Brian’s At the Ballpark Archives


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.



2009 is here!
April 8, 2009, 4:46 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags:

Well, folks, another year is here, and so is the season of reviewing ballparks. This is my sixth season doing this, and though you won’t find all the reviews on this site, they’re enough to get you started.

The review season will start soon, so be sure to keep an eye on this page for more details!



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

Ernie Shore Field, Winston-Salem, NC 

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

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

Concessions: C

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

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

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

Atmosphere: F

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

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

Sight lines: B-

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

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

Parking: B

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

Quality of baseball: C

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

Overall grade: C-

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

How to get there:

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

How I got there:

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

You may also want to see:

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

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

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



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

  BB&T Coastal Field

BB&T Coastal Field, Myrtle Beach, SC

Concessions: B+

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

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

Atmosphere: A

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

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

Sight lines: B-

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

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

Parking: A

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

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

Quality of baseball: B

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

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

Overall grade: A

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

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

How to get there:

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

How I got there:

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

You may also want to see:

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

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

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

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



At the Ballpark – Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Arlington, TX
September 4, 2007, 8:12 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

At The Ballpark: Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Arlington, TX

Rangers Ballpark in Arlington

Major League Baseball has a 35-year history in north Texas, beginning with now-demolished Arlington Stadium.  That venue hosted the 1972 Rangers, which was an unremarkable club after relocating from Washington, save for its manager, Ted Williams.  Arlington Stadium closed after the 1993 season, having seen a Nolan Ryan no-hitter among its many historic moments.

Rangers Ballpark in Arlington has seen many names and taken just as many blows from the public regarding its hitter-friendly reputation and the recent lack of success of its inhabitants.  Several division champions have taken up residence in the park, though, and a new generation of Ranger history has been made here.  Does the slogan "everything's bigger in Texas" extend to this ballpark?  Let's find out.

Concessions: A

Concessions at Rangers Ballpark are not the most economical, but considering the fact that this is a big league park, this development is hardly a surprise.  Where the club makes up for it is twofold.  The selection of food at the park is ridiculous — you can literally have almost anything you would want in this park, from ballpark standards like hot dogs and popcorn all the way up to Tex-Mex and other local favorites.  The portions are also extremely big, as I got what was termed a "boat" of garlic fries and could barely finish them.  The fries and a Diet Coke were $11.75, but they were more than a meal.  Come hungry, but have deep pockets.

Atmosphere: A-

(Ed. note:  You will notice this is a new category.  This replaces "Between-Innings Entertainment" and "Promotions".)

If a song ever existed with a Texas mention in the title, chorus, an offhanded comment that was barely caught by a microphone, whatever, it is played at this ballpark.  Little Texas' "God Blessed Texas", Tanya Tucker's "Texas (When I Die)", Willie Nelson's 40-year-old recording of "Beautiful Texas" and "Deep In the Heart of Texas", among many others, played on the night I visited.  The musical selection made me feel more as though I was at a honky tonk than a ballpark, which is not necessarily a bad thing.  The PA speakers are very loud, except for a couple of dead spots in the outfield plaza, and this contributes to that feeling.  My father called me during the game, and despite my sitting in the front row of seats, he could hear all of the activity over the PA system as though he was right next to me.

Most of the between-innings activities were generic enough, with the much-publicized Dot Race being the most memorable.  There were some giveaways to fans in certain seating sections, various contests, and the always lame Kiss Cam.  The Rangers have a beautiful video board, and it is terrible to waste it on this.  They did redeem themselves, however, by showing video highlights of other games going on around the big leagues.

Sight lines: B

I truly wanted this to be better than it was, especially given some of the views one sees when entering the park.  However, there are a few problems.  There are some obstructed seats in the park, as support beams and rails block the view of some of the seats in the lower bowl, and the front rows in the second and third decks are obscured by the rails.  Also, while it is a nice touch to have standing room over the visitors' bullpen, the view is slightly obscured there as well, as the left field seats jut out past the bullpen.  The ballpark and its sightlines are beautiful, but I suggest checking a site such as seatdata.com when buying a ticket, just to make sure.

