Brian’s At the Ballpark Archives

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

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

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

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

Concessions: B+

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

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

Atmosphere: B+

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

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

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

Sight lines: C

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

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

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

Parking: C

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

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

Quality of baseball: B

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

Overall grade: B

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

How to get there:

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


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

Nationals Park - Click photo for more images of this visit

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

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

Concessions: A

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

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

Atmosphere: A

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

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

Sight lines: B

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

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

Parking: F

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

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

Quality of baseball: F

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

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

Overall grade: A-

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

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

How to get there:

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

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

1500 South Capitol St., SE
Washington, DC 20003

You may also want to see:

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

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

At the Ballpark – Burlington Athletic Stadium, Burlington, NC
August 6, 2009, 2:53 am
Filed under: 2009, Reviews

Click photo for more pictures from this visit

At the Ballpark – Burlington Athletic Stadium, Burlington, NC

Burlington Athletic Stadium holds a pretty interesting distinction. The park itself was actually constructed in Danville, VA in the mid-1950s before being transported 55 miles or so south to Burlington and rebuilt. Burlington, despite being a rather small market, has a pretty strong baseball history. This history is at least partially on display upon arrival at the park, as an “all-time” Burlington team’s photos adorn one of the walls along the stadium walkway. Many impressive names, including Manny Ramirez and Jim Thome, have called Burlington home.

The affiliation in Burlington has now changed to that of the Kansas City Royals. Do the Royals have the same kind of magic as the Indians before them? Let’s find out.

Concessions: D

This was disappointing. I’ve been to a number of small ballparks (Burlington only seats 3500), and the effort was still made to have some sort of presentation. Unfortunately, there’s not much of one here.

I ordered the nachos and was given a tray, a bag of chips and a canister of cheese. The price wasn’t horrible (I guess), but how hard is it to heat up some cheese and put it on tortilla chips? There are very few heated options at the park, as cheeseburgers and hamburgers are not even on the menu at the main concession stand, the pizza is taken from a stand-up warming unit and very few other choices exist.

One positive is that you can get Cheerwine from the fountain at the park, so the Diet Cheerwine I ordered was a nice touch. My best recommendation is to eat before you get to the park, but save room for a Cheerwine or an RC cola.

Atmosphere: A

If you like baseball, baseball and nothing but baseball, this is your place. There are very few between-innings promotions, and the ones they do offer are over quickly. There is the requisite mascot race, and a few other small items got tossed in as well. The people are tremendously friendly (and most seem to know each other), the music selection is good and Burlington is just a comfortable place to watch a game. The feeling is tough to quantify, but you’ll know if you ever get a chance to visit.

One other touch that I loved – and I first saw this in Dunedin, which led to a great email exchange between one of their team employees and myself – was that a team employee personally thanked patrons as they left the ballpark. In a time where people all over are having to watch expenses due to poor economic conditions, this is a gesture that costs a team absolutely nothing and can earn them so much more. Fans love giveaways, but they also love to be shown appreciation. Great move by the Royals.

Sight lines: B

This grade may go up a bit on a night with less fans in attendance, but for the night I was there, there were a few times where I had problems seeing things. The only seats available were at the picnic tables down the left field line, which may or may not be open when the ballpark is not at capacity. Most of the action is still visible from this area, but be warned that you will be looking through a chain link fence if you are sitting down.

One of the bigger positives of the ballpark is also a negative at times. There is a standing room area down the left field line where you can stand literally feet from the Royals’ bullpen, and watch pitchers warm up and talk to them. I love this feature in ballparks, and have since I first saw it in Myrtle Beach’s ballpark in the late 1980s, but when relievers are standing up, your view of the plate can sometimes be a bit obstructed.

Parking: B

Burlington Athletic Stadium offers what should be plenty of parking for a normal night at the park. The night I attended, however, several fans mentioned this was the biggest crowd they had ever witnessed there, and the parking lot reflected this. There is a gravel lot behind the third base side, which is free (as it should be), but it quickly became full. There is street parking along the surface streets on either side of the park, which is probably a better play than trying to fumble with finding a parking space in the lot. The route leaving the park is a bit tough (more on this later), but not slow.

