CaroMont Health Park, Gastonia NC, Sunday August 29th 2021

Outside CaroMount Health Park, Gastonia NC. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

On the back end of a weekend baseball trip to North Carolina, we visited CaroMont Health Park in Gastonia, home of the Atlantic League’s (ALPB) Honey Hunters. Playing their inaugural season, Gastonia offered an opportunity to again visit the Tar Heel State (having done so before in 2017 and 2019). Following an eight hour drive on Friday, and after attending a Charlotte Knights game on Saturday night, we visited Gastonia on Sunday afternoon, in advance of their 450 pm game against the Lexington Legends.

Headquartered in Charlotte for the weekend, we took Interstate 85 south from there to Gastonia, a trip that lasted about 25 minutes. Arriving about 30 minutes before the gates opened at CaroMont Health Park, we parked on West Main Street, and walked through the downtown area. Along the strip, there were many storefronts that reminded me of a small town you might expect to find in North Carolina. In fact, we encountered a sign that stated Gastonia was named an All American City in 1979, 2000 and again in 2010. After walking for about 30 minutes in the hot late August sun, we headed back toward the vehicle and headed toward the ballpark.

A look at downtown Gastonia. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Located about a mile down West Main St is CaroMont Health Park. The ballpark is the centerpiece of the Franklin Urban Sports and Entertainment (FUSE) District , an economic zone developed to reinvigorate downtown Gastonia. Interestingly, there was only parking for season ticket holders onsite, but we were able to secure parking across the street from the stadium in the lot of a church. Parking was free, and just a couple minute walk to the main entrance of the ballpark. My brother wore his vintage Montreal Expos hat to the game, and that did not go unnoticed in Gastonia. The hat spurred a short conversation at the main gate, and later members of the Legends commented on the hat as well. Given that the Montreal Expos have not existed for 17 years, I was mildly surprised that the insignia was still so recognizable.

CaroMont Health Park from behind home plate. The entire playing surface is turf, including the mound. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

It did not take long, after entering the ballpark, to see that there was something different about this place. Like BBT Point (home of the High Point Rockers), CaroMont Health Park has an all turf field, including the mound, home plate, and the bullpens (which have odd, wedge shaped mounds). Just as unique is the vast amount of foul territory on the first and third base lines. After studying the ballpark, it became clear that the stadium was designed for multi purpose use, and that we were seeing its baseball configuration. In fact, during the game, there were several announcements concerning a high school football game that was to take place later in the week.

Home bullpen at CaroMont Health Park. Note the wedge shaped bullpen mound, consisting of artificial turf. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Per our standard operating procedure, we toured the inside of the ballpark. The concrete concourse at CaroMont Health Park rings the stadium, providing us with unfettered access to the entire ballpark. For the most part, the stadium is rather spartan. An entrance gate graces right field, with the Gas House Grill located in centerfield (located beneath the main scoreboard/videoboard). Though we did not actually eat anything at the park (it was simply too hot to eat), it was obvious that the Gas House Grill is meant to be the centerpiece of the dining and drinking experience in the ballpark. A Kids Zone sits between the Gas House Grill and the left field seats, filled with bouncy houses. When we passed, there were no kids playing, but later, from our vantage point down the first base line, we could see the bouncy houses bouncing.

Gas House Grill at CaroMont Health Park, Gastonia NC. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Left field in CaroMont Health Park is yet another interesting element of the stadium. Because the left field wall is close to the plate (a mere 304 feet), a 20 foot net was placed in front the of the seats there, ostensibly to protect fans from balls leaving the playing field, and to prevent “cheap” home runs. Located beyond the netting is a covered picnic area. On this late afternoon, the area was closed for a private event. We have noticed that sadly, even in minor league and ALPB ballparks, exclusivity has become more prevalent. Working our way back toward home plate, we saw two additional covered picnic areas (complete with ceilings fans) before we reached the main concession stands behind home plate. As mentioned, we did not eat that night, but the concession stands offered standard baseball fare at reasonable prices. Loading up on cold drinks to combat the late August heat, we went in search of our seats.

The left field wall is extended by netting covering left field and the Kids Zone. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

My brother chose great seats down the first base side, immediately adjacent to the visitor’s dugout (at CaroMont Health Park, the home team occupies the third base dugout). Those seats provided us with an unobstructed view of the Lexington Legends, and their antics in the dugout. Fortunately, there were no kids near the dugout, because the Legends players were spewing almost nonstop colorful metaphors. Our seats gave us a great view of the entire park, including the surprisingly large scoreboard in centerfield. Unlike most ballparks, clusters of seats were scattered throughout the ballpark, rather than one or two large seating sections. Including the six luxury cabanas located in the second deck behind home plate, the stadium has a capacity of 5,000, though from my perspective, I would not have estimated a capacity quite that high.

Our view of the Lexington Legends dugout. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Being an ALPB game, there were some important rules differences from the MLB and minor leagues. Balls and strikes were called automatically by the Automated Ball-Strike System (ABS), with the output from the system relayed to the home plate umpire, who then makes the call to the players and fans. During this game, many players were visibly upset by the calls. Another rule change included the use of larger bases (18 inches), in hopes of reducing inquires on the base paths. When a starting pitcher is removed from the game, that team loses its designated hitter from the lineup. Dubbed the Double Hook, the rule is intended to inject some strategy back into the game, perhaps encouraging managers to stick with starting pitchers longer. Finally, this was the first ALPB game we had seen since the pitching rubber was moved back one foot to 61 feet 6 inches (the change seemed to have negligible effects on the pitchers). Each of these “experiments” were at the behest of MLB, with which the ALPB has a developmental agreement. It is possible some or all of these rules could someday become part of the MLB game.

