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Official Review by Lloyd Brown, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
Columbus State University is a member of the University System of Georgia and is located in Columbus, Georgia, about 100 miles southwest of Atlanta, Georgia. Its campus is just blocks from the Chattahoochee River, which serves as the state line between Georgia and Alabama. More than 8,000 students attend CSU, which offers more than 22 graduate and undergraduate degrees. Its largest programs are the College of Arts, the College of Education and Health Professions and TSYS School of Computer Science.
The CSU sports teams are known as the Cougars, and they participate at the Division II level as members of the Peach Belt Conference. The Cougar baseball program has a long and storied history, as they have made seven appearances in the College World Series, taken part in 23 NCAA Regionals, were runners-up for the National Championship in 1986 and 2007 and won the Division II National Championship in 2002.
Until 2016, the team competed at Ragsdale Field, which was built in 1970. It was a fairly basic facility, with chain link fences, aluminum bleachers and a concession stand. The team on the field was far more impressive than the field it played on. A new era in Columbus State University baseball has arrived. On February 10, 2016 CSU opened their season in a newly-renovated $1.2 million facility, the Burger King Stadium at Ragsdale Field. The playing field remains the same, but the facility surrounding it has made great leaps forward.
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Surprisingly, no hamburgers are for sale at Burger King Stadium! (The stadium was made possible by a contribution from a wealthy CSU alumni who owns more than 60 Burger King franchises.) Having said that, the food and drink selection available at the stadium is quite broad and has very low prices, compared to other Peach Belt Conference facilities. Hot dogs and nachos go for $2; everything else on the menu (bottled water, sodas, boiled peanuts, chips, candy and hot chocolate) are available for $1. The one even cheaper item, a piece of Dubble Bubble chewing gum, goes for 25 cents. The concession stand carries Coca-Cola products and does not sell alcoholic beverages. Quite honestly, the Columbus State University concessions offer the cheapest prices I have encountered for regular baseball fare.
When you arrive at Burger King Stadium, it is readily apparent that you are at a brand-new (some would say "fresh off the grill") state of the art facility. The stadium is a very striking blue color, with the Cougar logo evident everywhere. One of the first things you will notice is that the stands are elevated above the field, which gives you a much clearer view of the action on the field. You will also notice a major improvement in the seating area, as all 698 seats are padded chair backs. They have also increased the space between rows by 34 inches, giving you much more leg room. Like many other Peach Belt Conference facilities, Burger King Stadium has a roof covering the seating area from the heat of a Georgia spring and summer. However CSU's roof has a cantilevered backstop, so there are no support poles to interfere with your view of the game. Those with walking impairments or difficulty in climbing stairs can utilize the new elevator system installed at the field. Burger King Field also has added a new top-of-the-line scoreboard with a major graphics package to show replays, promote upcoming activities and urge the crowd on during rallies. CSU really has kept the fan's comfort, as well as their enjoyment of the game, in mind when the new facility was designed.
The immediate area around Burger King Stadium is the CSU campus. It is a very pretty campus with lots of green space. The campus is within walking distance of Peachtree Mall, the only mall in Columbus. The closest lodgings available to CSU are the LaQuinta Inn and Suites at CSU and the Holiday Inn Columbus North on Manchester Expressway.
A majority of the major attractions, dining options and entertainment are to be found along Broadway in downtown Columbus and along the Chattahoochee Riverfront. The Broadway nightlife district includes The Cannon Brew Pub and Country's Barbecue. Country's is Columbus-based, with several locations, but the Broadway location offers a unique experience. They have converted a 1930s-era bus station into a retro diner, with murals, great architecture, lots of chrome... and great food. Make sure you ask for a table in the bus, as they have gutted a Greyhound style of bus, put in tables and chairs and added lots of neon and chrome with period travel posters. After your meal head over to the Columbus Riverwalk, which lines a 22-mile stretch along the Chattahoochee River. Many of the old industrial buildings along the river have been converted into art galleries, eateries and clubs. If outdoor sports are of interest to you, try out the only whitewater course that goes through a major city in the US. It's a ride you won't forget! Columbus has one other rather unique museum, as it has the only Civil War Naval Museum in the country.
Columbus-area baseball fans have really attached themselves to the Cougars, as the Fountain City is the largest major city in Georgia without a minor league baseball team. The older fans come with scorecards in hand; making sure each play is documented correctly.
The student body is equally into the games, as Columbus State is in a non-football conference, and all of the athletic facilities are located on campus, a short walk from the dorms. In addition, there is no charge for a student to attend a CSU game, as long as they present their student ID at the gate.
Another portion of the fan base are soldiers stationed at Fort Benning, a major military installation of 40,000 servicemen and women, located just two interstate exits down from Columbus State University. Columbus has a large ex-military population, and Ft. Benning plays a major role in the city's economy. As a result, service people in uniform are allowed in free of charge, and when they have a short weekend leave, you will find many of them in the stands at Burger King Stadium.
Two teams from the Peach Belt Conference that travel well to Columbus State are Georgia College from Milledgeville and Georgia Southwestern University in Americus. Both campuses are less than 60 miles from the CSU campus and can be counted on to bring a large cheering section.
Columbus State University is easily accessed from the only interstate in Columbus (I-185). You will exit at the Manchester Expressway exit and turn left, heading east of the freeway. You then turn left into the University on University Avenue. At the next intersection, turn right on Gentian Boulevard and Burger King Stadium will be on your left at the Gentian Drive/Cougar Court intersection. Parking is free and plentiful adjacent to the stadium. Once inside, you will find plenty of space to navigate the concourse and all of the seating amenities mentioned before. CSU also deserves an extra access point for the installation of the wheelchair lift for their elderly and disabled supporters.
Columbus State University provides an excellent return on investment, especially if you have small children or a student enrolled at CSU. Tickets are $5 for the general public, but free for CSU students with ID or children under 12 years old. The parking in the on-campus sports complex is free and plentiful, and the concession prices are the most reasonable I have found at this level of college ball. Accommodations can be found near the campus for between $70- $100.
Columbus is a rather compact city, but there is plenty to do there on a weekend. Nearly every weekend, there is some type of festival or competition down near the Riverwalk or on the Chattahoochee River itself. It also boasts a downtown that is economically healthy with a vibrant nightlife, especially along Broadway. Finally, it is a city that is proud to preserve its past, as you will see many homes in the Historic District that are more than 100 years old. Columbus has been a meeting place for more than 200 years, thanks to its location on the Chattahoochee River. Plan a trip there... you will not be disappointed.
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Columbus, GA 31901
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