Quality of baseball: D

I will again insert my standard disclaimer here. I realize that players at this level have host families, and that they are all just out of high school and college. A lot of them are still learning the game. I get that. That said…

The Elizabethton Twins defeated the homestanding Royals 4-3. The game was not really as close as the score would indicate, as the Royals were 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position and left seven men on base. The home team had two batters in the lineup with averages over .250 as the game ended. Most of the players on the Royals club were younger guys who were still learning fundamentals, while the Twins club had more college players and more “advanced” talent. I will be interested to watch how both sets of players develop as they advance through their respective systems.

Overall grade: B

Burlington Athletic Stadium is old, and that is evident in a visit here, but old can be good. There is nothing really outstanding about this park, but it is quite enjoyable in its own way. The good (nice people, intimate feel, parking – for the most part) far outweighs the bad (concessions, weird seating area and horrendous post-game fireworks show). This was definitely a park that earned another visit if I’m ever in the area.

How to get there:

There is not really an easy way to get to Burlington Athletic Stadium. The stadium is in a city park setting, and is thus not near a major thoroughfare. The closest road into and out of Burlington is US 70. The easiest way to get to the stadium is to follow the directions on the team’s website, which are as follows:

From I40/85: Take exit 145. Head North on Maple Ave. and go approx. 2 miles. Take a right onto Mebane St.. Continue on Mebane St. for 2 miles. Take a right onto Beaumont Ave. Follow Beaumont Ave. until it ends; the stadium is on the left.

At the Ballpark – Grayson Stadium, Savannah, GA
July 5, 2009, 1:16 am
Filed under: 2009, Reviews
Grayson Stadium - click photo for more photos of this visit

Grayson Stadium - click photo for more photos of this visit

Savannah, Georgia is a port city steeped in history. The formation of the city took place in 1733, and Savannah has witnessed wars, colonization and numerous other events. The Historic District of Savannah is one of the nation’s oldest and largest.

Savannah also is home to a great sports history. The current home of the Sand Gnats, Grayson Stadium, is the oldest minor league facility still operating. The stadium was built in 1927 and renovated in 1940-41 after a hurricane. The facility has even earned the moniker “Historic” Grayson Stadium.

Does the stadium in 2009 live up to its history? Let’s find out.

Concessions: C

If you like “safe” (read: expected) ballpark concessions, you’ll be fine with the concessions at Grayson. The food is good quality (I had the pretzel with cheese), and the prices are not terrible. There is very little distinctive or unique to the area here, but what does exist is good.

A couple of things of note here: 1) Ice cream is pretty tough to come by in this park. Summer days and nights in Savannah are extremely hot – it was 95 degrees at game time for my visit – and you can only get ice cream at a couple of random stands, and the selection is not too varied. They do have snow cones as well, but it would be nice to see more availability throughout the park. 2) The vendors wandering the stands are very charismatic and nice. One vendor, Moses, was very cordial to the fans, and even offered to bring a fan back some napkins on his next visit. This was great to see, and I enjoyed the southern hospitality.

Atmosphere: C

Baseball is, for the most part, the main attraction in Savannah. There were a few between-innings diversions, including videos on the video board (though the audio from the videos was impossible to hear as the sound was distorted), fan boxing, the slingshot and the mascot race. Music between innings was not annoying.

The main problem with the between-innings entertainment was the on-field staffer working the microphone. I am unsure whether the sound on her microphone was turned up too high or she was just screaming that loudly into the microphone, but every time she spoke had me scrambling to cover my ears. Nothing personal, as she was very charismatic and seemed comfortable with the between-innings contestants, but fixing her sound would help.

Sight lines: F

A lot of this is really not the fault of the team or those running the stadium, but there are very few clear seats at Grayson Stadium. There is a net circling the virtual entirety of the seating area (something that you know from reading these pieces is a real annoyance to your humble correspondent), and the same thing that helped a ton on a warm July night – the roof covering the seating area – caused a hindrance to being able to view some of the action.

When sitting behind the first base dugout, there are a number of things that can take place on the field that are blocked due to the support beams for the roof and the light poles. If a ball is hit to most of center or right-center, forget it. If a ball is hit down the right field line, you will lose it as it approaches the corner. Even the visitors’ bullpen is tough to see, as it is down the left field line and behind a fence. Finally, there were post-game fireworks, and anyone under the roof had virtually no chance of seeing anything, as the fireworks were shot way above roof level. Again, this is not the fault of those who run the park, but just be prepared if you sit anywhere in the grandstand near the Sand Gnats’ dugout.