Brandon Phillips smiling after being called out on strikes. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Clearly the most recognizable member of either team was the Lexington Legends second baseman Brandon Phillips. A seven time All Star with the Cincinnati Reds, Phillips attracted quite a bit of attention as he crossed the field before the game. A part owner of the Legends, Phillips seemed to be enjoying his tenure in the ALPB, and had a smile for everyone he encountered that day. First pitch occurred at 455 PM, and the first inning saw only one run scored. However, from there, the game quickly got out of hand, as both teams scored runs by the bunch. Lexington scored nine runs in the top of the second inning, chasing the Gastonia starter from the game. Not to be outdone, the Honey Hunters scored five runs in the bottom of the third inning, and the slugfest was on!

A near collision between the Legends’ catcher and third baseman on an infield popup. The catcher made the play, and was none to pleased that the third baseman was so close. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Until recently, the ALPB was a league where the pitching was almost always better than the hitting. Since the beginning of the 2019 season, the quality of pitching in the league has dwindled, and the game in Gastonia was the quintessential case in point. Even the starting pitcher for Lexington (right hander JJ Hoover, the winner pitcher) surrendered nine runs in his five innings of work. Nearly continuous scoring slowed the pace of the game to a crawl, as late afternoon slowly faded into early evening. That time gave us a better opportunity to take in the environment. Though the crowd was fairly sparse (which is not usual for a Sunday game), they were vocal when the Honey Hunters scored, and were supportive when Lexington was running up the score. Eventually, the home team simply ran out of pitchers, sending outfielder Boog Powell to the mound for the top of the ninth inning. Predictably, Powell was tattooed as he threw batting practice fastballs that were swatted for home runs by the Lexington batters. Powell was replaced by center fielder Jake Sloke, who induced a double play to end the inning.

CaroMont Health Park as evening approaches. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Mercifully, the Honey Hunters went down relatively quietly to end the contest. The final score was 26-12 in favor of Lexington, who hit eight home runs during the game. My brother dubbed the game a “train wreck”, and I would be hard pressed to disagree. Watching an outfielder take the mound brought the game to a standstill, and I seriously considered leaving before the game concluded. As we exited the stadium, I took one last look at the ballpark. CaroMont Health Park is a bare bones, multi purpose community facility, something akin to what we saw in High Point. It is possible that lower levels of the minor leagues, as well as independent baseball, could follow this blueprint when constructing ballparks in the future. We left shortly after the game, heading back to our hotel in Charlotte. While I am glad we visited Gastonia during its maiden season, there is not enough to bring me back to this North Carolina town.

CaroMont Health Park after the game. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

PeoplesBank Park, York PA June 13th 2021

Welcome to PeoplesBank Park in York PA!

On a cloudy Sunday afternoon, with the threat of thunderstorms looming in the distance, my brother and I set out for PeoplesBank Park in York, PA, the home of the Atlantic League’s (ALPB) York Revolution. About 45 minutes from home for me, the ride was relatively simple, as traffic was generally light during the early afternoon. Parking at PeoplesBank Park is spread across the general area of the stadium, with the most popular lot across the Codorus Creek from the park at the Smalls Athletic Field (using Google Maps with this location should make finding parking fairly simple). At $4.00, parking was a bargain, with the walk from the lot to the stadium taking less than 10 minutes. For those fans with mobility issues, there is a parking lot next to the field, but you may want to check on availability.

My brother and I had been here once before, as we headed home following a trip to eastern OH/western PA to see ballparks out that way. Just ahead of some deteriorating weather, we walked around the outside of the ballpark, which did not afford much of a sense of the place. Leaving just as the rain began, we left without knowing much more than we did before we arrived. Since the ballpark was within range of both of us, we planned to visit PeoplesBank Park in 2020, but the pandemic resulted in the cancellation of the Atlantic League season. Our first proper visit to York would have to wait…until today

The view of PeoplesBank Park from the Smalls Athletic Field across the Codorus Creek in York PA. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

PeoplesBank Park is located on the edge of a neighborhood in York, and we saw row houses somewhat reminiscent of those found in Philadelphia. We found the architecture similar to what we saw in Harrisburg as well, so it seems to be a common theme across southeast and central PA. In fact, I would have been interested in walking through the neighborhood to get a better feel for the area, but we did not leave sufficient time for a side trip. Perhaps if time permits in a subsequent trip, we will investigate this portion of York more thoroughly.

Though we were briefly here less than two years before, my memory of the event is fuzzy at best, so it was as if we were seeing the ballpark for the first time. PeoplesBank Park features Brooks Robinson Plaza, located to the right of the main entrance to the ballpark. A statue of Robinson graces the plaza, along with a plaque outlining information about the Hall of Famer’s storied career. Opening in 2007, PeoplesBank Park was constructed to resemble Orioles Park at Camden Yards, the favorite MLB team in this portion of PA. Without much to see on the outside of the park, we entered the stadium through the home plate gate.

A statue of Brooks Robinson and young fans in Brooks Robinson Plaza at PeoplesBank Park. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Upon entering the stadium, we quickly walked around the lower concourse, which encircled the ballpark. Not knowing what to expect, I was immediately impressed with the park, which seemed colorful and vibrant, even on this cloudy Sunday afternoon. With only minutes before the first pitch, we quickly walked from right field to left field before finding our seats along the third base side. Though I did see why others thought PeoplesBank Park looked liked Camden Yards (especially the picnic area in right field), another ballpark came to mind: Regency Furniture Stadium, located in Waldorf, MD. Also home to an Atlantic League franchise (the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs), there was more than just a passing resemblance to that ballpark, which we would discover during the game.

