If there is one thing we know as sports fans, we know how difficult it can be to replace a legend. Most of these legends are on the field or in the booth, of course, but Winston-Salem found itself with the task of replacing their North Carolina home before the 2010 season. Ernie Shore Field played host to the Winston-Salem entry in the Carolina League from 1957-2009, replacing South Side Park, which was lost in a fire. Professional baseball in the Twin City dates back as far as 1905, when the city hosted a partial season of Virginia-North Carolina League play.
The city and franchise opened a new home in 2010, with BB&T Ballpark becoming a part of Winston-Salem's downtown district. The team also became known as the Dash, an homage to the “dash” in the middle of the city's name. With this opening, BB&T Ballpark became the newest affiliated park in North Carolina, a title it will likely hold until new parks in Charlotte and Wilmington open in 2014 - assuming there are no further schedule changes, of course.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
As this is a newer park, one would imagine all the traditional ballpark fare would be available. The Dash certainly do not disappoint in this area. We will certainly cover the "normal" ballpark food, but it is important to look at all the variety of food and drink at BB&T Ballpark.
The center-concourse stands offer a number of hot options, including the Dash Dog ($3.50), hamburgers and cheeseburgers (both $6), chicken tenders with fries ($7), crispy chicken sandwiches ($5), French fries ($3) and corn dogs ($4). There are also combo options, with a Dash Dog meal ($8), crispy chicken sandwich meal ($10), corn dog meal ($9) and kids meal ($7) as available options. All meals contain the sandwich, fries and a soda except for the kids meal, which substitutes apple slices and a juice box to go along with either a corn dog or hot dog.
There is a stand down the third-base line with a number of fried options, including garlic fries, cajun fries, popcorn fries - which I wanted desperately to try, but did not - and sweet potato fries. All of these items are $6. There is a Domino's Pizza stand down the first-base line, offering an 8" cheese or pepperoni pizza for $6. A soft pretzel stand is just across the concourse from the Domino's stand, with soft pretzels sold at $4, or 3 for $10.
Sharing the Domino's building are a hot dog stand and a sub sandwich stand. The hot dog stand features the same Dash Dog as the main stands, with a Carolina dog (chili, slaw and onions) for $4. A cheddar sausage and jalapeno sausage are available for the same $4 price point. Salads and subs can be purchased at the sub shop, with the choice of a house salad ($5) or chicken or chef salads for $8. Turkey, roast beef and ham subs are all available for $7.
Of course, we cannot forget the snacks and desserts, and there is no shortage of those products. There is a peanut stand in the right-field pavilion area, offering salted in shell, roasted no salt or salted unshelled peanuts for $2. Cashews are also $2, with boiled peanuts available for $3. Peanuts are also available at the main stands, but they are cheaper at this stand. Cracker Jacks, sunflower seeds ($2) and nachos ($4) are among the other snack options at various stands. The dessert options are numerous, as well, with Ben & Jerry's ice cream among them. A small is available for $4, with a waffle cone for $6. Soft-serve ice cream, frozen lemonade, funnel cakes, smoothies and Siberian chills are among the additional desserts sold at numerous stands.
Pepsi is the bottler for the park, so expect the regular and diet iterations of the flagship with a few other selections. Bottled water sells for $3, with Gatorade at $3.50. A small cup of soda is $3, a regular is $4 and a souvenir cup is $5. Coffee can be purchased - though it is not immediately clear who would want to drink coffee on 95-degree North Carolina nights - for $3. Finally, for those who crave a brew, draft beer is available for $4 for a regular or $7 for a large. There are numerous stands from which beer can be purchased, as well as a bar in the left-center berm area (more on this in a bit).
It is truly tough to find the perfect balance between the product on the field and keeping the fans entertained in the stands. The Dash do a great job of walking the line between entertainment and baseball to put on a pretty fun show. There was a promotion for virtually every inning break, including the silly (robot cam, frog race and hula hoop hustle), the common (the T-shirt cannon and "YMCA", for instance) and the head-scratching (the Impossible Challenge, where a fan eats six saltines in 60 seconds). The promotions are not overdone, though, and they provide a nice diversion between innings.
The Dash feature a red mascot named Bolt, and he was involved in several of these promotions. He led a "Simon Says"-like game called Bolt Says, where he got the crowd involved in doing several silly things at his command. There was also a promotion where Bolt "fought" a small fan. This was a cool variation on the tired mascot race, and the video production team got involved in the act, showing a closeup of the child's punch hitting Bolt and his going down for the count. The team features a lot of minor league flavor without being excessively hokey in doing so.
One of the bigger advantages to BB&T Ballpark is also one of its biggest drawbacks. The park is just off the business loop of Interstate 40, allowing for some ease of travel. We will further discuss this in the Access portion of the review. Unfortunately, the stadium is mostly surrounded by residences and convenience stores.
If you want to grab a bite before a game - or keep the party going afterwards - it might be best to head a half-mile or so away to West 4th Street, where restaurants such as Foothills Brewing, The Old Fourth Street Filling Station, Bernardin's and Mellow Mushroom await. Foothills Brewing is open late seven days a week and features several local brews to go along with their eclectic menu. If you want to try something different, there are options along US 158 (Stratford Road) a couple of miles away, and Wake Forest University is less than a five mile drive from the park.