Parking: A

Grayson Stadium is situated within Savannah’s Daffin Park, and game parking is free, which is a big plus. Most of the parking is in a grassy, non-paved area, but the walk to the park is short and egress is not terrible.

Quality of baseball: C

This grade is somewhat deceiving, particularly when you realize that Asheville (Rockies) defeated the homestanding Sand Gnats (Mets) 5-1. However, this was nowhere near the Savannah team I saw defeat Augusta 18-3 earlier in the year, despite having a lot of the same players.

Asheville starter Juan Nicasio was dominant, striking out 12 in 6 2/3 innings. Savannah was held hitless from the 3rd to 8th innings. Savannah’s starter, Kyle Allen, also pitched well at times, but hit two men and walked two while allowing three earned runs on five hits in five innings. The Sand Gnats managed only four hits – all from their 4-5-6 spots. They managed to mount a small rally in the 9th, only to see the 7-8-9 hitters all strike out in succession to end the game.

Overall grade: C-

The stadium itself was fine, and the setting is excellent. The city park surrounding the field is a nice touch.

However, there were a lot of things (again, out of the stadium handlers’ control, for the most part) that made the experience rather bad. I have mentioned a lot of these things, but saved the biggest one for last: the fan IQ. I realize that fireworks nights bring out a lot of “non-traditional” fans, but it seemed to be much more noticeable on this evening. It actually got to the point where I started making a mental list of how to spot people who were at a baseball game and cared nothing about what was taking place on the field.

Fans came strolling in late – some as late as the eighth inning – and continued to try to find seats in obviously full sections. This led to fans standing in the aisles for quite long periods trying to survey the area. This could have been resolved by having a team employee stand at the bottom of the sections guiding fans to available seats. Also, a number of fans were up and down throughout the night, mostly to make repeated return trips to buy beer. There did not seem to be a “last call” at this park, despite the two-drink limit per purchase. It is very rare to see parks that do not cut off customers after the seventh inning. Finally, the fans in front of me were far more concerned with everything but the game, including standing up in front of me to talk to their girlfriend, spending time texting back and forth and taking repeated pictures of themselves sitting in the stands. I know this will make me seem to be a total grouch, but the lack of courtesy from fans was alarming.

How to get there:

This is also a bit of a problem. Be very careful if following directions from your GPS, as you will likely be guided through some parts of Savannah that you would rather not see. It is suggested to take Harry S. Truman Parkway, as this is the closest “major” road to Victory Drive (US 80), the road on which the ballpark sits. There are also some directions available on the club’s website, and if you have the ability to use those, do so.

The street address for the park is:

1401 East Victory Drive
Savannah, GA 31404

You may also want to see:

  • Tybee Island. This barrier island near Savannah is near the convergence of the Savannah River and the Atlantic Ocean. Much like the barrier islands just to the north in South Carolina, there are marshes and a sandy beach area, and Tybee makes for a nice coastal getaway.

  • Savannah’s Historic District. As mentioned before, Savannah is loaded with history, and the Historic District and riverfront area provide great shopping, dining and tourism opportunities. Many streets are lined with cobblestones and walking paths. Forsyth Park is also nearby, featuring a memorial area, a fountain and a tree-lined walking area.

At the Ballpark – Joseph P. Riley, Jr. Park, Charleston, SC
May 28, 2009, 3:05 am
Filed under: 2009, Reviews


Joseph P. Riley, Jr. Park - click photo for more photos of this visit

Charleston, South Carolina is a port city known for its churches and its military presence. The history in Charleston runs deep, from architecture to methods of speech. There have also been a number of television shows, films and books set in the lowcountry, giving this area a worldwide sense of appeal and intrigue.

This same sense of history extends to the baseball diamond, as baseball first made its appearance in the Holy City in 1886. Affiliated baseball came to Charleston 50 years ago, featuring such future big-leaguers as Danny Jackson, Kevin Seitzer, B.J. Upton and Carl Crawford, among others; however, the 50 years in Charleston has not produced a championship or playoff victory.

Does the lack of postseason success mar the experience at the park? Let’s find out.

Concessions: C

In looking at the concession offerings on the team’s website before my visit, I was hopeful about the number of offerings at the park. The food selection is fairly varied, and there are a few things one would not expect to see at a ballpark, including a number of hot dog “creations”.