PeoplesBank Park from the centerfield concourse. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Perhaps the most prominent feature in PeoplesBank Park is the wall in left field. Known as Arch Nemesis, the forest green wall stands 37 feet 8 inches tall (six inches taller than the Green Monster in Fenway Park), making it the highest wall in professional baseball. Creation of the highest wall in baseball was apparently in response to the short distance from home down the left field (a mere 300 feet), due to the presence of train tracks just beyond the wall. We saw the wall in “action”, as the ballpark held a couple of balls that may have left other ballparks with shorter fences. There is also a manually operated scoreboard at the base of the Arch Nemesis, which bares some resemblance to the one in Fenway.

The Arch Nemesis, located in left field at PeoplesBank Park in York PA. Note the hand operated scoreboard at the base, like the one at Fenway Park in Boston MA. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

We reached our seats in the lower level behind the dugout just as the first pitch was thrown. Minutes later, to our surprise, a beautiful sight appeared. A bald eagle passed nearly overhead, and it seemed as though the entire crowd noticed its passage. Based on the murmuring in the crowd, I got the impression that the eagle had been there before, and PeoplesBank Park could be on its normal route through the area. Quick reactions by my brother allowed him to capture the moment perfectly with his camera. Unfortunately, the eagle did not pass by again during the game.

This was not the first time we were graced by the presence of a bald eagle. While exploring Lock #1 on the Mississippi River in St Cloud MN on an overcast and cold late September afternoon, a bald eagle passed overhead, flying south along the river. That time, we were caught completely off guard by the eagle’s passage, and neither of us managed to snap a picture before it disappeared into the distance.

A bald eagle passing overhead on a cloudy Sunday afternoon at PeoplesBank Park in York PA. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Following the excitement of our unexpected visitor, we turned our attention back to the game. For this Sunday matinee, the York Revolution were hosting the Long Island Ducks for the finale of their series. There is a strong tie between the Ducks franchise and the New York Mets. Ducks manager Wally Backman was the starting second baseman for the the 1986 World Championship team, and the Ducks starting left fielder, L.J. Mazzilli, is the son of perennial Mets fan favorite Lee Mazzilli. Coming into the action this afternoon, the Ducks held a three game lead over the Revolution in the North Division of the ALPBA.

Settling into the game, I began to take a better look at PeoplesBank Park. As mentioned earlier, I felt as though it had more than a passing resemblance to Regency Furniture Stadium, and the more I examined my surroundings, the more I saw the similarities. Like the ballpark in Waldorf, MD, the bullpens were located in foul territory just behind the bases. Seating for the respective bullpens is near the railing, with line drive foul balls putting the relievers in a precarious spot. On this day, most relievers were either in the dugout or further down the line, a testament of the danger these players face sitting in prime line drive areas.

Most of the chairs in the Revolution bullpen area are empty, as line drive foul balls off the bats of right handed hitters puts the pitchers in danger. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

In addition, the main seating area was structured similarly to Regency Furniture Park, with seats on the left and right field lines angled such that they faced the pitcher’s mound. When the seating in left and right field along the rail is considered, PeoplesBank Park hold about 7,500 fans, which is large for an ALPB stadium.

In addition to the hand operated scoreboard, there is a more modern scoreboard, located in centerfield, just behind the picnic area. Modest in size and resolution, this scoreboard was mainly informational, with occasional video replays presented. During the game, I noticed to auxiliary video boards near centerfield (that seemed to play mainly advertisements). Finally, sandwiched between the Arch Nemesis and the centerfield score board was a tightly packed kids zone. Complete with a carousel and several slides, these facilities offered something else for the kids to do while the adults enjoyed baseball.

The kids zone at PeoplesBank Park, nestled between the Arch Nemesis and the centerfield picnic area. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Though I did not exactly know what to expect as we drove toward York, PeoplesBank Park far exceeded my expectations. The more I saw of the park, the more I liked it. Placed along Arch Street (on the edge of a neighborhood), the ballpark has an urban feel to it, providing the stadium with an appealing backdrop. Not long after the first pitch, I felt as though PeoplesBank Park was possibly my favorite ALPB ballpark (sorry Southern Maryland Blue Crabs).

During our brief tour of the ballpark, we did notice places to eat, especially on the concourse in right field. Given our time constraints, we did not examine any of the cuisine at PeoplesBank Park, instead choosing standard baseball fare (sodas, hot dogs and pretzels) at the nearby concession stand. Considering that my palette is relatively unsophisticated (and I do not drink alcohol at ball games), it is likely that I would be unable to render an intelligent review of food and drink at the park. For that, you are on your own.

The view from our seats. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Following a quiet top of the first, the Revolution scored three runs in the bottom of the frame. After that outburst, the game did not see any more scoring until the top of the sixth inning. However, due to the 16 walks issued by both teams (as well as a number of deep counts), the pace of play slowed to a crawl at times. This is not atypical for an ALPB game, as the rosters mainly consist of ex MLB/MiLB players, as well as those that went undrafted. For comparison, the level of play in the ALPB is roughly similar to that seen at the Double A level in affiliated baseball, though players (with the notable exception of pitchers) are typically more polished in the ALPB, due to the experience level of the players.

It is not unusual for ALPB rosters to have familiar names on it, which helps with attendance in most cities, but many of these players are past their best days. Some hang onto the notion of being picked up by an affiliated team (which happens fairly often, given there is a player development deal in place between MLB and the ALPB), while others play baseball for as long as they can before hanging up their spikes for good. The ALPB also brings baseball to underserved areas, in places where there are no MLB or MiLB teams close by.

