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Official Review by Harrison Huntley, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
In 1995, the Nashville Xpress relocated from Tennessee to Wilmington, North Carolina, and became the Port City Roosters. After two seasons in last place and low attendance, the team moved to Mobile, AL to become the Mobile Bay Bears. That same year, the Coastal Plain League was forming, and the Wilmington Sharks became a founding member. The Sharks play at Buck Hardee Field, which is named for a local American Legion coach. The field is part of a larger complex called Legion Stadium. Legion Stadium is also home to the minor league soccer team, the Wilmington Hammerheads. While Buck Hardee Field is not the most up-to-date stadium, its fans play a key part in creating a great atmosphere.
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".
The Sharks offer almost exactly what you would expect from a ballpark: hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken fingers, and nachos. There are other ballpark snacks, including Cracker Jacks, the iconic baseball snack. This is a Coke park, and it is served by the bottle. The strips of duct tape on the menu indicate that there may have been more offerings at one point, but these offerings have since left the park.
The one unique offering in the park is a barbecue sandwich from the local catering company, Poor Piggy's. In North Carolina, local barbecue almost always means good barbecue. You can also get the sandwich topped with cole slaw.
Outside the one concession stand, there are a few other offerings. Behind the visitor's dugout, there is an ice cream truck. This truck serves most of the treats you would expect to find at an ice cream truck (superhero popsicles, ice cream sandwiches and the like).
There are two places to get beer at Buck Hardee Field. You can purchase drinks at the beer stand, located next to the concession stand. The other option is at the bar in the beer garden. The beer garden is located in right field, and admission is $2 for those over 21. At the bar, beers are just $1.
There are two distinctly different atmospheres in this stadium. Over in the beer garden, the atmosphere is more casual and social. There are several tables and chairs set up for a relaxing night out. On the other hand, there is a large metal grandstand built to house the more serious fans. The seats are metal benches with metal backs.
The scoreboard is adequate, but when multiple lights burn out, it can be tough to read. The bullpens are the classic style that are actually down the foul line. The Sharks bullpen is almost part of the beer garden, which can be fun to watch if you are sitting there.
Buck Hardee Field also gets points for ease of handicap access. There is a ramp up to a large open area in the bleachers meant to seat those in wheelchairs.
Wilmington is the eighth-most populous city in North Carolina and is home to a lively downtown area. Unfortunately, the stadium is not a part of this area. Buck Hardee Field is in Wilmington's industrial district, near the port. There is not much to eat or do near the stadium.
Thankfully, downtown Wilmington is only about 10 minutes down the road, and is home to numerous restaurants, stores and hotels. In addition to this, the stadium is also only about 20 minutes from the nearest beach.
The Wilmington Sharks may have the best fan base in the CPL. Throughout the night I visited in the summer of 2013, the fans in the grandstand were loud and totally involved in the game. While the fans in the beer garden were not quite as interested in the game, the fans over in the grandstand were doing their best to back the team. The later the game went, the louder they got. Needless to say, I was quite impressed with the Sharks' fan base.
Getting to Wilmington is pretty easy. I-40 goes across NC and runs perpendicular to I-95. The problem is that Buck Hardee Field is about 20 minutes off of I-40. Be sure to have directions or a GPS, because the stadium is very hard to find without them.
The parking lot is huge, because it serves Buck Hardee Field as well as the soccer stadium next to it. Parking is free and it is never very hard to find a spot.
The restrooms are behind the grandstand and are clean.
Tickets are $6 ($5 for kids, seniors, and military) for most of the stadium and are general admission. There is a small section behind home plate for reserved seats ($8), but you will get a better value sitting in general admission. Admission to the beer garden is $2, but that evens out because of the $1 beers. Altogether, four hot dogs and four drinks come out to less than $25. As far as baseball games go, the Sharks are a good value for just about anyone.
The Sharks' mascot, Sharky, frequents the area around the entrance and beer garden. He really contributes to the fun atmosphere promoted in the beer garden.
The involvement of the fans really blew me away at Buck Hardee Field. It is really cool to see even young fans get involved in the games.
Instead of giveaways, the Sharks offer $1 off their tickets several times throughout the year. Fans have to tweet at the team, wear a beach shirt, or even dress like a pirate some nights. Be sure to see if there are any promotions when you visit.
Similar to the Morehead City Marlins, the Wilmington Sharks offer an inexpensive night out to vacationers at the beach. This is only possible in a summer league, such as the CPL. The fans really get behind the team and create a great atmosphere that anyone can appreciate.
Member Review by SamAnderson on Feb 22, 2016
The Sharks have made the "Shark Tank" one of the best places to watch Coastal Plains Baseball in the summer.
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