Upon arriving, however, the concessions disappointed. A large majority of the concession areas are crammed into the third base side of the park, and as convenient as this may seem considering the main entrance on this side, there are a couple of problems in implementation. The abundance of stands (including the team store) on this side of the concourse creates a huge problem with crowding before the game starts. I also immediately gravitated toward the Mellow Mushroom pizza stand, but my slice of pizza was overpriced ($4 for a slice) and undercooked. It also did not taste like any Mellow Mushroom pizza I had previously eaten.

I would recommend bringing a picnic lunch or getting something from one of the fast food establishments in the area and eating in Brittlebank Park before the game (see the Parking section of this review) instead of getting concessions.

Atmosphere: B

Charleston has a very comfortable ballpark. The pre-game music soundtrack was enjoyable and the video scoreboard was not overused.

The PA announcer uses a wireless microphone and walks around the park to do various things at times. He alternated between amusing and annoying, with the annoying “high point” being when he copied the “auto-tune” fad going around the web now to announce the Lexington lineup using a synthesizer during a couple of innings. He did conduct an interview with the player of the game on the video board after the game had ended, which was a nice touch.

They also had the ZOOperstars in town during this visit, which was mildly funny, despite the act being the same as it is in every town. The between-innings contests were very common to most parks (save for the hot dog toss), but were unobtrusive.

Sight lines: A

This park is very well-designed for the paying customer. I have seen some reviews (including one from the great Brian Merzbach at Ballpark Reviews) indicating that the water was not visible; however, my seats on the third base side afforded me decent views of the Ashley River beyond the outfield fence. The only problem as far as sight lines has to do with the left field corner, which inexplicably features a foul pole with the left field fence several feet behind the pole, causing a “blind spot” in the corner for any balls hit in that direction.

I strongly recommend the general admission seating on the third base side, as it is a great value for the money ($5 per ticket, not counting any convenience fees), though a bit far from the action. These seats also allow you the aforementioned good views of the water.

Parking: B

This can be an interesting situation, as there are two distinct parking possibilities at Riley Park. The stadium is set directly next to Brittlebank Park, which faces the water. Part of the parking is available at Brittlebank Park, with the rest being in lots on the side street that travels near the park. Parking is $5 at either location, which is a ripoff.

That said, choose the Brittlebank location. No matter where you park in Charleston, you will have a considerable walk to the stadium. If you choose to park at Brittlebank, you can have a nice meal overlooking the water, then walk along palm-lined sidewalks to the stadium. Despite the excessive charge for the privilege, this is truly the way to go.

Quality of baseball: B

This game resulted in a 4-3 victory for the homestanding Riverdogs (Yankees A, South Atlantic League) over the Lexington Legends (Astros A), but the game itself did not match the score. The teams combined for 18 hits and 13 men left on base, and the teams started a bit choppy. An error from Charleston left fielder Dan Brewer on a reasonably easy grounder that got under his glove and rolled to the wall led to Lexington’s first run.

The game did seem to settle down quite a bit as it advanced, though, as the two teams combined for 3 2/3 innings of hitless relief to go along with some solid defensive play. Ambidextrous Charleston closer Pat Venditte recorded the save (his 12th on the season to that point), and it was definitely a memorable experience to watch him pitch, despite the annoying “slide to the left!” “slide to the right!” crowd actions (led by the PA announcer) whenever Venditte switched hands to face a batter.

Overall grade: B

This was my first visit to Charleston, and I love the city – and like the ballpark. There is great potential at Riley Park, including the possible relocation of some of the concessions, eliminating the “test of strength” carnival-type attraction behind the general admission seating and some other minor improvements that could really make this a jewel among South Atlantic League parks. As it was, I still had a very comfortable and enjoyable experience, and the considerably toned-down atmosphere versus what I had experienced in Greensboro was a wonderful touch.

How to get there:

Take US 17 (just past the I-26 intersection) in Charleston to Lockwood Drive. The stadium is on the left, just past Brittlebank Park and the Marriott. Lockwood is the last major intersection before the bridge crossing the Ashley River. There are also directions from any area of Charleston available on the Riverdogs’ website.

You may also want to see:

  • Charleston beaches. Folly Beach, Kiawah Island and Isle of Palms (among others) are a short drive from Charleston and feature lots of sun, sand and water-based activities. The humidity in Charleston can be a real problem in the summer, but with all these beaches nearby, you won’t mind it as much.

  • Historic Charleston. There are numerous historic buildings and sites in Charleston, and you can see them all from your feet, a carriage or your vehicle. You can see mansions, churches and eclectic homes, which makes for a fun day of being a tourist.