A view of the scoreboard/video board in centerfield. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Though the crowd was not particularly large (as often happens for Sunday afternoon games), the fans were vocal, especially those close to us. That enthusiasm was also evident on the field, as the Revolution third baseman pretended to swat at the York shortstop who got too close on an infield popup. Though the sample size is admittedly small, there seems to be a good repertoire between the fans and the team, and that is refreshing. All too often when teams play badly, so called fans seem to turn on them, but that does not seem to be the case here.

Revolution shortstop and third baseman converging on a popup. Feeling the shortstop got too close, the third baseman playfully swatted at him after making the catch. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

In the top of the sixth inning, the Ducks scored two runs, drawing within a run of the Revolution. However, York tacked on another run in the bottom of the seventh inning, and a trio of Revolution relievers held off Long Island for a 4-2 victory. Unlike most crowds, many Revolution fans stayed until the last pitch. Thankfully, the threat of thunderstorms held off, providing a cloudy but dry experience at PeoplesBank Park. As we filed out of the park, I was still surprised how much I enjoyed the place. Obviously, a great deal of thought went into the design of the stadium, and the place still looks great years after first opening its gates. Being just 45 minutes away, I plan to visit this beautiful ballpark as often as it feasible.

Walking back to the parking lot after the game, I once again enjoyed the surroundings. Being relatively new to the area, I found this part of York fascinating, and could spend time here simply exploring. The entire visit was enjoyable, and PeoplesBank Park is worth a visit if you are within range during the ALPB season.

The York Train Station, just outside PeoplesBank Park. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Campbell’s Field, Camden NJ

Main entrance to Campbell’s Field in Camden NJ. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)
  • First visit: Tuesday, July 26th 2011
  • Final visit: Sunday, August 3rd, 2014

During a brief return to NJ in the early 2010s, I became aware of the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball‘s (ALPB) franchise in Camden NJ. Dubbed the Riversharks, the team played its home games at Campbell’s Field, located near the Delaware River. Campbell’s Field was the northern extent of the Camden Waterfront, a revitalization project which includes the Adventure Aquarium and the BB&T Pavilion, an outdoor amphitheater. Opening in 2001, not only was Campbell’s Field home of the Riversharks, it also hosted baseball for Rutgers University, St. Joseph’s University, and Temple University. The field served as the home of the Riversharks between 2001 and 2015.

Living less than 20 miles away, the trip to the ballpark was relatively simple, taking state roads to the Waterfront. Parking was also simple, as there was generally many available spots in the main lot adjacent to the stadium. Driving through Camden, it was clear that the city was still in the process of recovery, with reclamation projects in progress. Not that many years before, people actively avoided Camden, as it had a reputation for violence, and that reputation kept the city from rebounding. With the opening of the Camden Waterfront, positive changes occurred, and by the time we visited Campbell’s Field, it was a much more pleasant environment.

The view from behind home plate at Campbell’s Field in Camden, with the Ben Franklin Bridge dominating the skyline. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Being an independent league, ALPB rosters often include ex-MLB players, minor leaguers out of options with their MLB club, and young players not drafted into the MLB pipeline. It is not unusual for teams to have a few notable ex-MLB players, and being able to seem them in a much more intimate setting can be a boost for the ALPB team’s attendance. Due to the mix of experienced players and young talent, the level of play at Campbell’s Field was good, rivaling the level of play in AA, and the pitching tends to be perhaps just a bit better. Pay in the ALPB is not great, so players in the league have motivation to perform well, as ex-MLBers play for one more shot at The Show, and younger players try to get noticed by MLB organization.

Walking up to Campbell’s Field, the view is dominated by the Ben Franklin Bridge, which connects Camden to Philadelphia, PA. Regardless of what we might find inside, the magnificent view of the suspension bridge superimposed on the ballpark was worth the trip itself. Entering the ballpark required climbing a not inconsequential set of concrete stairs (as shown in the first picture), which would pose an issue for those with mobility issues. Stairs climbed, we were deposited on the upper concourse. Almost all of the concession stands were located on the upper concourse, as well as a small team store. Unlike most ballparks we have visited, there were not any specialty cuisine locations available, but the “essentials” for a baseball dinner were available. Strolling along the upper concourse toward right field, there was not much to see, outside of the gorgeous view of the bridge. Doubling back to the left field line, there was Picnic Pavilion, a picnic area toward the foul pole. Just above the Picnic Pavilion was the Kid’s Zone, a place designed for younger fans.

A view of Campbell’s Field from the lower level seats behind first base. Note the bullpen in the foul territory down the left field line. Finley, the Riversharks mascot, is located at the end of the first base dugout. Brief glimpse of the Philadelphia skyline to the right of the luxury boxes are available in left field. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

During our tour, we discovered that Campbell’s Field had two levels of seating. Separated by a lower concourse, the lower level seats extended from mid left field behind home plate to mid right field. The upper level seating mirrored the lower level in coverage, and luxury boxes stood atop the ballpark near home plate. All told, the park held 6,700 fans, though the seating area did not appear to be big enough to accommodate that many fans. Like most minor league/independent league ballparks, advertisement boards extended from foul line to foul line just above the outfield wall. A small and seemingly dated combination scoreboard/videoboard was placed just behind the right centerfield wall. My overall impression was that Campbell’s Field was a functional but unimpressive modular ballpark, lacking many of the amenities seen in parks built during the same era.

