Brian’s At the Ballpark Archives


At the Ballpark – Winthrop Ballpark, Rock Hill, SC
March 5, 2011, 11:48 pm
Filed under: 2011, Reviews

 

Winthrop Ballpark - Rock Hill, SC - Click photo for more photos of this visit

Most people know of Rock Hill, South Carolina – if they know of it at all – as a “bedroom community” about 20 minutes southwest of Charlotte. Bankers and other professionals who prefer the quieter life to the hustle and bustle of the “big city” often call Rock Hill their home. What you may not know about Rock Hill is that it has a little baseball history, as well.

Hall of Famer Sparky Anderson led four consecutive minor league teams to pennants in the mid-to-late 60s, and the first one was the Rock Hill Cardinals of 1965. That Western Carolinas League champ was not loaded with future big league talent, but having Sparky running your club doesn’t hurt. Rock Hill fielded minor league teams at Legion Park in 1947-48, and at the corner of York and White in Municipal Stadium from 1949-68.

Though it is no longer the home of affiliated baseball, Rock Hill is still home to the highly-lauded Winthrop University. Winthrop is consistently one of the highest-performing institutions in the Southeast, and has earned a ton of accolades. Is their baseball facility as great as the university? Let’s find out.

Concessions: A-

As college parks go, there’s a lot of variety at Winthrop Ballpark. There are no hamburgers or cheeseburgers here, but there are barbecue sandwiches (a staple in this part of the country), Chick-fil-A sandwiches and several other choices. The park also offers pretzels, nachos, pizza, peanuts (roasted and boiled), hot dogs, corn dogs, ice cream, chips and candy. Just about all of the prices are reasonable, with the sandwiches the most expensive items at $4. They even have Dr. Pepper, for those like my father who are connoisseurs of the caramel-colored treat.

The one downfall was the popcorn, which was $2.50 for a tiny box of popcorn. I didn’t bother to try it, but that appeared to be the lone questionable choice in an otherwise decent grouping of selection and value.

Atmosphere: A

This is, plain and simple, a comfortable ballpark. There is plenty of room to move around, a group of respectful and supportive fans and an ample seating bowl. There are occasionally a few goofy sound effects, but the same person who does the public address announcing for the triple-A White Sox affiliate Charlotte Knights a few miles up the road is also on the microphone at Winthrop.

Winthrop has a large video board, but it is mainly used for the in-stadium Bingo game and player/team graphics. There is a large clock on the scoreboard (this helped quell my habit of checking my watch every five minutes) and a pitch speed section. Though the radar gun appeared to be off at times, it was a nice touch to have on the scoreboard.

Sight lines: B

For those who have read my reviews for a while, you will know there is one thing I hate in ballparks, and it is excessive netting. There is a 20′ (or so) high net surrounding the entirety of the seating bowl, and no matter where your seat may be in the park, it is as though you are watching the game inside a jail cell. They announced over the PA that fans could trade in foul balls for a $5 gift card to McAlister’s Deli. The only way to get one of those, however, is to have one popped up that clears the net, or to have a line drive make the perfect carom off the top of the seating bowl.

There appears to be standing room down each baseline, and that area is free of the nets. The standing area is on the “lower” level of the park, whereas the seating bowl is accessed by stairs and rises above the playing field. The concession area is also on the lower level of the park, and the field is not visible from this area. Keep this in mind if going to get a sandwich or a soda.

Parking: A+

Winthrop has one of the best parking situations I’ve ever seen on a college campus. The athletics “complex” is all in the same area, anchored by Winthrop Coliseum. The ample lot for this 6000-plus seat facility serves as the parking area for the baseball stadium, as well as most of the other athletic fields. Simply park your car (for free!) in one of the many available spaces and enjoy the short, tree-lined walk past the tennis facility to the stadium.