At the Ballpark – NewBridge Bank Park, Greensboro, NC
May 3, 2009, 9:36 pm
Filed under: 2009, Reviews


NewBridge Bank Park

NewBridge Bank Park

(click photo for more pictures of this visit)

Greensboro, North Carolina has graced the Piedmont with professional baseball for over a century. Throughout numerous affiliations, leagues and stadiums, the tradition of baseball has remained strong. A large portion of that tradition in Greensboro was made in World War Memorial Stadium, which opened in 1926 and remains open to this day. The stadium even appeared in the movie Bull Durham.

The existing facility in Greensboro was nearing its 80th birthday when the new home of professional baseball in Greensboro made its debut. NewBridge Bank Park hosts the Greensboro Grasshoppers, the single-A affiliate of the Florida Marlins.

Can a Marlins affiliate draw support without an apparent natural connection to the area? Let’s find out.

Concessions: B

My initial feeling on the concessions available in the park was a good one – and then I tried to actually buy something. Most of the food offerings are what you will find in other parks, but there were two main drawbacks.

The first problem was the prices. Things are a little expensive for a park at this classification, as a personal pizza and souvenir soda cost me $10. For reference, a bigger souvenir soda and a “boat” of garlic fries cost me $11 at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. One of the relatively few unusual offerings at the park, stuffed pretzels, will run you $4.

The second – and bigger – problem was the service. I had to repeat my order several times, and had to wait almost ten minutes to get a personal pizza. Fans who ordered whole regular size pizzas got their food before mine came up. I was lucky not to have missed the opening of the game. A lot of the concession workers in this classification are volunteers, but I was not very pleased with the service and the delay. The pizza, once I finally got it, was greasy and average.

Atmosphere: B-

As nice and unobtrusive as the atmosphere was in Augusta, Greensboro is the polar opposite.

If you like to go to games to, you know, enjoy the game itself, NewBridge Bank Park is not the place for you. There is literally a sound effect for the moments between every pitch (if you’ve ever seen the episode of the television show Family Guy where Brian and Stewie host a morning radio show and load it with loud, wacky sound effects, this was pretty close), and between the PA announcer and the on-field emcee (“Spaz”, complete with wireless headset microphone), there was plenty of noise to be had. There was a “woo-woo!” call and response with the fans that must have been done 20 times if it was done once, along with several other sounds that were repeatedly played. Every event during the game had a song, a sound effect or both. It was total overkill, especially compared to the really good musical soundtrack playing as everyone milled around the concourse before the game.

The promotions were, for the most part, pretty common. There was a Deal or No Deal knockoff, a Neese’s Country Sausage race (which was interesting, if not derivative), and the usual suspects, including sumo wrestling, build-a-burger, and the mascot race. I just got the impression that it was more about the goofy sounds, the wacky personalities and the promotions than the baseball, and that was disappointing.

Sight lines: C

I was feeling pretty excited when I booked my tickets for this game. I purchased seats in the second row directly behind the visiting dugout, and I expected to have a pretty good view of the action. I soon saw why those seats were available.

There is a net that runs along the entirety of the seating bowl (probably because people aren’t paying attention to the game due to all the ADD-riddled wackiness going on around them), and it hinders the view of most of the lower-level seats. I started to feel as though I was watching a game through a chain-link fence without paying admission after a while, and moving up or out to the berm areas to get away from the net defeats the purpose.

The overall sight lines in the park are reasonably good, and no seat feels far away from the action. The net, however, detracts from the entire experience, despite the apparent placement to keep all of the fans safe.

Parking: B

There is certainly no problem with locating parking near the ballpark. There are multiple lots surrounding the ballpark (I used the one behind the left field gate, and would absolutely recommend it if you don’t have will call tickets, as will call is on the other side of the park), and most lots charge $3-$5. I am still no fan of paying to park, but the lots are close and spacious. Fans may also use the parking decks in downtown Greensboro at no charge after 6pm and on the weekends, but those are a bit trickier to locate and further from the park. Looking at a map is suggested if this is your chosen route.

Getting to the park is relatively easy once downtown, as the signage directing you to the park is ample. It is also easy to exit the downtown area, as there are plenty of surface streets. Just make sure to familiarize yourself with the way you need to get back to I-40 or 85, as there are a lot of one-way streets and not a lot of directional indicators.