Campbell’s Field’s scoreboard/videoboard in right centerfield. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Of course, the star of the stadium was the view of the bridge, which seemingly towers above the park as it stretches from just beyond left field (where one of the concrete supports sits) out past right centerfield. Even during game action, I found myself transfixed by the view, and the effect was amplified at night when the bridge was lit. From most of the park, it was not that easy to see the Philadelphia skyline, but seats in right field afforded the best view. Even pictures don’t do the view justice, as the superstructure announces its presence with authority. To be honest, the remainder of the park pales in comparison, and in 2004, Baseball America named Campbell’s Field the Ballpark of the Year. Based on the view alone, I can understand why the honor was bestowed.

Apparently, the view at Campbell’s Field was not enough to entice fans to the ballpark. During each of our visits, attendance was disappointing. For a doubleheader in July of 2011, there were fewer than 750 fans in the park, making it look nearly deserted. Granted, the first game of the doubleheader started at 510 pm, which is just about the time most people in the area leave work, but the weather was warm and dry for July. Attendance statistics indicated that Camden drew about 3,200 fans per game, but we never saw anything close to that in the park. Having the Phillies just a few miles away might have had an influence on attendance, and perhaps the location had a deleterious effect on getting fans to the game (as the reputation of Camden seems to be slow to fade).

The view from our seats for the first game of a doubleheader before a nearly deserted ballpark. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Even though Campbell’s Field was fairly close to my home in 2011/2012, we did not go to the ballpark very often. Competition from other baseball options meant that Camden was typically a last choice, especially when all other teams were out of town. Plummeting ticket sales meant that Camden would have difficulty holding onto its place in the ALPB. Sadly, Camden eventually lost its franchise, as the team folded after the 2015 season. Replacing the Riversharks in the ALPB was the New Britain Bees, which only lasted a couple of seasons before folding themselves. Between 2015-2018, all three colleges that called Campbell’s Field home found other accommodations, meaning that the stadium no longer had full time residents. With the prospect of attracting new teams looking unlikely, the ballpark was demolished late in 2018.

Aside from the amazing backdrop, Campbell’s Field held no charm for me. It was, after all, a modular stadium in a location that many felt was difficult to reach, or didn’t feel comfortable visiting. While I do not miss the park, I mourn the loss of baseball in an area that could have used it as another attraction to help a city on the rise.

Goodbye, Campbell’s Field. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Regency Furniture Stadium, Waldorf MD

Regency Furniture Stadium, home of the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs, located in Waldorf MD. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)
  • First visit: Sunday, August 13th 2015
  • Most recent visit: Saturday, July 23rd 2019

Moving to the DC area in 2013 opened up quite a few baseball opportunities, including MLB baseball, minor league baseball (at just about all levels), as well as access to an Atlantic League of Professional Baseball (ALPB) team. Located in Waldorf, MD, I was aware of the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs, but their ballpark, Regency Furniture Stadium is a distance from my home. While the drive is only about 40 miles, traffic along the preferred route can be very difficult, especially during the evening commute. Colleagues living in that area report that the trip to Waldorf during the drive home can take as much as 90 minutes. That prospect caused my curiosity to wane, as there are many other baseball options closer to home. As a result, we did not visit Regency Furniture Stadium for the first time until 2015.

Our first trip to Waldorf occurred toward the end of the 2015 campaign, on a Sunday afternoon. That game was chosen as it promised to be a much less onerous drive. Even so, the trip down to Waldorf took about 50 minutes, with travel conditions being nearly idea. Nestled away in a more rural portion of southern Maryland, we needed to consult Google Maps to find the stadium, which routed us through some bucolic scenery before reaching the ballpark. As we approached the stadium, it was clear that parking would NOT be an issue, as there is a large lot in front of the park. Though the Blue Crabs website stated that parking in the lot was $5.00, we did not see any attendants collecting fees, so we simply found a suitable spot and walked up to the stadium. In subsequent visits, we noticed that there never seemed to be anyone dedicated to collect payment for parking.

Regency Furniture Stadium from the main concourse on the third base side. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

With very little to see around the ballpark, we headed to the ticket window to purchase seats for the game. It seemed as though few people were performing many tasks at the window, giving the place a mom-and-pop store feel. After securing seats, we entered through the main gate (located behind home plate), which featured an old-style turnstile. Attendants at the main entrance were friendly, reminding me that we were in southern Maryland, a much different environment from the DC area, where stadium attendants can be far less cordial (yeah, I’m looking at you, Nationals Park). Seeing the interior of Regency Furniture Stadium, it was clear there was something different about this place. Though it was obviously a modular stadium, there were aspects of the park that appeared to be an intentional departure from the cookie cutter minor league/independent park form.

Upon entering the park, we walked along the main concourse. Virtually all of the concession stands are located there. In addition to standard fare, there were many seafood based offerings available. Also located on the main concourse is the Blue Crabs team store. Relatively small when compared to other ballparks, it offers hats, jersey, jackets and other apparel, with very friendly and helpful staff that seem to understand when you are “just looking”. Walking down the right field line, we encountered Pinch’s Playground (named after the team’s mascot, Pinch), a fairly large area with games and attractions (including a rock wall for climbing) designed for younger fans.

