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Carolina League: A feast for senses03/09/2006 10:03 AM ET
By Eric Justic / Special to MLB.com
If you listen closely to the stadiums of the Carolina League, it's easy to see why they are amongst the most fun places to visit in the Minors.
In Frederick, one can hear Keys fans shake their keys in tribute to their 2005 championship team and to Francis Scott Key, the Star Spangled Banner author who was born in Frederick County and is buried across the street from Harry Grove Stadium. One such fan was former President George Bush, who attended two games at Frederick in 1991 and 1992.
Ernie Shore Field sounds more like a carnival than a baseball game at times with its carousel, clowns and face painters who entertain Winston-Salem Warthogs fans. Lest we forget their mascot, Wally the Warthog, creating laughs either, who is prone to squirt fans with his water gun on a hot summer day. The Kinston Indians, who play at Grainger Stadium, have a mascot as well, dubbed Scout. At Salem Memorial Baseball Stadium, Mugsy leads the charge for the Salem Avalanche.
The Potomac Nationals will excite their fans at Pfitzner Stadium with a cool video scoreboard. While the Nats don't have a state-of-the-art video board, the in-game experience is likened to the Majors with the playing of music videos, fun movie reels and updated player statistics amid a smart color scheme. Fans can also grill at the venue or check out the Nationals' Hall of Fame which is in a cafe area behind home plate.
The Nationals also host great promotions. For instance, last season they held a "Win A New Car Night" in which lucky fans had a chance to win a Chrysler PT Cruiser.
"When someone comes to 'The Pfitz,' they're coming to a fun experience, a great show, not just a baseball game," said Jarrod Wronski, the Potomac Nationals media and public relations coordinator.
Indeed, promotions are renowned in Minor League Baseball, and the Carolina League stays true to that tradition. Last season, Myrtle Beach attempted to break a Guinness World Record for Most Groucho Marx Glasses Worn at the Same Time. The Pelicans fans were also treated to a Festival de Beisbol as Coastal Federal Field hosted a Hispanic American heritage event complete with Spanish food and music, and a reception honoring Hispanic team members. Salem saluted the Virginia Tech Hokies, with their head football coach Frank Beamer on hand.
Winston-Salem shows love for its fans every game with a "Sweetheart of the Game" promotion. They give away flowers to one lucky woman and play theme-related songs like The Temptations' "My Girl." The Warthogs will also unveil new promotions this season, such as an eyeball race in which team members zip around the field in inflatable eyeballs. There is also the always reliable, dizzy bat spin race that provides plenty of bloopers and laughs for the Warthogs faithful. And it keeps them coming back.
"Our fans don't live or die if the Warthogs win or lose. It's about if they had a good time at the game. If the Warthogs lose, they can say 'darn, but we had a good time. We can't wait to see that eyeball race again,'" said Alan York, Winston-Salem's director of media relations.
The Warthogs have lots to draw fans to Winston-Salem. They were the first ballpark in Minor League Baseball to have wireless Internet access (so it would be pretty easy to check out this story while watching Minor Leaguers there). They can also brag about having a fish pond in their ballpark.
The baseball experience brings out the fans in Wilmington, Del. Blue Rocks supporters are into every pitch and are focused completely on whether or not their squad wins.
"They came out in droves ... right from the start," Wronski said. "That's something you almost never see in the Minors, and they just seem to have a great atmosphere."
The only thing missing from a perfect Blue Rocks game experience is the voice of John McAdams, their longtime public address announcer who died in 2005. McAdams called games at Wilmington since the team's inception in 1993 and was an integral part of the region's history, having called games in the region for more than three decades.
The history reaches deep into the Carolina League with a trio of stadiums that have lasted for more than half a century. Grainger Stadium has hosted Minor League Baseball since 1949, and Ernie Shore Field opened its gates in 1956. The home of the Lynchburg Hillcats, Calvin Falwell Field at Lynchburg City Stadium, is the oldest with its first game being played in 1940.
And all the Carolina League ballparks are classic in their own ways. Grainger has a steel roof and seats that are close to the playing field. Ernie Shore has one of the clearest views in the league, allowing fans to see the field while they are getting their tickets taken.
Lynchburg City Stadium goes back to another era but vast renovations that were completed prior to the 2005 season have rejuvenated it. It went from having zero luxury skyboxes to 14, and it went from having eight bathroom stalls to 70. The concourse was expanded from eight feet wide to 40 feet, two new picnic areas were added and the entire outer facade was redone in brick to give the stadium an entirely new look. Fans can also be happy that even when they are waiting on line for food, as they won't miss any of the action on the field.
"The great thing about the renovations is that we kept the feel and look of an old ballpark while getting the modern amenities," Lynchburg Hillcats assistant general manager Ronnie Roberts said. "Some of the old steel beams are still in place, and the roof remained and it covers about 40 percent of the seating area. The view from the seats looking straight out over the center-field wall is still spectacular as fans are able to see the Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance."
Carolina League parks are known for having tremendous views. Salem Memorial Baseball Field, the home of the Salem Avalanche and the newest park in the Carolina League, has a picturesque view of the mountains and Roanoke Valley. Myrtle Beach is one of the best parks to view a game with all its amenities and has breezes that make fans feel like they are at the beach.
After all, when it comes to cool things, the Carolina League is key.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.