Quality of baseball: A

Part of the reason I love the South Atlantic League is because I can usually expect a quality effort every time out on the circuit. Sure, there are duds, but the play is usually quite good for a low-A league. This game did not disappoint.

Greensboro defeated the Delmarva Shorebirds (Orioles A affiliate) 7-3 behind a pretty strong effort from starter Brad Hand and some timely hitting. (Ed. Note: This also breaks the five-game losing streak of home teams for my reviews!) Greensboro first baseman Ben Lasater – who was also on this Grasshoppers team last year when I saw them in Kannapolis – got the night off, despite his .415 average.

This game had pretty much everything – great defense, good pitching (for the most part) and even a couple of pickoffs of Grasshopper runners (which would drive me crazy as a coach). First baseman Brandon Turner and right fielder Isaac Galloway also homered for Greensboro.

Overall grade: B+

This grade may surprise you a bit, but I really did enjoy myself here. The stadium was very comfortable, and had a pretty good buzz throughout the game. The park is set in downtown Greensboro, and it is rather picturesque. I got to be among an announced crowd of 5709 (in a park that holds just under 7500) and take in a great game on a beautiful night.

The park was built to double-A specifications, and it felt a lot more like a facility at that level than some of the ones I have visited. If the club tones down the over-the-top wackiness and remembers that the focus should be on the field, not in the stands, there is the strong potential to make that jump work.  I might also recommend that the club use their really nice video scoreboard in right field to display what a batter has done in the game to that point.  Each at-bat features a static photo of the batter at the plate, and that would be one way to again improve on the baseball portion of the experience.

How to get there:

The easiest way to get to the park is to take the business loop of I-40 in Greensboro to exit 218B (Freeman Mill Road). Freeman Mill Road turns into Edgeworth Street, and will take you directly by the ballpark. There are also plenty of signs available to guide you. Should it be necessary, the street address of NewBridge Bank Park is 408 Bellemeade Street in Greensboro.

You may also want to see:

  • North Carolina Zoo. The zoological park for the state is located just a short drive away in Asheboro, and there are exhibits to keep animal and nature lovers of all ages happy. Speaking from experience, plan for an entire day if you visit, as the park is extremely large.

  • Grandover Resort golf courses. The Grandover Resort features two professional golf courses, and if golfing is your thing, this is probably the first place you want to check out. The resort is a beautiful place, even if you don’t golf.

At the Ballpark – Lake Olmstead Stadium, Augusta, GA
April 20, 2009, 3:29 am
Filed under: 2009, Reviews


(Ed. note:  To see pictures of this visit, please visit this link).

If you ask any sports fan – particularly around the beginning of April – to give you his first response about Augusta, Georgia, the answer you receive should be fairly obvious.

The Masters.

This east Georgia city is the home of the legendary Augusta National Golf Club, which plays host every year to the aforementioned major golf tournament. Many of golf’s greats have cemented their legacy here, and the occasional unknown also gets the chance to don the green jacket. There is not an abundance of other sports in Augusta, though, so this yearly showcase is the nail on which the city hangs its sporting hat.

Professional baseball arrived in Augusta just over two decades ago. While there is not the baseball history found in other cities (the small list of major leaguers who played in Augusta includes Kevin Youkilis and Hanley Ramirez, among others), there is some star power in the front office. The Greenjackets are owned by Cal Ripken, Jr. and his Ripken Baseball group. The team plays in Augusta’s Lake Olmstead Stadium. The stadium was built in 1995, but the city of Augusta is already discussing the possibility of building a new park for the club in downtown Augusta. This is, of course, contingent upon financing and other economic factors.

Is the current facility a hole in one or a double bogey? Let’s find out.

Concessions: A

There is not the most tremendous variance of offerings in Lake Olmstead Stadium, but what is offered is quite impressive in both portion size and value. The best value can be found in the “baskets” offered at concession stands, available with hamburgers, cheeseburgers, grilled chicken sandwiches and chicken tenders. My choice was the chicken tender basket, and for $6, I got three gigantic chicken tenders and a sizeable portion of french fries. Coke Zero is also available as a beverage choice, which is a plus.

The usual suspects are also found here, including hot dogs, corn dogs, brats, pretzels and peanuts. Southern staple boiled peanuts are also available, among other snack items. For those who drink beer, there is a decent selection of domestic and imported beers, and Dippin’ Dots ice cream is available for dessert.