A look at the right field area of Regency Furniture Park, which contains Pinch’s Playground, a Wawa wall and the bullpen. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Unlike most minor league/independent league parks, the main concourse encircles Regency Furniture Stadium, allowing us access to the outfield. From behind the centerfield wall, we were able to take in the entire ballpark. There is one main seating area in the stadium, extending from mid right field behind home plate to mid left field. Curiously, the seating area shrinks to just a few rows directly behind home plate, with luxury boxes sitting just above them. This is a configuration we had not seen before, but this would not be the last unique aspect of the park we would discover. In total, Regency Furniture Stadium holds about 4,200 patrons, which is smaller than average for the minor league and independent ballparks we have visited

Extending from mid left/right field to the foul poles are large yellow walls adorned with Wawa advertisements. A convenience store chain based in PA, we are very familiar with the stores, but were surprised it was advertising this far south. Like the seats behind home plate, we had not seen high walls like this in many ballparks, and I couldn’t help but focus on them. Bullpens for each team are located next to the Wawa walls in foul territory. Seating for the bullpen pitchers is located a bit further toward home plate. Placing the bullpen seating in these locations was a curious decision, as they are in prime areas for line drive foul balls, which could result in bodily harm. Not surprisingly, bullpen pitchers don’t actually sit there during play, preferring the relative safety of the dugouts. Following the concourse to left field, we found Crabby Cove, an artificial pond with paddle boats (though we never saw anyone actually using the boats). Near the left field foul pole stands the Legends Club. This facility is designed for private events, and we had not seen this facility open during the baseball season.

Regency Furniture Stadium from the pavilion in left field, adjacent to the Legends Club. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Following our brief tour of the stadium, we obtained a baseball lunch from the concession stand behind third base and headed toward our seats. From there, we saw on the large green left field wall a hand operated scoreboard, which is somewhat reminiscent of the scoreboard at Fenway Park in Boston. That final touch solidified, in my mind, that Regency Furniture Stadium was the quirkiest ballpark I had seen. However, rather than feeling forced, the eccentricities of the park seemed more organic, lending an air of authenticity to largely modular ballpark. There was enough to look at during breaks in the action to keep fans interested, and I found that refreshing.

The hand operated scoreboard at Regency Furniture Stadium, located on what appears to be a “mini Green Monster” in left field. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Attendance was light for this game, and we had most of the section to ourselves. At first, I though it was odd that there were some many empty seats for the game, but after visiting a number of times, I learned that the Blue Crabs don’t draw very well. Perhaps it’s the location of the ballpark; getting to the stadium from the north during the evening commute can be brutal. Perhaps baseball just isn’t as popular here as it is closer to DC. In fact, we have never seen the ballpark more than one-quarter full, and there have been times when I’ve seen less than 500 people in the seats. It saddened me to see such little support from the community for the team, and I wondered how the seemingly poor attendance could justify keeping an ALPB franchise here.

The view from where we typically sit when attending games at Regency Furniture Stadium. Note the Blue Crabs mascot Pinch near the dugout.(Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Being an independent league, ALPB rosters often include ex-MLB players, minor leaguers out of options with their MLB club, and young players not drafted into the MLB pipeline. It is not unusual for teams to have a few notable ex-MLB players, and being able to seem them in a much more intimate setting can be a boost for the ALPB team’s attendance. We didn’t see any familiar names during this game, but given the fluidity of the ALPB team rosters, there is always a chance to see a former MLB star on the field in Waldorf. Due to the mix of experienced players and young talent, the level of play at Regency Furniture Stadium is surprisingly good. For those with knowledge of minor league play, the ALPB is close to that of AA, and the pitching tends to be perhaps just a bit better.

Pay in the ALPB is not great, so players in the league have motivation to perform well, as ex-MLBers play for one more shot at The Show, and younger players try to get noticed by MLB organization. Since the MLB and ALPB have a working relationship, it is not unusual for MLB teams to pluck players from teams like the Blue Crabs and place them in their minor league system. Right hander Chris Mazza, a Southern Maryland Blue Crab alum, has recently pitched in the MLB for the New York Mets and the Boston Red Sox. As part of that relationship, the ALPB tests rule changes that the MLB is considering for the future, and because of that, my brother and I were in Regency Furniture Stadium when the first steal of first base occurred. Another important change is the use of an automated strike zone. Though I did not see the automated system in Waldorf, my brother has seen it in action in Somerset, home of the Patriots.

Pinch, the Blue Crabs mascot, entertaining fans at Regency Furniture Stadium in Waldorf, MD. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Most of the games we have seen at Regency Furniture Stadium seemed to have a weather memory associated with them. During the spring, cold air wedged against the mountains to the west results in cloudy, cool weather with drizzle and fog, and we have seen our share of those games. During the summer, heat and humidity is common at the ballpark, with a semi-regular threat of thunderstorms. On one occasion, thunderstorms east of the stadium lit up the night, but did not affect the game. While details of that game escape me, the images of the lightning pealing across the dark sky revealing storm clouds remains etched in my memory. Luckily, most of the games we’ve seen at the ballpark have been rain free.

Occasional flashes of lightning light up the storm clouds over the right field fence at Regency Furniture Stadium. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Following night games, the drive back home to the DC area can be as peaceful as drive down during the evening commute are painful. Winding through the rural roads from the stadium is a dark drive with little in the way of street lights. It is not unusual for fog to develop, and we often see as many deer as we do cars on our way back to the highway. On these nights, the drive home can take as little as 45 minutes, with traffic light until we reach the DC suburbs.

Due to COVID-19, the 2020 ALPB season was scrapped, raising fears that the league might not survive. Two of the flagship franchise left the league during the offseason to become minor league affiliates, further stoking concern about the viability of the ALPB to play a 2021 season. However, three new teams joined the league after being released as minor league affiliates, and the league is planning to play a 2021 campaign. This means another season of Blue Crabs baseball is in the offing. If you are within range of Regency Furniture Stadium when the team is in town, make sure to go and see the Blue Crabs, if for no other reason than to see one the quirkiest ballpark we have seen in our travels.