Parking: A

Of any problems that may be encountered at Rangers Ballpark, parking is certainly the least.  The Rangers maintain a number of surface lots surrounding the park, and ingress and egress appear tremendously easy.  The park is near Six Flags Over Texas, and this helps with the flow of traffic.  Texas highway 360 and Interstate 30 are both within minutes of the park, and a number of surface streets also surround the area. 

Should you not wish to pay $12 (which is, admittedly, a bit steep) for parking, there are a number of lots off surface streets for less money — I paid $9 — and they are just as close to the park.   The Arlington Trolley also services the ballpark, along with a number of other public transportation options.

Quality of baseball: C

I knew the White Sox were bad before I even walked through the gates.  I had no idea they were as bad as they demonstrated on the night I attended.  White Sox third baseman Andy Gonzalez had three of the four White Sox errors — in the same inning.  The Sox were 0-7 with runners in scoring position.  Mike Myers came in to pitch late in the game, and was throwing between 69-71 miles per hour.  This club is really bad, and has a number of people (Danny Richar, Andy Gonzalez, etc.) who have no business being in the big leagues at this point. 

Texas, on the other hand, looked relatively decent, and I can now say that I was in attendance for a Sammy Sosa home run.  Kevin Millwood is not gracefully aging, as he was struggling to touch 90 on the radar gun, and did not appear to have a ton of movement.  Ranger catchers, however, had a good night, as Gerald Laird and Jarrod Saltalamacchia (who played first base on this evening) both had two hits in four at-bats.  Texas will be good before long if they can ever get some consistent pitching.

Overall grade: A-

There were a lot of things I really liked about this park, but the obstructed seating areas and other minor things kept it from being perfect.  One nice thing about this park is the large gift shop in the outfield plaza.  They stock — obviously — a large amount of Ranger merchandise, but also stock a lot of other MLB gifts.  The prices are also quite reasonable.  Come to the park expecting to have fun and to be in a very Texas-centric atmosphere, but watch where you get your seats. 

How to get there:

There are a few ways to get to the park, including surface streets, but your likely best bets are Texas 360 or Interstate 30.  The Randol Mill exit off 360 (and, really, the one before it) are easy paths, and there is an exit directly off 30 for Ballpark Way.  Be careful to follow the signs to and from the ballpark, and check the team's website for up-to-date traffic and construction information around the park.  Another easy way to find the park is to look for Six Flags. 

You may also want to see:

  • Six Flags Over Texas. (Stunning that I mentioned this here after talking about it throughout the review, eh?)  Six Flags Over Texas is the oldest park through all of the Six Flags chain, having opened in 1961, and contains two of the more infamous wooden roller coasters in Judge Roy Scream and the Texas Giant.  The park also features theatrical shows and live entertainment including not only park-specific shows, but national acts as well.

  • Dallas. One of the top ten largest cities in America rests just 15 miles to your east from your seat in Rangers Ballpark, and is one of the more diverse city centers you will find in this country.  There are honky tonks and aquariums, art exhibits and hockey games and everything in between in Dallas, and the sights in the Metroplex alone could occupy you for a week.  Be honest — you're going to pass through Dallas anyway getting here, whether you fly into DFW or Dallas Love Field, so go check out one of the more spectacular cities in the Southwest.



At the Ballpark – Victory Field, Indianapolis, IN
July 24, 2007, 6:27 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

At The Ballpark: Victory Field, Indianapolis, IN


Indianapolis has a pretty decent little sports footprint. The reigning champions of the National Football League take residence in downtown Indianapolis’ RCA Dome. The NBA and WNBA’s Pacers and Fever, respectively, are housed just a few blocks away in Conseco Fieldhouse. The offices of the NCAA are also located in Indy.

 

Tucked between all of this sports bustle is one of the more critically-acclaimed facilities in all of the minors. Victory Field is barely a decade old, but has still carved out a pretty nice reputation as a great place to see a game. The stadium was recommended to me by several people whose word I hold in high esteem. Could this place really be as great as everyone seems to think it is? Let’s find out.


