Brian’s At the Ballpark Archives


At the Ballpark – McCormick Field – Asheville, NC
August 4, 2010, 2:27 am
Filed under: 2010, Reviews

McCormick Field - Asheville, NC - click photo for more photos of this visit

Asheville, North Carolina and baseball go way back. For almost 150 years, this grand game has found a home in the beautiful North Carolina mountains, and 95 of those years have seen affiliated baseball. The South Atlantic League has taken up residence here for over 80 years. Asheville was even home to a Negro League team in the 1940s.

The history of Asheville baseball cannot be written without speaking of McCormick Field. Asheville’s grand old lady was built in 1924, and despite two renovations since, it still stands in the same location near downtown. With today’s trends leaning toward new downtown ballparks, this one is already in place.

Is this park kind to Tourists, or should there be a new trip planned in western North Carolina? Let’s find out.

Concessions: D-

The selection and prices are reasonably average. Most of the ballpark staples are available, and the prices are about as expected. There are combo meals available at some of the stands, and there are separate stands for things such as Dippin’ Dots and funnel cakes. This part was fine.

What was not fine – and really troubling, actually – was the actual execution of the concessions. I went to order a cheeseburger about 15-20 minutes before the game, which should be one of the busiest parts of the night. I was told that they were “out” of cheeseburgers, and – and this is the worst part – it would be about 20 minutes before they had any ready. I got some fries at this time, and only upon seeing me struggling to carry two orders of fries and two sodas for my party was I offered a tray. The fries then promptly spilled out of the tray.

I eventually got to sample the cheeseburger, a funnel cake and the aforementioned fries, and all were lukewarm and devoid of any flavor whatsoever. The other members of my party sampled some other items, including a hot dog, and all of those items were reported as being bland and tasteless, as well. The soda was really well-mixed, however, and quite good, so that was about the most positive aspect of my experience with the concessions.

Atmosphere: C

This grade is not made by the fans (more on them in a moment), but by the staff and what they have managed to create in this park. I arrived to the front gate of McCormick Field, only to be greeted by a long line of people waiting to get in. The line seemed to not be moving, for some odd reason, so they opened another line to process visitors and their tickets. I was quite surprised to get to the front of the line and notice that my ticket taker was none other than Brian DeWine, the president of the team. DeWine’s family bought the team this year, and this is his first year running the proverbial show in Asheville. DeWine was very jovial and nice, despite what had to be a frustrating situation at the gate, and quickly got the patrons processed and into the park. This kind of touch is what endears the team to the community, and vice versa, so it’s great to see DeWine out among the fans and making a connection.

The baseball experience itself is rather “uncluttered”, to be fair. There are some between-innings festivities, and those are among what you would see in any other park (frozen t-shirt contest, mascot race, etc.), but they are easily tuned out. The ZOOperstars were in the park on the night I attended, and this is another derivative promotion that always churns out a few laughs whenever they come to town. The sound effects, while corny (oh hey, broken glass sounds on a foul ball!), are not excessive, and the music soundtrack is quite good. I will say that I had a bit of a problem hearing the PA announcer on pitching changes and the like at times.

The fans, however, were a completely different story. A large majority of the people in the stands seemed completely oblivious to the fact that they were at a baseball game. A man in front of me must have taken 500 pictures of his granddaughter, and while I do not begrudge him the experience of spending time with her, he was constantly turning around, standing up and sliding down the bleachers to get pictures of her, even knocking the items of members in my party into the aisles without even stopping to apologize or help pick the items up off the ground. His entire party seemed content to sit and talk and drink beer as opposed to watching the game, and I have never quite grasped the concept of coming to a game if you are not going to actually watch the game. There was not a ton of crowd response to anything that went on during the game, and a lot of people seemed more concerned with socializing and doing other things. I know this is part of the “small-town” atmosphere that DeWine’s group is trying to rebuild, but it’s tough to build a fan base and a fun place to watch a game if very few people actually care about said game. Getting fans to want to be in your facility is an important thing, but getting them to buy into the product on the field helps, too. There’s always Starbucks to go and “be seen”.

Sight lines: B

As this is a small park (capacity is 3500), all of the seats are really close to the action. The furthest seat from the action in McCormick Field is closer than you may think, and as such, just about every play on the field is visible from your seat. There is, however, some netting down each line that can create a few vision issues. There is apparently a movement afoot to reduce or remove that netting, and this would be a welcome change.

