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Official Review by Harrison Huntley, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
Established in 2010, the Morehead City Marlins are still the new kids on the block in the Coastal Plain League. Big Rock Stadium was also built in 2010, and has a distinctly different look from other CPL stadiums. Most CPL stadiums are former minor league stadiums, but Big Rock was built primarily for the Marlins. The field itself was built for the local American Legion team, but the local Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament provided the money to build the stadium portion once the CPL expansion was announced. In the few short years that Big Rock Stadium has been in operation, it has become a favorite night out for vacationers in Morehead City and other neighboring beach towns.
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".
There is one main concession stand directly behind the home plate seats. There are a few other stands, but more on that later. At this stand, you will find your most common food for reasonable prices: burgers ($4), hot dogs ($2.50), and even Chick-fil-A sandwiches ($4). You can also get sunflower seeds, Cracker Jacks, and other snacks here. Big Rock is a Pepsi stadium, and drinks are sold by the bottle or in souvenir cups.
The other options at Big Rock include a kettle corn stand, a frozen yogurt bar, and a snack bar. Both the yogurt and the snack bar are located in the picnic area/beer garden in left field. The snack bar looks similar to the main concession stand, but only has snacks and drinks. This is so people can get snacks without having to leave the picnic area. The frozen yogurt bar is right next to the snack bar and features cups of frozen yogurt, along with a toppings bar. With frozen yogurt (Froyo) being all the rage right now (2013), it's a wonder more stadiums don't try this.
There is a picnic area in left field that appears to double as a beer garden. There is a beer stand there, along with a bar along the field wall. Beer is $3-$4, a good price for a stadium. It is worth noting that Big Rock operates on the wristband system, where anyone buying alcohol must have a wristband. Be sure to pick up yours over near the main concession stand if you plan to drink.
Being a new ballpark, Big Rock Stadium doesn't have the feel of some older CPL parks. There is no wooden grandstand or larger wooden beams around the park. It is just a simple stadium with metal bleachers and a great picnic area. Simply put, there is not a bad seat in the stadium. There are three sections of metal bleachers with backs. The outer two are general admission, and the center is for season ticket holders. There is a walkway in front of all the seats, and thankfully, an accompanying sign that tells fans not to stand in that walkway.
The stadium is very busy, which is good for non-baseball fans and kids. As soon as you walk through the gate, you see the visitor bullpen and large marlin as part of an ad for a local outdoors store. The staff is all very friendly and welcoming to both in-town fans and visitors.
Personally, I love hand-operated scoreboards. Even though it's a new stadium, Big Rock has a classic hand-operated scoreboard. There is one video board, but it mostly displays a welcome message to the night's group or sponsor.
While Big Rock Stadium is in a residential area, the surrounding neighborhood is full of both chain and local restaurants. US-70 is only minutes from the stadium, and is most likely the road you are taking to the game. West of the stadium, US-70 is full of national chains, such as Buffalo Wild Wings or Olive Garden. East of the stadium, US-70 is the gateway to local seafood. There are two iconic seafood places in Morehead City: The Sanitary and Captain Bill's. Both have waterfront seating, but each has something just a bit different, and everyone has a favorite.
The Sanitary is a restaurant as well as a fish market. It is slightly more expensive than its counterpart. Their signature dish is the deluxe shore dinner. The first course is a choice of soup or shrimp cocktail. The main course is a fried seafood platter, which includes fried fish (chef's choice), fried shrimp, fried oysters, fried scallops and soft-shell crab. This is more than enough for a meal and is a great way to sample the local fare.
Captain Bill's is a more casual restaurant for those who still want great local seafood. Their sampler includes your choice of clam strips, popcorn shrimp or fried trout with two sides and hush puppies. As an added bonus, Captain Bill's serves alcohol (the Sanitary does not).
If you continue east down US-70, you will enter the town of Beaufort (pronounced Bo-fort - there is a SC town spelled the same, but pronounced Byu-fort). Beaufort is filled with several other waterfront restaurants and other unique dining options. If you arrive in the area early, go for a walk around Beaufort.
The single reason that the CPL can operate a team in a beach town is because they only play in the summer months. Most of the fans are families on vacation who are looking for an inexpensive night out. Some families are more into the game than others, but this isn't exactly a rabid fan base. Like most CPL teams, most fans are just there taking in a baseball game or having a family night out.
US-70 runs straight through Morehead City and most of North Carolina. Despite what GPS directions will tell you, N 20th Street is the best way into the park. Do not let a computer tell you different. Being just minutes from a major highway, the access is pretty easy from almost anywhere.
Big Rock Stadium is a new stadium, so the restrooms are clean, as expected. Parking is free, but be sure to get to the game early. The fans will often come early. I arrived 30 minutes before first pitch, and I barely found a spot.
Adult tickets are $7, while kids are $5. This is pretty much on par with the rest of the league, which is known for being a great value. Concessions are much cheaper than most sporting events. $7 for admission and $2.50 for a hot dog is a steal in the world of sports. Along with the great location of the beach, this is a great value.
Fin the Marlin is the mascot. Fin mostly hangs out in the picnic area but occasionally visits other parts of the park. Fin also participates in on-field games, as most mascots do.
The PA announcer was good, but he seemed to have a long list of product placements to read after what seemed like every pitch. Every foul ball is brought to you by an insurance agency, every inning features several local businesses, and every game has a chicken batter. The chicken batter is a batter that is chosen pre-game and, if he strikes out, someone in the audience gets a coupon for free chicken. This is a clever promotion, because it makes the fans root for this batter to strike out every time he comes to bat.
Again, Morehead City is a great place for a team. The ballpark is perfectly placed away from all the craziness of the beach, but close enough to reach the people there and allow the fans options for after the game.
The Marlins have a great concept. They offer a night out, at the beach, for a great price. You can't go wrong with those three together. If your travels take you to North Carolina's Crystal Coast, be sure to enjoy a game at Big Rock Stadium.
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501 Evans St
Morehead City, NC 28557
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