Concessions: A-

The concessions in Victory Field are good, and the selection plentiful. However, what you pay and what you get don’t really compare. I had a slice of pizza that was really tasty, but for $3.75, the portion was not big enough. Also, sodas in souvenir cups are $3.50 (Victory Field also has Diet Mountain Dew, which is a plus), which is okay, I suppose. The park also has ice cream (I strongly recommend the sundaes), grill items, a burger bar and Mexican fare, among other things. Be prepared to be able to get just about anything you’ll want, but you’ll also pay quite a bit for it.

 
Between-innings entertainment: C-

 

Were this a review of the pre-game entertainment, I would give this park an A. The video board ran highlight montages, accompanied by a pretty darn good musical soundtrack, then featured a brief magazine-style show on the Indians. These were nice touches…and then the game started. The in-game entertainment featured several performances by frisbee catching dogs, the always-lame Kiss Cam and the even more lame Flex Cam (this was so stupid I took a picture of the video board) and much less of the great musical soundtrack I heard before the game.

Sight lines: A

The “there is not a bad seat in the house” statement is way, way overplayed, but the game action is visible from literally every seat – fixed or not – in Victory Field. There is a concourse that completely circles the ballpark, and depending on your seat, you get views of the rather impressive downtown Indianapolis area or of the RCA Dome. The view is amazing, and is easily the best scenery I’ve ever seen beyond an outfield fence. Also, despite the fact that the concourses are really wide and the concession stands are facing the field, the club offers closed-circuit TV feeds of the game action at the stands, which is a really nice touch.

 

There is only one complaint to be made regarding the sights in the park. If you happen to have a seat on the first base line for a night game, be prepared to squint for the first five innings or so. The sun sets at a level where it is right in the eyes of anyone down the first base line. This is not something that can be easily corrected, but be prepared.

Promotions: NA

No promotions took place on this night. The game the following day was part of the Souvenir Sunday series at Victory Field.

Parking: F

I know before it is even said that not much can be done to correct this issue due to the layout of Indianapolis’ downtown, but it is a true pain to try to park around this stadium. There are several surface lots around the park, but if there is an event in town (as there was on this trip), forget it. I had to fight downtown traffic, only to circle back around downtown after just about every space downtown was occupied. The parking near the stadium is sparse, so finding a space can chew up most of the 90-minute period between the opening of the gates and first pitch. I would recommend parking behind the convenience store at the corner of West and Kentucky, as you can walk out of the right field gate and take the short jaunt up the street to your car, or staying in one of the hotels near the park (Courtyard, Holiday Inn Express, etc.) that offer reasonable parking rates.

Quality of baseball: A+
Considering the game was a battle of the Pirates and Rays’ AAA clubs, this is a pretty surprising grade, but this game was wonderful. My last ballpark visits yielded 62 hits and 40 runs combined in 2 games, but this game ended in a 2-1 Durham victory in extra innings. The game was won on a Ben Zobrist home run in the 10th. There were a number of really impressive players, including Indy outfielders Adam Boeve and Yurendell DeCaster, first baseman Brad Eldred (who homered for Indy’s lone run) and pitchers Bryan Bullington and Josh Sharpless and Durham outfielder Jason Pridie, catcher Shawn Riggans and pitchers Mike Prochaska (who was just called up before the game), Chad Orvella and Juan Salas. Sharpless pitched three innings for Indy, taking the tough-luck loss when the only hit he allowed in those innings was Ben Zobrist’s game-winning homer. I was disappointed that a lot of the fans streamed for the exits after the bottom of the ninth, but at least they missed Zobrist’s blast.

Overall grade: A

This stadium is one of the best I’ve ever seen, and with a few changes, could be perfect. The atmosphere in Indianapolis is of major league quality, and I think this city could support a big league club. Sadly, a lot of the ambiance of the park would disappear with filling in the outfield with seats and expanding the second deck. If you can get past some of the minor annoyances with parking, this is one of those parks you really need to endeavor to attend. The scenery is wonderful, the baseball is good and the atmosphere is fantastic.

