follow the signs and lights, as the stadium is just off the interstate.

How I got there:

The trip

Total trip time (one-way): 17 miles (20 minutes).

You may also want to see:

  • Columbia, SC. Columbia is about an hour or so (approximately 70 miles) south of the park via Interstate 77, and is known mainly for being the home of the University of South Carolina. The Riverbanks Zoo can also be located in Columbia, and is a great place to take kids of any age for a short day trip.
  • Charlotte. The center city area of Charlotte is about 13 miles or 15 minutes north of Fort Mill, and is one of the business and entertainment meccas of both North Carolina and the south. The Carolina Panthers, Charlotte Bobcats and Charlotte Checkers hockey team all call the city home, and the city itself is divided into a number of diverse “neighborhoods” that offer fine dining and quality entertainment. The historic Lowe’s Motor Speedway NASCAR facility is also north of the city in Concord, and is reachable via Interstate 85.

 



At the Ballpark – L.P. Frans Stadium, Hickory, NC
April 7, 2008, 5:22 am
Filed under: 2008, Reviews

Welcome to the return of At the Ballpark for 2008!  Please email any ideas or comments to footballjones (at) gmail (dot) com.

And now…on with the show!

L.P. Frans Stadium

L.P. Frans Stadium – Hickory, NC

L.P. Frans Stadium opened its doors to Hickory, North Carolina’s baseball fans 15 years ago in 1993, and it has since hosted the South Atlantic League affiliates of the Chicago White Sox and Pittsburgh Pirates. Sluggers such as Carlos Lee and Magglio Ordonez have called this ballpark home during its existence.

An interesting note about this ballpark is that the city in which it sits is split among three counties (Catawba, Burke and Caldwell). The Catawba/Burke line is just up the street from the ballpark. Do the three counties in the area triple the baseball fun?  Let’s find out.

Concessions: F

A number of factors all converged to produce this grade. Where do we start? Considering that this stadium seats over 5000 people, having only two concession stands is probably not the best idea. Making the two stands even worse is the fact that neither of them have a clear view of the game action. The stands face away from the field.

The food selection is tremendously limited – if you don’t like burgers, dogs, peanuts, chips, nachos or popcorn, you’re probably out of luck. There is pizza, but there’s a problem with that, too. The sign on the pizza stand offers pizza by the slice, but when a customer tried to order it that way, they were told that it wasn’t selling that well, so only whole pizzas were available. Do not advertise things you cannot or will not deliver.

Speaking of concession problems, a number of people ordered hot dogs from the four active windows on the third base side. The only problem was that there were no hot dogs ready at the time, so the customers had to wait. Instead of serving the other customers, who were not waiting for hot dogs or something else, the worker manning my line just stood there for several minutes waiting. I missed over an inning of the game due to this wait. This is unacceptable.

If you plan on eating at the ballpark, bring a lot of money. The “jumbo” popcorn I got (which was laughable, as much bigger bags are available at Wal-Mart and most places for considerably cheaper) was $3, and a bottled soda was also $3. Burgers range between $3-5, and a burger and a soda can cost more than you pay for your ticket. Small portions, high prices and questionable selection will probably encourage you to eat somewhere outside the ballpark.

Atmosphere: B

(Ed. note:  This is a new category as of the final review of 2007  This replaces “Between-Innings Entertainment” and “Promotions”.)

One of the most beneficial things about going to a ballpark in a city with which you are not entirely familiar is to listen to the public address announcer mention the names of the players. This is nearly impossible to do, however, unless sitting in the seating bowl right behind the plate. The PA volume is really low, and having to strain to hear the (frankly, pretty funny) public address announcer takes away from the enjoyment of the atmosphere of the game.

The between-innings activities contained a lot of the usual “favorites”, such as the dizzy bat race. Where this park differs from most, however, is that it had a few non-standard promotions, including the egg toss, the tire race, and one of the funnier ones I have ever seen in a park, the Build Your Own Burger contest. The way this works is one partner of the two on the “team” (both are dressed as buns) poses as the bottom bun on the ground, while the other partner piles various burger toppings on them, then jumps on top to “complete” the burger. I normally groan at a lot of between-innings events, but this one actually got a laugh from me. Good job.