One of the cooler features of this park also creates a concern. The concessions are actually, for the most part, located underneath the seating bowl. There are some rock formations at the bottom of the steps down to the concession area, and they are painted with various baseball-related designs. The grotto-like concession area, however cool it may be, has no view of the action going on at field level, so you are left to rely on the radio call of the game over the speakers, which is not easily audible.

Parking: F

Let me first say that, as has been mentioned several other times in different places, this park is built in an area with a really small footprint. The park itself is on the side of a hill, and parking is very limited. There are a couple of grassy lots near the park, but virtually no parking on-site. A lot of the (very limited) parking is on the hill, and with cars being parked facing downhill and very close to each other, this is a recipe for an accident.

This leaves patrons to park in one of these very limited areas or in the lots of several local businesses that surround the park. These lots are free, but there are a couple of implied risks. First, the possibility that your car may be towed is a very real one, and a lot of these lots require a sprint across a very busy city street in what I heard referred to by another fan as a “human game of Frogger”. Needless to say, I was quite relieved to a) dodge the traffic to return to my car and b) find my car still there. If you are attending a day game during the week, be extremely careful where your car is left.

Quality of baseball: A-

This seems somewhat confusing of a grade, given the final score that saw the homestanding Asheville Tourists (Rockies A) defeat the visiting Rome Braves (Braves A) 10-0. It should be noted, however, that nine of the ten runs scored by the home team were scored in two innings. Asheville did a lot of damage off Rome starter Willie Kempf, making his first start at this level, and reliever Wilton Estevez.

This game featured some outstanding defense on both sides, including what almost seemed to be a defensive HORSE game between Rome shortstop Edward Salcedo and Asheville shortstop Joey Wong. Both players showed tremendous range and great arms, and made some plays that just about any other shortstop at this level would not make. Aside from Salcedo and Wong, several great prospects were on display in this game, including Asheville 3B Nolan Arenado and P Chris Balcom-Miller, and Rome’s C/DH Christian Bethancourt, 1B Riaan Spanjer-Furstenburg and 2010 draft picks 3B Joe Leonard (3rd round) and 2B Phil Gosselin (5th round). The aforementioned two innings aside, this was a really well-played game, and was fun to watch.

Overall grade: C-

If we are grading strictly on the experience once you get to your seat, this park is right up there with most others. The small confines, beautiful surroundings and high fences (right field is only 297 feet from home plate, extending up to a 42′ wall) make this a really nice place to watch a game. The bleachers are tremendously uncomfortable, though, particularly for tall fans like your humble correspondent.

The problem, though, is that this is not the only criteria on which a park is judged, as you know. The first few seeds of the DeWine family plan are visible, but here’s to hoping that the improvements continue. There are plenty of places to improve the existing facility, if there is no ability to build what is really needed in Asheville, which is a new park.

How to get there:

Take Interstate 240 (Asheville downtown loop) to exit 5B (Charlotte Street). Turn right at the top of the ramp, then continue just under two miles to McCormick Place on the left. The ballpark is at the top of the hill. The physical street address is 30 Buchanan Street in Asheville. Be careful when leaving the park if you are headed west on 240 back toward interstates 40 and 26, as the left turn from Charlotte Street to the interstate ramp tends to back up at the stop light to enter 240.



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

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

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

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

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

Concessions: B-

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

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

Atmosphere: D

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

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

Sight lines: A-

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

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

Parking: A

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

Quality of baseball: B

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

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

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

Overall grade: C

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

How to get there:

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



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

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

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

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

Concessions: B

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

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

Atmosphere: C

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

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

Sight lines: B

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

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

Parking: B

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

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

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

Quality of baseball: B

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

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

Overall grade: B-

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

How to get there:

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



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

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

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

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

Concessions: B

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

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

Atmosphere: C

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

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

Sight lines: D

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

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

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

Parking: A

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

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

Quality of baseball: B

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

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

Overall grade: C

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

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

How to get there:

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



At the Ballpark – BB&T Ballpark – Winston-Salem, NC
April 26, 2010, 1:12 am
Filed under: 2010, Reviews, Uncategorized

BB&T Ballpark - Click photo for more images of this visit

As you likely saw in my review of the former home of professional baseball in the city (Ernie Shore Field), Winston-Salem, NC is a city with a long baseball history. That history was to have yielded a new chapter in 2009 with the opening of a new downtown ballpark. The time came and passed for the move, however, and the same economy that hurt so many of the fans that regularly attend the home team’s games also hurt the home team. The freshly-renamed Dash played the 2009 season in Ernie Shore Field instead of their new digs, thanks to issues with financing and construction.