Quality of baseball: A

For a game played in a relatively constant rain, this was a pretty darn enjoyable brand of baseball. Winthrop defeated visiting Notre Dame 7-2, behind a well-pitched game from starter Matteo D’Angelo. D’Angelo pitched seven strong innings, striking out three and giving up one run on five hits. Winthrop banged out 13 hits, paced by catcher Eddie Rohan’s 3-for-4 performance and a homer from Patrick Gamblin. Notre Dame received a homer from left fielder Eric Jagielo and a bases-loaded walk.

Winthrop was also extremely solid in the fundamental aspects of the game, perfectly executing a number of bunts. One of those bunts was a two-out suicide squeeze. Winthrop also hit the ball back up the middle on a number of occasions, which is exactly what a coach wants to see.

Overall grade: A-

This is the second collegiate tournament I have attended this year, and the experience at this one was considerably better than the first. Winthrop has one of the nicest facilities in the Big South Conference (if not the entire Southeast), plenty of reasonably-priced seats for everyone and a good brand of baseball. I really enjoyed my trip to Winthrop Ballpark, and I definitely plan to be back sometime soon.

One other tip that I can offer is that this is one of the few parks I have visited where I have not felt completely cramped. The seats have plenty of space, and if you have long legs like I do, even the front row offers you a reasonable amount of room to move. The feeling of watching a game in a cage is not very desirable, but there’s not a lot else to make you feel bad about your trip to this facility. Should your travels bring you to Rock Hill, give this diamond in the rough (no pun intended) a try.

How to get there:

Take Interstate 77 south from Charlotte into South Carolina. Take Exit 82 A-B-C (US 21/SC 161) and continue following the signs for US 21 toward Rock Hill at the bottom of the ramp. Continue along this road past the US 21 South (Anderson Road) and US 21 Business (Cherry Road) split. Stay on US 21 Business for approximately 3 miles until reaching the sign for Winthrop Coliseum (Richmond Drive). Turn left at the light, continue past the stop sign and the parking is on the left, with the stadium on the right.



At the Ballpark – Charles Watson Stadium/Vrooman Field, Conway, SC
February 24, 2011, 2:05 am
Filed under: 2011, Reviews

 

Charles Watson Stadium/Vrooman Field - Click photo for more photos from this visit

If you live anywhere outside of South Carolina, chances are you are familiar with a lot of South Carolina’s biggest cities. Charleston, Columbia and Greenville all have large populations with considerable baseball histories. What of Conway, South Carolina, however?

Conway is a tiny town near Myrtle Beach, and it once housed the South Atlantic League affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays. The Myrtle Beach Blue Jays (later Hurricanes) called Conway home from 1987 to 1992. Though another stadium was built in downtown Myrtle Beach to serve the professional affiliate, a baseball tradition has been formed on the same ground at Coastal Carolina University. The school with the funny nickname (Chanticleers) is now a nationally-ranked college baseball program, but does the stadium live up to the same ranking? Let’s find out.

Concessions: B

This is a college park, and as such, there are not a lot of choices in terms of concessions. They did have a grill available outside of the concession stand, which is a nice plus. Hamburgers and hot dogs are available from said grill (for $4 and $3, respectively), and are a decent bargain. Drinks are also available, though the selection is poor. The price is reasonable, however, and this helps.

Popcorn is also available, but is served in a drink cup and appears to be of the microwave variety. There are also nachos, which seemed to be a favorite of many of the fans. The prices aren’t bad, but the selection is a bit on the light side.

Atmosphere: B

Coastal has renovated their stadium to improve the experience for the players, adding a clubhouse and several other niceties to draw in recruits. In the process of those improvements, however, they have taken away a lot of the seating (more on this in the Overall Grade section). This hurt the atmosphere within the park.

A lot of the students that go to games end up in a standing room area behind the right field fence called the Rooster’s Nest. A lot of the noise from that section seemed to be profanities directed at the various opposing outfielders, which could have just as easily been done without. Good-natured heckling is fine, supporting your team is fine, but some of what was said was unfortunate.

Sight lines: B-

When standing room is available at the fences, this grade goes up a bit. There is not a lot of netting to obstruct vision in most of the ballpark.