This stadium also mirrors most in the south, as the people in and around the ballpark were tremendously nice. Many of the team and stadium employees went out of their way to say hello to me, not even knowing who I was. I even got to speak with one of the two team mascots, Conrad the Crawdad. Conrad (male) and Candy (female) Crawdad wander the park playing with kids, and the kids seem to love them both.

Sight lines: C-

The ballpark itself is in a bowl area in a city park, and there are not a lot of things to impede one’s view outside. This is a different story inside, however. One of the appealing parts of walking into a ballpark is the so-called “money shot”, as the entire stadium is visible within one’s vision from the concourse. This does not exist in L.P. Frans Stadium, as the entrance is behind the plate, and one gets a great view of brick – and lots of it – straight ahead upon entering the park. The game action is only visible if you walk down one of the lines to get around the brick walls, or peek through one of the narrow tunnels leading to the seating bowls. There is also the aforementioned problem with vision from the concession areas.

Once arriving at your seat, another problem presents itself. The protective net that normally surrounds the home plate area in most parks surrounds virtually the entire seating bowl at L.P. Frans Stadium. This inhibits the view of the field from almost any seat in the house, and the only real respite comes on the top of the concourse or sitting in one of the couple of seats near the photographers’ cutouts at the bottom sections of the net. The net did not appear to even help much with the foul ball problem, as plenty of balls still reached the seating bowls.

Parking: C

This park combines one of my most favorite and one of my least favorite occurrences. My most favorite – parking within a very close proximity of the stadium – is very much in play here, as every spot is within a very short walk of the stadium. No shuttle is required, and you will not be gasping for air as you arrive at your seat.

The least favorite? Paying for parking. This is particularly egregious here, as all of the parking is on the property. There is not a city-run parking garage, a parking company charging “event parking” fees for their limited spots, just charging for the privilege to park on their property. Sure, $2 is a small enough fee, but in a town the size of Hickory, charging for parking is horrible.

Quality of baseball: B-

A doubleheader was played on this day (doubleheaders in the low Class A South Atlantic League are seven inning games), and both games resulted in 1-0 Hickory victories. Neither game lasted two hours. Both games ended in walk-off fashion, with one being on a base hit and the other on a wild pitch. The double that set up the victory in the first game was apparently lost in the sun. The pitching was far ahead of the hitting in both games, which is expected coming out of spring training. Pirate prospect Marcus Davis appeared for Hickory, and did not particularly impress. This should change as the weather warms and the hitters catch up. The defense was crisp at times and steady at most others, with a couple of gaffes here and there.

Overall grade: C

I was asked my first reaction when speaking to my father after leaving the ballpark, and all I could muster was “eh”. The park is pretty, and has some very interesting characteristics (the quadruple-decker wall in right, for instance) and some not-so-good characteristics (the virtual entirety of the seating bowl is uncovered, making games miserable in rainy or extremely hot conditions). There is very little atmosphere around the park, save for the city park surrounding the stadium. There is a large Pepsi plant beyond the outfield fence, but not much else. The people are really nice, and the baseball was decent, but the overall feeling of the stadium is very average. I expected a bit more from this park, especially with the other nice facilities in the South Atlantic League.

How to get there:

Take Interstate 40 from the east or west of Hickory to exit 123 A/B (US Highway 321 North). Once on 321 North, turn left at the fifth stop light (Clement Boulevard). The park will be ahead on the right.

How I got there:

Total trip time (one-way):  72 miles (1:15).

You may also want to see:

  • Asheville. Asheville is approximately 80 miles west of Hickory, and this beautiful mountainous area contains a number of attractions such as the Biltmore Estate with easy access to the Blue Ridge Parkway. This reasonably-sized city has something for just about anyone.
  • Charlotte. Charlotte is 75 miles or so to the south via US 321 and Interstate 85, and is one of the business and entertainment meccas of both North Carolina and the south. Charlotte contains art museums, history centers, professional sports and music venues to provide the kind of eclectic mix expected from a market of its size.

 To see photos from this visit and many others, visit my ballpark photo page!