2010 brought with it a restructuring of the available finances and the completion of the Dash’s new downtown home. The 5500-seat BB&T Ballpark opened for business earlier this month, and has already played to multiple sellout crowds. Was the move to downtown Winston-Salem worth it? Let’s find out.

Concessions: B+

All ballparks will have their own growing pains as they get settled, and BB&T Ballpark is no exception. There are a lot of choices for food in the ballpark, as all of your traditional favorites are available, along with hamburgers, cheeseburgers, Domino’s Pizza and other choices. Prices are about average ($5 for a hamburger, for instance), and the value for the money is, for the most part, rather good.

The very good – but also very fattening – treat Southerners know as frozen custard is also available at the park, and comes in single or double scoop servings and in vanilla and chocolate flavors. The single scoop is inexpensive at $3, but the size of the scoop is really small. Though the custard is quite rich and refreshing, be careful to set your expectations a little lower. While speaking of desserts, the funnel cakes were cold and did not have much of a taste to them, so be cautious when ordering a funnel cake. Pepsi has pouring rights for the ballpark, so expect the Pepsi line of sodas to quench your thirst.

Atmosphere: A

The difference in atmosphere between this downtown park and the one in Greensboro (a half-hour east) is night and day. This may seem like an insult – please do not read it as such – but Winston-Salem is rather understated in its in-game experience. The park is really comfortable and fun without being corny and over-the-top.

There is a group of team employees called the “Dash Pack”, which includes the on-field emcee for the between-innings events. Most of the events are reasonably standard, including “Oh Snap”, a tug-of-war type game with two combatants attached to a bungee cord; “Air Guitar Hero”, which is exactly as it sounds – and equally as stupid; a kids’ joke contest and the Dash Pack performing the Thriller dance with the Dash mascot (a red creature named Bolt). The dance routine could be permanently removed and never missed.

The music soundtrack, however, is quite good, and – what a novel idea! — the team uses its video board to play music videos during pitching changes and inning breaks. The video board has a tremendous picture, and provides updates on each batter. I am unsure as to whether more “historical” data could be added (what the hitter had done in each previous at-bat), but that may be in the works. There is also a rotating LED ad board along the left field wall, and this replaces the usual signage along the outfield wall. This is a great use of space.

Sight lines: A-

I hate saying this, because I really feel as though I overuse it, but there are really very few bad seats in BB&T Ballpark. The box office and main entrance to the park are directly behind the center field fence, and after walking through the turnstiles, the entire field opens up before you. There is standing room virtually everywhere in the park, including a foot bridge over the entrance to both clubhouses in the right field corner. There is also a large berm area beyond the left field fence (which, as noted by our friends over at Ballpark Digest, serves as the general admission seating) that was rather popular on the night I attended – at least, before the rains started and those fans were invited into the seating bowl. The concourse also provides reasonably good views of the action, and there are televisions mounted on the walls in the concourse areas in the few areas where the game cannot be seen.

The lone bad areas are near the camera wells (there is on-field and off-field footage occasionally shown on the video board) and dugouts, and there are only three rows or so that are affected. It is also a bit tough to see into the left field corner from the third base seats, as the berm area blocks the extreme portion of the corner. All in all, though, this is a park that is truly designed with the fan in mind, as you have a great view of all the action on the field from just about all of the seats, and can even see the Winston Tower and a lot of the downtown area off in the distance.

Parking: B

The best recommendation I can give you is to get to the park early enough to park in the purple lot. This lot is actually on the property at the park, and though it costs you $5 to park, you are literally steps from the park, and, perhaps even better, just feet from the business loop of I-40 (co-signed as US 421). The $5 charge is a bit steep, but the convenience is a big help. There are also very helpful Winston-Salem police officers and Dash employees (more on this in a bit) to guide you into and out of the lots.

If you choose not to park in the purple lot (or the lot is full), there are plenty of places in the general vicinity of the ballpark, both free and paid. The Dash’s team website has a very helpful parking map, and it is strongly recommended to review that map before heading to the park, particularly if a large crowd is expected.