Hope to see you again soon, Regency Furniture Stadium! (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

North Carolina, June 15th and 16th, 2019

The first mini road trip on the 2019 baseball season in the United States took place on the weekend of June 15th/16th 2019. My brother came down to Maryland the night before, and our trip began after 900 am Saturday morning. Google mapped out a 250 mile trip in a little more than four hours, placing us at the hotel outside Durham, NC in the early afternoon. Following lunch in VA about halfway through the trip, we stopped at Target store to purchase a clamp for my GoPro Hero 7 Black camera.

We found the clamp quickly, but waited for what seemed like an infinity on line to buy it. Lines simply weren’t moving, and nobody in the store appeared to know why. There were whispers of problems with the registers, and we were informed by management that Target’s online presence was also offline. Not wanting to waste any more time waiting, we left the store. Google informed us there was another Target nearby, so we headed there. Before we could get to the door, someone told us that the store was closed, due to register problems. We read later than Target’s entire system was down nationwide for nearly two hours, just as we tried to buy a part.

We found the part at an adjacent Best Buy, and we were on our way. The delay placed us nearly an hour behind, and we didn’t reach the hotel until nearly 400 pm. Luckily, the weather was wonderful, warm with relatively low humidity. Not being a fan of heat or humidity, my worst fears of what we might encounter in NC in mid June went unfounded.

Durham Bulls Athletic Park, home plate entrance, June 15th 2019. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

The stadium was about 15 minutes from the hotel, ensconced in downtown Durham. Like most urban ballparks, there was parking offsite, and we found a garage that was reasonably priced. Typically, we are wary of parking in multiple level garages, which can result in a VERY long wait at the end of the game. Since we had some time before the gates opened, we explored the environs adjacent to the ballpark. As is the case with urban parks, the area was filled with shops, bars and restaurants, and it seemed as though this location was in the process of renovation.

Before going into the park, we looked through the team store. On the wall next to the store were plaques of retired Bulls numbers. Of course, not being a Bulls fan, we did not recognize the numbers and the significance behind them. However, there WAS a number we did recognize. Any fan of the movie Bull Durham would know this number instantly.

Photo credit: Jeff Hayes

Once inside the team store, there were MANY references to the movie (not surprisingly), with Crash Davis and Nuke Laloosh jerseys for sale. To be sure, I expected some nod to the movie, but this was more than I anticipated. However, I’m sure that the merchandise with these names sell very well here, as fans take home a little piece of the movie.

We entered the ballpark at the home plate gate, and conducted our typical pre game tour of the stadium. While this is NOT the same stadium from the movie, Durham Bulls Athletic Park is a beautiful park. Even though this wasn’t the park from the movie, there WAS a familiar site in left field.

The snorting bull in left field at Durham Bulls Athletic Park in Durham NC. According to Wikipedia, this is NOT the bull from the movie Bull Durham (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

In Durham Bulls Athletic Park, the snorting bull is located in left field; in Bull Durham, the bull was in right field. There were no other obvious nods to the past, but this park didn’t need them. It stands on its own as a great minor league experience.

Typically, we select seats for baseball games in a particular manner. The preferred location is in the lower level between home plate and third or first base. These seats are best for taking pictures, and depending on the stadium, the best view of the field. If these seats are not available, we prefer to be higher, as close to home plate as possible. This usually occurs at major league parks with strong fan bases.

For this park, we chose seats in the lower level, right behind home plate. Because of the netting, these seats are worse for taking pictures, but here, it offered an amazing view of a beautiful ballpark. Like many urban ballparks we have visited, there were condominiums in left center field. If I worked in the area, I’d certainly have to investigate the feasibility of living in one of these homes.

The view from our seats at Durham Bulls Athletic Park, June 15th, 2019. Though the net did not afford the best picture taking, the seats DID give us the best view of the park (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

While we knew the Bulls’ opponent for this game would be the Scranton Wilkes-Barre RailRiders (the AAA affiliate of the New York Yankees), what we didn’t know is that there would be two major leaguers on rehab assignments tonight. Both Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton were in the lineup, batting first and second, respectively. Based on the buzz from the crowd, they were fully aware these players would be here. Of course, the two players were fully cognizant of the attention they would garner, and made sure they were in view of the crowd at every opportunity.

In fact, Judge signed autographs near the on deck circle before each at bat. Normally, even at the minor league level, this behavior is either strongly discouraged or outright forbidden. Given the situation, it seemed as though the Bulls’ management was content to look the other way, especially since it did not interfere with play. Each hitter had four at bats, with Judge DHing and Stanton in left field. Though neither player had a hit tonight, most fans didn’t seem to mind. Their mere presence was enough to make the fans’ night.

Aaron Judge (foreground) and Giancarlo Stanton (background) posing before hitting in the top of the 1st inning. Think these guys knew they were being photographed and videoed??? (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

The RailRiders had a couple of other major leaguers in the lineup, as well as a few players that have been rising through the Yankees minor league system. My brother lives near Arm&Hammer Park, home of the Yankees AA team in Trenton, NJ, and he saw a few of these players there recently. We did not recognize many of the players in the Bulls lineup (the Durham Bulls are the AAA affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays) . The game itself was a tight affair, with the RailRiders starter Raynel Espinal allowing one runs in six innings of work.

A snippet of Aaron Judge’s at bat in the third inning.

The Bulls starter, Jake Croneworth, pitched the first inning, followed by four reliever. The quintet blanked the RailRiders on just two hits. The Bulls tacked on a run in the 7th, winning the game 2-0.

Photo credit: Jeff Hayes

After the game, we headed back to the hotel, ending a long day of travel and baseball.