Prices are reasonable and what you receive for those prices is more than acceptable.

Atmosphere: B

Lake Olmstead is the prototypical “small town” park – though Augusta is not exactly a small town. Most of the promotions taking place between innings were easily forgettable. The between-innings fare featured the dizzy bat race, t-shirt toss, some sort of “pepperoni throw” where frisbees that resembled pepperoni pieces were thrown onto a pizza crust-like item on the ground and several other fairly unobtrusive events. The PA announcer and on-field emcee interrupted the game action once when getting confused over the number of outs left in the inning, but it seemed lighthearted.

The music was not over the top or excessively loud, the PA announcer was not a cornball and the focus was mostly on the baseball. The only real complaint was that the scoreboard was not accurate most of the time. The score was wrong a number of times, the incorrect player or number was listed on the board several other times and it was mostly a guessing game as to who was batting, what the score was or how many outs there were. The scoreboard is very generic – no video screens, no animations, just the linescore and the batter.

Sight lines: B-

The sights at Lake Olmstead are a combination of the good and the bad.

The good is that literally every fixed seat in the park is within a very short distance from the field of play. The top level of general admission does not require binoculars or a telescope, and still feels as though it is right on top of the action. The field level seats are even better, as you are within mere feet of the game going on. With that said, be aware of foul balls in this park. They fly toward the seats at high rates of speed.

The bad is that there are a few impeding factors to your view of the game. The general admission section about which I just spoke has support beams holding up the covered grandstand area. There are fans on the ceiling of the seating areas, which is nice, but the support beams block the views from some seats. Choose wisely in the general admission area. Also, if you go to get concessions, the stands are both behind the seating bowl and slightly below it. This means you will miss any action that takes place while getting something to eat.

Parking: B

This stadium is in the vicinity of a city park, and thus, parking on the stadium site proper is somewhat limited. If you proceed down Milledge Road past the stadium, there is plenty of free parking in grassy and unpaved areas within a short walk of the park. This may be a problem if it rains, but was fine on the clear night for which I was in attendance. I also noticed the Humane Society charging $5 to park in their lot just past the outfield wall, but there is no need to do this. There is plenty of free parking within reasonable walking distance. Ingress and egress are also relatively easy, as there are multiple routes into and out of the ballpark.

Quality of baseball: D

Savannah (Mets’ low-A affiliate) defeated the homestanding Greenjackets (Giants) 18-3. This should be all you need to hear about this game. Every batter except one for Savannah had a hit, and despite there not being a homer until Savannah’s last at-bat, there was plenty of offense on their side. Augusta did not get a hit until the sixth inning, and most of their offensive output came after the game was already decided.

Please keep in mind when reading this that I know host families read these reviews, and I understand the emotions involved in that capacity. However, Greenjackets third baseman Charlie Culberson committed three errors on the night, bringing his total to six just a mere couple of weeks into the season. Culberson was playing out of position (he is listed as a shortstop), but his defensive miscues directly led to a number of Savannah runs, and some angry Greenjacket fans. The pitching was really bad on the home side, and when combined with shoddy defense and lack of hitting, the result was not unexpected.

Overall grade: B+

Lake Olmstead Stadium is a typical “community” ballpark. The ballpark can be found in an older section of town, but the city park setting (complete with a lake behind the third base grandstand) is really cool. The people are friendly, the atmosphere is comfortable and the experience was mostly enjoyable. As mentioned above, there is talk of a possible downtown park, but I would hope that if that does come to fruition that the feeling of this field does not get lost. I have been to downtown ballparks in this circuit (Greenville is one that comes to mind), and they don’t have the same personal feeling this place does. It would be a shame to lose that.

How to get there:

Augusta (mostly I-20) is a construction zone as of this writing, so be alert at all times when traveling on the interstate around the city. To get to the ballpark, take exit 199 off I-20 (GA 28), and proceed on Washington Rd. Follow GA 28 for approximately three miles until you see Milledge Road, then turn left. The park is ahead on the right. The address of the park is 78 Milledge Road in Augusta.

You may also want to see:

  • Augusta Riverwalk. The Savannah River runs through downtown Augusta, and this city park area, while not San Antonio, still allows for a nice relaxing waterside stroll.

  • National Science Center. This children’s park features plenty to do for the overgrown child in your life, including Fort Discovery. There are tons of exhibits available to exercise both the mind and body, and you can have a nice day away from the park with the family without breaking the bank.