 

How to get there:

With interstate 70 around Indianapolis being in a state of construction as of this writing, getting to the park is a bit challenging. US 40 (West Washington Street) runs behind the ballpark, and West Street passes by the outfield fence. It would normally be recommended to follow the directions from the club’s official website, but be careful with 70 under construction and many of the exit ramps being closed. It may be more advisable to stick with US 40.

 

You may also want to see:

  • The Indianapolis Zoo. This world-class zoo features a number of exhibits, including dolphin and penguin exhibits. The facility is located near the ballpark, so this may be something you want to include as part of a full day’s activities.

  • Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The Brickyard is one of the stretches of hallowed ground in automotive racing, playing host to both open-wheel and NASCAR contests. Much like Daytona, the racetrack is one of the featured attractions in the city, and if you are at all a racing fan, this is a must-see destination.



At the Ballpark – City Stadium, Lynchburg, VA
July 6, 2007, 7:07 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Lynchburg City StadiumAt The Ballpark: City Stadium, Lynchburg, VA


Part of the beauty of minor league baseball rests in the small towns in which it is played. While you watch games on television from Los Angeles, Chicago and New York, minor league baseball takes place in Kinston, Winston-Salem and Frederick. One of the better-kept secrets of minor league lore rests in the foothills of central Virginia, at the intersection of US highways 29 and 460.

 

The Lynchburg Mets went on a run between 1983 and 1986 that was unrivaled by any professional baseball team – major or minor league – of that era. The championship won by the parent Mets in 1986 clearly found its genesis in men that first walked the grass in City Stadium. These four years were but a small sample of a baseball history in Lynchburg that dates back over a century, with almost 70 of those years featuring baseball at City Stadium. Also, in the interest of disclosure, Lynchburg is my “home” ballpark, having grown up in this fair city and having the chance to play and attend camps on this field, despite my last trip to this park being in 1995. Can you really go home again? Let’s find out.

Concessions: A

One of the promotions on this night (more on this in a bit) was the “feed your face” promotion, which affords the ticket buyer all-you-can-eat pizza, popcorn, peanuts, hot dogs and hamburgers (only two items allowed per visit to the concession stand) until the end of the sixth inning. The concessions aside from those included in the promotion were of ample portion and reasonable price. The standard ballpark fare is available, but there are also separate stands for Dippin Dots, funnel cakes (which, by the way, I’m not a fan of funnel cakes, but this was easily the absolute best funnel cake I have ever tasted) and other items. The hamburgers were average, but everything else should meet both your palate and your wallet with satisfaction. Another item – and this is key – was that despite the expected lines at the concession stands on this night, they kept everything moving, and everyone was super nice. This is a theme I will revisit later.

Between-innings entertainment: C

One of the things I have always loved about baseball in Lynchburg is that the on-field staff always knows their place. A lot of facilities go for the cartoonish approach between innings, and Lynchburg has always gone the other way. Most of what went on was fairly standard stuff (dizzy bat race, t-shirt toss, frisbee toss, throw the ball through the hole in the board, the Hamburger Helper bean bag toss thing, etc.), but it was unobtrusive. I also give credit to Aaron Canada, who is part of the Hillcats’ broadcasting staff on the road and the on-field emcee in Lynchburg, for not being over the top in his presentation. The musical selection before the game was quite good, and I wish more of it had been played between innings.

Sight lines: B

This has always been somewhat of a bugaboo at City Stadium, and it is due partly to the quirks of the way the field is laid out. For instance, if you are in certain sections of the bleachers on the third base side, it is borderline impossible to track a ball hit into the left field corner. The clubhouses for both teams are down the third base line in foul territory, so this also limits visibility, while preventing the extension of the concourse much further than the third base coaching box. The first base side is a bit better in terms of lines, as there is a picnic section and a berm seating area with a walkway that extends nearly to the right field fence.

 

A lot of the other visibility issues are not known to the everyday fan, as there are things such as nets in front of the luxury boxes that cut down on clarity (these are required, as they are literally right on top of the action, and foul balls are hit that way at light speed), the near inability to see the right fielder from the third base dugout because of the layout of the field, and the angles from inside the press box creating some issues with tracking balls in play. The really disappointing part, however, is that the main entrance to the park is right behind the press box area, which does not allow for the “money shot” where you can see the entire expanse of the ballpark and the surrounding area. The hills and mountain areas near Lynchburg are visible behind the outfield wall, and the ability to see more of this would be optimal, but again, construction limitations prevent this from being possible.