As the park gets more full, however, more and more people crowd into the standing room areas (of which there are many in this park – again, more later on this), and sight lines begin to fairly dramatically suffer. My best recommendation if you cannot get a fixed seat in this park is to get there as early as possible and claim a spot on the fence. It’s your only real hope.

Parking: B

The grade for parking doesn’t suffer because of lack of parking, because there seems to be a decent amount of parking on the Coastal Carolina campus. Be careful, however, that you don’t follow the signs, if there are any to be seen. On the weekend I attended, there were signs leading fans to park along the street just behind the stadium (Chanticleer Drive West). Most of the parking was taken up, as there were baseball and softball tournaments going on just steps from each other.

Do yourself a favor and continue along the main road. There is a good amount of parking near the park and Brooks Stadium (the football stadium). If you find yourself on Chanticleer Drive West, as I did, there is a lot of free parking across the road from the track. Be aware if you choose that option (or any other on campus) that there is a several-minute walk to the stadium, and some campus parking may be restricted. Pardon the pun, but be sure to do your homework before parking your car.

Quality of baseball: A

College baseball has changed their bats for the 2011 season, making them safer and less reactive. The effects of the bat changes were at least partly on display during my time at the park, as Coastal lost to Indiana 2-1 in an outstanding 16-inning game in the first game of a doubleheader. They then beat Virginia Tech 6-5 on a walkoff two-run homer in the nightcap. Of the four games Coastal played on their opening weekend, three of them came down to the final pitch (they beat Boston College 9-6 on a walkoff homer in their first game of the season).

There were a few errors from each team, both of omission and commission, but one has to keep in mind that this was the first weekend for everyone involved. The fundamental issues that were lacking, primarily in bunting, should correct themselves over the course of the year, but it was obvious on the whole that these were top-flight teams.

Overall grade: B-

I first attended this park in 1987, and it was considerably different when I first attended. I had to put the vision of the “old” park out of my mind when seeing how it now looks. It’s not as I remember it, but it’s still a pretty darn nice place.

The one real complaint I had was the seating situation. The ticketing “office” told me that only standing room was available – which I appreciated – but that is where the confusion began. The security guard told me that I could stand anywhere inside the chains, so I went to an area beside the third base dugout – inside chains, mind you – that looked like a patio-type area. I was then quickly shooed away from this area, and told to stand inside another chained-off area, which was further down the third base line. I don’t object to standing, but there were two problems with this. First, there were numerous open seats behind the plate for the entirety of both games, and fans were not allowed to venture into those seats without being a season ticket holder. I have ripped ballparks in the past for doing this, and I will rip this one. When there are very few seats available (I would guess 500 or so total “fixed” seats in the park) and no temporary seating, there is no excuse for leaving seats unused.

I also tried to investigate the seating situation and buy tickets online before going to the park, but the online ticketing option on the Coastal sports site returned a “coming soon” message. This is unacceptable for a top-notch baseball school. It appeared – at least from my one visit – that CCU is concerned about two things, recruits and season ticket holders. Standard visiting fans are treated like cattle. I would suggest to CCU that if they plan to host any further tournaments, they should investigate getting some temporary seating.

How to get there:

Take US Highway 501 to Conway, SC. Follow the signs to Coastal Carolina University (turn right if taking 501 South toward Myrtle Beach, and turn left if on 501 North outbound from Myrtle Beach). Continue through the traffic circle and past the first stoplight, and the stadium complex will be on the right.

 



2011 is here, and welcome new readers!
February 21, 2011, 11:32 pm
Filed under: 2011

Welcome back, everyone, for a new year of At the Ballpark!

I’ve been doing this since 2004, and the goal of what you see is to present the experience from the fan’s eyes.  I don’t get any kind of money for doing this, and I don’t get any special perks.  Therefore, you are left with an honest account of what happened on the night I visited the park.  I won’t give everyone an A+ on every visit, nor should I.  I may have caught the ballpark on a bad night, because ballparks — like people — do have them.  There’s nothing personal, and no conflicts of interest.

I hope you enjoy going on another year of virtual rides with me, and welcome you to the greatest season of all…baseball season.



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.