Sunday, June 16th

Our next stop on the abbreviated road trip was High Point, NC, home of the High Point Rockers. The Rockers are the newest franchise in the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball. High Point is about an hour from Durham, and since the game didn’t start until 205 pm, we had time in the morning to explore the area. Our target was Eno River State Park, located in Durham. Walking paths located adjacent to the parking lot made for easy access to the park. The portion of the park we visited contained the remains of the Cole Mills, along the banks of the river.

One of the buildings near the old Cole Mill.

We walked along the river, reaching a waterfall. Beyond the waterfall, the river continued upstream into a field ringed by pine trees. While we didn’t see much in the way of wildlife on our journey, we did find some turtles sunning themselves on fallen tree trunks. These particular turtles were very skittish, plopping into the water whenever we made sounds, or wandered too close to the riverbank. Following several attempts to get better looks at the turtles (during which time all of the remaining turtles jumped into the water), we headed back up the trail, leaving the turtles in peace.

Turtles enjoying the sunshine in Eno River State Park. Shortly after this picture was taken, these two dropped into the water as we got too close. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Wandering down the path, we enjoyed the warm but dry morning, splashed by wall to wall sunshine. Despite the beautiful weather, there were few others in the park. Before we knew it, we’d spent more than an hour there. After crossing a bridge spanning the river, we headed back toward the parking lot. Before leaving, we made one last visit to the waterfall. The serenity of the waterfall was inviting, and we spent some time there before getting back on the road. If there was more time, we could have spent the morning there. If you are in the area, I highly recommend a visit.

Driving along Interstate 40 toward High Point, we realized we would be passing fairly close to Greensboro. Originally, we attempted to fit Greensboro into the schedule for this weekend, but the Grasshoppers were out of town. Since we were nearby, we decided to make a quick stop to see the stadium. Located in downtown Greensboro, First National Bank Field is the home of the Grasshoppers, the South Atlantic League single A affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

When we arrived, that portion of Greensboro was very quiet at noon. Even though the Grasshoppers were away, the ballpark was in use, and apparently open to the public. Assuming that to be true, we entered the park to see a game in progress. There were no outward signs of the names of the teams playing, nor what league they were in. Like any other park we’ve visited, we wandered around the ballpark, taking pictures along the way.

First National Bank Field in Greensboro, NC. Just like other ballparks in urban areas we’ve visited, there are condominiums lining the right field fence. The ballpark was beautiful in the day time; it seems as though it is even more attractive at night. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

After spending about 30 minutes at First National Bank Field, we continued on our way to High Point, reaching the stadium about an hour before the scheduled start time. BB&T Point is the home of the High Point Rockers, the newest addition to the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball. The ballpark is located on the edge of downtown High Point, surrounded by commercial property .

BB&T Point, home of the High Point Rockers. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Parking was a bit confusing, as there did not seem to be a dedicated parking lot at the park. We arrived early enough to park on the street, but even that option came with some question marks. We opted to park in a private lot across the street, and parking was reasonable ($5.00). We walked over to the nearest gate to enter the ballpark not long after arriving, as gates open about an hour before game time.

However, the gates did NOT open on time. With an increasingly restless crowd waiting at the gate, fans were finally allowed to enter less than 30 minutes before first pitch. The late entrance left us little time for our pre-game ballpark tour, but we managed to take pictures before heading to the seats. The obligatory stop at the third base concession stand provided standard ballpark fare. My hot dogs were fried, but ultimately tasty, without the aftertaste common to ballpark dogs.

Inside BB&T Point, home of the Rockers. Note the surface is AstroTurf; both the “grass” and “dirt” are turf. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

One of the aspects of the ballpark that caught our attention was the playing surface. Many newer ballparks have some version of turf, but BB&T Point had something we’ve never seen before. Not only was the “grass” made of AstroTurf, so was the “dirt” portion of the field (including the mound and batters boxes). Presumably an attempt to mitigate maintenance costs, the unique field was as attractive as it was interesting. The weather was pleasantly warm for the 205 pm start, as we took our seats in the lower level on the third base side. Much like we’ve seen elsewhere, the Sunday afternoon game was lightly attended, which is odd considering this is the inaugural season for the Rockers.

The Rockers’ opponent this afternoon was the Long Island Ducks. The Ducks have a strong connection to the New York Mets (our favorite squadron). The connection starts with manager Wally Backman, the 2nd baseman for the 1986 world championships, and coach Ed Lynch, a starter for the Mets in the 1980s. The starting lineup for the Ducks featured former Met outfielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis, and former Met farmhand LJ Mazzilli (son of perennial fan favorite Lee Mazzilli).

Rockers pitcher Seth Simmons delivers a pitch during his start against the Long Island Ducks. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

The game was tied 2-2 entering the bottom of the 10th. The Atlantic League, like Minor League Baseball, starts every extra half-inning with the batter who made the last out in the previous inning placed at 2nd base. This rule change was implemented to spur scoring in extra innings, in hopes of shortening games. In this case, the rule change worked, as the runner placed at 2nd base scored on a single, giving the Rockers 3-2 win.

My brother’s picture of the action from centerfield at BB&T Point. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

With a long drive back to Maryland ahead of us, we did not linger at the ballpark long. Overall, the experience was enjoyable; a very good game at an interesting ballpark. If you find yourself in the area, the ballpark is worth the visit, if for no other reason than to see the unique playing surface. However, the sustainability of Atlantic League baseball in High Point may be difficult, even with a brand new ballpark. There are other baseball options within driving distance, and from just one visit, it was tough to determine the level of baseball interest in the area.