Promotions: A

As mentioned earlier in the piece, the main promotion was “feed your face” night. The idea for this promotion came from the ballpark in Daytona Beach (ironically, I visited their park on a night where they ran the same promotion), and it turns out to be a better value than a souvenir one may just end up placing in a drawer or on a shelf somewhere to collect dust. The lines at the concession stands indicated to me how well this went over with the fans.

Parking: A

Unless you happen to show up at the ballpark on one of the truly high-traffic days (opening night, July 4, etc.), parking at City Stadium is pretty painless. All parking is free (which is a real plus), and there are at least five points of egress from the park. There are a number of big-city parks that could take notes from City Stadium’s methods of entry and exit. I strongly suggest using the gravel lot in the lower portion of the parking area for two reasons: 1) there is less chance of your car becoming accessorized by a foul ball, and 2) exiting the ballpark is considerably easier.

Quality of baseball: C
When writing this, I have to temper my expectations, and to realize this is advanced single-A baseball. That said, both starting pitchers gave up seven earned runs and neither lasted five innings. The teams combined for 20 runs, 29 hits and three errors. I came away impressed with a few players, including Salem outfielder Mitch Einertson and Lynchburg second baseman Shelby Ford and DH/outfielder Brad Corley. Corley appeared to be the best hitter on the field, and was in the midst of a double-digit game hitting streak during this game. In fact, I wondered why Corley was batting in the fifth spot in the lineup, but not having seen this team all year, I assured myself that there was a good rationale behind that decision.

Overall grade: A

If you like your baseball experience to be more baseball and less state fair, Lynchburg is your place. It is a market very much akin to a lot of other small markets in the south, with a loyal fan base, a cozy atmosphere and really great people associated with the team. The Hillcats players were really friendly with the fans, and this did not go unnoticed. The stadium has changed so much since I played there and frequented the facility, and the last vestiges of the park I knew remain in the bleachers down each base line. On one hand, I’ve always hated those bleachers, but they are a fine example of the old mixing with the new.

 

If your travels lead you to Lynchburg, be prepared for a nice night of baseball and some truly wonderful people. Hillcats Director of Broadcasting Jon Schaeffer is a real up-and-comer in his business, and he and his partner Scott Bacon do a tremendous job on the radio call for Hillcats games. Both men are very intelligent and well-spoken, and Jon has been super nice to me for years, starting with a feature I wrote on minor league baseball in 2005. Take a radio with you to the game, and tune in to 105.5 FM to catch their call.

 

How to get there:

The stadium is located at the intersection of Fort Avenue and Wythe Road in Lynchburg, and is accessible from either the James Street or City Stadium exits on the Lynchburg Expressway (US 29). There is ample signage from the highway to guide you to the park. Further, you can reach the park via a number of surface streets in the Lynchburg area.

 

You may also want to see:

  • Virginia’s historic areas. Virginia is a state steeped in history, and there are many must-see areas, such as Appomattox (the site of the end of the Civil War, approximately 25 miles east), the colonial cities of Yorktown, Jamestown and Williamsburg to the east, and Manassas and Fairfax to the north. Lynchburg is also 45 minutes or so east of the Blue Ridge mountain chain, along with the famed Blue Ridge Parkway.

  • The University of Virginia. The grounds known as Thomas Jefferson’s University are located in Charlottesville, approximately one hour north of Lynchburg on US 29, and feature the combination of historic architecture and a vibrant, modern college atmosphere. Be sure to stop by the College Inn for dining, and visit the famous Corner district. There are also a few areas to note along the drive, such as the historical references to Hurricane Camille and the damage she caused in 1969 as you enter Nelson County, and the inspiration for the 70s television show The Waltons in Schuyler. Charlottesville also contains the historic sites Monticello, Oak Lawn and Michie Tavern.