Winston-Salem is a reasonably-sized city (approximately 230,000 residents), and there are numerous entertainment options throughout the Triad region of the state. This certainly does nothing to keep the fans away from BB&T Ballpark, though, as the club routinely brings in near-capacity (or over-capacity, in many cases) crowds to their 5,500-seat facility. The city is home to several large corporations, including R.J. Reynolds Tobacco, Krispy Kreme and Wells Fargo (formerly Wachovia). This results in an interesting mix of fans in the seats.
Drawing large numbers of fans is nice, but it helps to have fans who have a connection to the team and know the game, and Winston-Salem certainly fits this category. The fans were engaged from the first pitch to the last, and did not have to rely on the video board to tell them when to cheer or make noise for their team. This was especially evident on the most recent night I attended, as the Dash had the game in hand in the later innings, and without post-game fireworks, it might have been excusable for a few fans to trickle out. This was not the case, though, as a large portion of the over-capacity crowd stayed until the final out. I also had the chance to talk to several fans, and their excitement for the approaching playoffs was quite evident.
The stadium is, as previously mentioned, just off the business loop of Interstate 40. This makes for relatively easy ingress and egress. If you are fortunate enough to be able to park in the lot behind the outfield scoreboard, getting back to the interstate is literally a five-minute ordeal - at most - on most nights. It takes almost as long to walk to your car as it does to leave the lot.
That said, the team has a number of parking options, and all but one will cost money to utilize. Parking on the premises is somewhat limited and costs $5. There are additional parking options throughout the surrounding neighborhoods at varying costs. The team also offers a free parking lot a few blocks away from the park, with shuttle service to and from the park. The Dash offer a great map on their website with a list of available parking options, and it is strongly recommended that you review this map before going to the stadium.
Once inside the park, the concourses are relatively wide throughout, and completely wrap around the park. This offers a great amount of standing and walking room, and most of the concession areas offer views of the field to keep you from missing any action. The restroom areas are easy to find, located directly off the main concourses. The restrooms, as one might expect, are clean and modern, with plenty of space and amenities.
Ticket prices are about on par with most of the circuit, ranging about $7-$15 per ticket. There are a number of different seating levels, depending on your individual budget. It is recommended to buy the tickets directly from the club, if possible, as the club uses an outside broker for online ticketing. This may add processing fees to your outing.
The prices on parking, tickets and concessions may be seen as a bit high for advanced-A baseball; however, the product on the field, and the ballpark itself helps to make up for this. If you arrive early enough to ensure a decent parking spot, bypass as many of the processing fees as possible and make smart concession choices, this will make for a reasonable night at the park.
The club offers a perk that could just as easily fall under the Return on Investment category. Each fan through the turnstiles receives a free copy of the team's Play Ball! magazine, which features rosters for both clubs, player bios, a scorecard and much more. This is a nice added value, and could shave a couple of dollars off the family's trip to the park.
While taking a walk around the concourse, keep an eye out for the signs on the wall. These signs commemorate some of the greats to have played in the Carolina League, and the list is as diverse as it is legendary. Names of Chipper Jones and Albert Pujols to Johnny Bench and "Crash" Davis grace the walls, and the bios and facts about each player are a fascinating read. Once you finish reading these signs, take a walk down the third-base line to catch a glimpse into Winston-Salem's long and storied baseball history through another series of commemorative signs. This is an awesome touch for history buffs like myself, as well as for those who simply appreciate the game.
For those who hate being tethered to their seats, BB&T Ballpark has you covered here, as well. The stadium features the aforementioned wraparound concourse, which features standing room throughout. There is also a sizeable berm area - one of the most prominent in its classification - that serves as a nice place to pull up a blanket and enjoy baseball as though it were being played on your front yard. If watching baseball in a bar is more your speed, you can do that here, as there is a large bar with ample seating and great views behind the wall in left-center.
If you plan to bring the kids to the game, fear not. There is a large play area for kids in the outfield area, assuming that the berm and concourses are not enough to keep the little ones happy. This area features a carousel and numerous other kid-friendly attractions. Be aware of the area's hours, though, as it shut down after the seventh inning on the night I attended.
Last, and by no means least, I have made it known on a number of occasions that it goes a long way with me when clubs and their employees appreciate their patrons. A couple of minor parking snafus aside, it really struck me how truly friendly everyone with whom I came in contact was toward me. I am not used to carrying on conversations with concession workers, ticket takers and other fans, but this was the case at BB&T Ballpark. Customer service is something that costs the team absolutely nothing, but can mean all the difference in the fan experience. The Dash clearly go to great pains to hire great people who genuinely appreciate those who come to their games, and this should not go unnoticed.
I was once told by a former Carolina League broadcaster that Myrtle Beach's facility was the "crown jewel" of the circuit. This was before BB&T Ballpark came into existence, and I cannot help but wonder if he might at least reconsider his stance, if not change it altogether. If your travels lead you in the direction of the Carolina League, you owe it to yourself to check out this facility, as it is truly one of the most impressive you will see in this classification.
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638 W 4th St
Winston-Salem, NC 27101
871 W 4th St
Winston-Salem, NC 27101
901 W 4th St
Winston-Salem, NC 27101
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