Quality of baseball: A

Anyone who knows me knows my history with the Carolina League. I grew up in a Carolina League city, and I have spent years going to see Carolina League games. This history has colored my “bias” toward the circuit in terms of the quality of baseball it sees.

That said, the visiting Wilmington Blue Rocks (Royals high-A) featured the Royals’ top prospect, left-hander Mike Montgomery, and another top prospect in first baseman Eric Hosmer, while the homestanding Winston-Salem Dash (White Sox high-A) had won nine straight before the Blue Rocks defeated them in game one of the series. Hosmer (3-for-4, .456 average) and Montgomery (6 2/3 IP, 8 H, 2 ER, 6 K) were as advertised, as the Blue Rocks defeated the Dash 7-3. The quality of play got a little more sloppy as the night advanced, primarily due to the wet conditions. One interesting note – and I cannot be sure whether this was due to the conditions – the ball did not seem to carry very well. There were several hard-hit balls, but only one (by Wilmington’s Eddie Prasch) left the park. I will be watching this park to see how the ball carries as the summer heat approaches.

Overall grade: A-

I talked to former Lynchburg Hillcats Director of Broadcasting Jon Schaeffer for a piece on life in the minor leagues in 2005, and he told me at the time that BB&T Coastal Field in Myrtle Beach was the “crown jewel of the Carolina League”. I love Myrtle Beach’s park – let that not be confused – but this park is great competition for that facility on South Carolina’s Grand Strand. The wide concourses, wide seats and open sight lines make for a really comfortable experience.

The other thing that truly struck me was how nice everyone was. I have seen a lot of parks in my travels, and I have met a ton of people who really like their job and appreciate those of us who patronize their facilities. Everyone I encountered at BB&T Ballpark, from ushers to ticket-takers to team store workers, was extremely friendly, and that made a great impression on me. I really enjoyed my visit, and I plan to return soon.

One other really cool feature (which I forgot to mention in the first draft of this piece) of the ballpark resides on the walls of the concourse.  There are plaques commemorating some of the great stars of years past in the Carolina League, including names such as Albert Pujols and Chipper Jones.  I love seeing ballparks that remember their history, and Winston-Salem certainly does this.  This is a great touch, and I wish more parks would implement ideas such as this.

How to get there:

The park is just off the business loop of I-40 and US 421, and is visible from the freeway. Exits 5A (NC 150/Peters Creek Parkway) or 5B (Broad) will get you to the park, and the facility is easily visible from either exit. If traveling on the conventional loop of I-40, exit 193 is signed for the stadium. More detailed directions are available on the team’s website.

Concessions: B+

All ballparks will have their own growing pains as they get settled, and BB&T Ballpark is no exception. There are a lot of choices for food in the ballpark, as all of your traditional favorites are available, along with hamburgers, cheeseburgers, Domino’s Pizza and other choices. Prices are about average ($5 for a hamburger, for instance), and the value for the money is, for the most part, rather good.

The very good – but also very fattening – treat Southerners know as frozen custard is also available at the park, and comes in single or double scoop servings and in vanilla and chocolate flavors. The single scoop is inexpensive at $3, but the size of the scoop is really small. Though the custard is quite rich and refreshing, be careful to set your expectations a little lower. While speaking of desserts, the funnel cakes were cold and did not have much of a taste to them, so be cautious when ordering a funnel cake. Pepsi has pouring rights for the ballpark, so expect the Pepsi line of sodas to quench your thirst.

Atmosphere: A

The difference in atmosphere between this downtown park and the one in Greensboro (a half-hour east) is night and day. This may seem like an insult – please do not read it as such – but Winston-Salem is rather understated in its in-game experience. The park is really comfortable and fun without being corny and over-the-top.

There is a group of team employees called the “Dash Pack”, which includes the on-field emcee for the between-innings events. Most of the events are reasonably standard, including “Oh Snap”, a tug-of-war type game with two combatants attached to a bungee cord; “Air Guitar Hero”, which is exactly as it sounds – and equally as stupid; a kids’ joke contest and the Dash Pack performing the Thriller dance with the Dash mascot (a red creature named Bolt). The dance routine could be permanently removed and never missed.

The music soundtrack, however, is quite good, and – what a novel idea! — the team uses its video board to play music videos during pitching changes and inning breaks. The video board has a tremendous picture, and provides updates on each batter. I am unsure as to whether more “historical” data could be added (what the hitter had done in each previous at-bat), but that may be in the works. There is also a rotating LED ad board along the left field wall, and this replaces the usual signage along the outfield wall. This is a great use of space.

Sight lines: A-

I hate saying this, because I really feel as though I overuse it, but there are really very few bad seats in BB&T Ballpark. The box office and main entrance to the park are directly behind the center field fence, and after walking through the turnstiles, the entire field opens up before you. There is standing room virtually everywhere in the park, including a foot bridge over the entrance to both clubhouses in the right field corner. There is also a large berm area beyond the left field fence (which, as noted by our friends over at Ballpark Digest, serves as the general admission seating) that was rather popular on the night I attended – at least, before the rains started and those fans were invited into the seating bowl. The concourse also provides reasonably good views of the action, and there are televisions mounted on the walls in the concourse areas in the few areas where the game cannot be seen.

The lone bad areas are near the camera wells (there is on-field and off-field footage occasionally shown on the video board) and dugouts, and there are only three rows or so that are affected. It is also a bit tough to see into the left field corner from the third base seats, as the berm area blocks the extreme portion of the corner. All in all, though, this is a park that is truly designed with the fan in mind, as you have a great view of all the action on the field from just about all of the seats, and can even see the Winston Tower and a lot of the downtown area off in the distance.

Parking: B

The best recommendation I can give you is to get to the park early enough to park in the purple lot. This lot is actually on the property at the park, and though it costs you $5 to park, you are literally steps from the park, and, perhaps even better, just feet from the business loop of I-40 (co-signed as US 421). The $5 charge is a bit steep, but the convenience is a big help. There are also very helpful Winston-Salem police officers and Dash employees (more on this in a bit) to guide you into and out of the lots.

If you choose not to park in the purple lot (or the lot is full), there are plenty of places in the general vicinity of the ballpark, both free and paid. The Dash’s team website has a very helpful parking map, and it is strongly recommended to review that map before heading to the park, particularly if a large crowd is expected.

Quality of baseball: A

Anyone who knows me knows my history with the Carolina League. I grew up in a Carolina League city, and I have spent years going to see Carolina League games. This history has colored my “bias” toward the circuit in terms of the quality of baseball it sees.

That said, the visiting Wilmington Blue Rocks (Royals high-A) featured the Royals’ top prospect, left-hander Mike Montgomery, and another top prospect in first baseman Eric Hosmer, while the homestanding Winston-Salem Dash (White Sox high-A) had won nine straight before the Blue Rocks defeated them in game one of the series. Hosmer (3-for-4, .456 average) and Montgomery (6 2/3 IP, 8 H, 2 ER, 6 K) were as advertised, as the Blue Rocks defeated the Dash 7-3. The quality of play got a little more sloppy as the night advanced, primarily due to the wet conditions. One interesting note – and I cannot be sure whether this was due to the conditions – the ball did not seem to carry very well. There were several hard-hit balls, but only one (by Wilmington’s Eddie Prasch) left the park. I will be watching this park to see how the ball carries as the summer heat approaches.

Overall grade: A-

I talked to former Lynchburg Hillcats Director of Broadcasting Jon Schaeffer for a piece on life in the minor leagues in 2005, and he told me at the time that BB&T Coastal Field in Myrtle Beach was the “crown jewel of the Carolina League”. I love Myrtle Beach’s park – let that not be confused – but this park is great competition for that facility on South Carolina’s Grand Strand. The wide concourses, wide seats and open sight lines make for a really comfortable experience.

The other thing that truly struck me was how nice everyone was. I have seen a lot of parks in my travels, and I have met a ton of people who really like their job and appreciate those of us who patronize their facilities. Everyone I encountered at BB&T Ballpark, from ushers to ticket-takers to team store workers, was extremely friendly, and that made a great impression on me. I really enjoyed my visit, and I plan to return soon.

How to get there:

The park is just off the business loop of I-40 and US 421, and is visible from the freeway. Exits 5A (NC 150/Peters Creek Parkway) or 5B (Broad) will get you to the park, and the facility is easily visible from either exit. If traveling on the conventional loop of I-40, exit 193 is signed for the stadium. More detailed directions are available on the team’s website.