Think about your favorite ballpark in your current town. It was probably part of a downtown revitalization project, built to enhance an entertainment district and get more people to spend the night -- and, more importantly, a lot of dollars -- in the nerve center of a city. One of a handful of ballpark "architects" likely designed it to look like some other ballpark in some other city.
Now, consider the situation in Burlington, North Carolina. Burlington Athletic Stadium wasn't even built IN Burlington, instead being constructed 50 miles away and across a state border in Danville, Virginia. The facility was moved to this Piedmont North Carolina town and placed in its current location over 55 years ago. Though the structure is not located next door to a gastropub or accessible via a light rail, there is still plenty of charm in watching a game in this Appalachian League outpost. Some of the game's past and present stars have graced the grass in Burlington.
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Much like the lack of modern downtown amenities outside, one will not find a lot of the outlandish delicacies featured on sites such as the one you're reading. This is by no means a bad thing, though, as fans will not leave Burlington Athletic Stadium hungry.
The main stand features food and drink divided into three main categories: Entrees, Snacks and Beverages. Entrees include a Chick-fil-A sandwich combo with chips ($5), hot dogs ($2.50), hamburgers ($3), cheeseburgers ($3.50), barbecue sandwiches from local establishment Tickle My Ribs ($4), Domino's pizza slices ($2.50 for pepperoni or cheese) and soft pretzels ($2.50). Chili and/or cheese are available to top any entree for 50 cents apiece. Snacks feature nachos ($2.50 for "standard," $5 for barbecue), popcorn ($2.50), peanuts ($3), chips ($1), Cracker Jack ($2), sunflower seeds ($2), cotton candy ($2) and chocolate-laden candy ($1.50).
Pepsi products provide the liquid refreshment -- on the non-alcoholic side, anyway -- at Burlington Memorial Stadium. Water ($2), Gatorade ($2.50) and bottled sodas ($2.50) serve to quench Royal fans' collective thirst. Seven types of soda and iced tea are available.
If you want something even colder, check out the Royal Treats ice cream stand behind the third base stands or the beer stand down the first base line. Budweiser products are the main feature at the beer stand, with small drafts ($2.50), large drafts ($3.50) and cans ($3) for those who choose to imbibe. Mike's Hard Lemonade ($3.50) and Monster energy drinks ($2.50) are also available at the beer stand.
The experience in Burlington is very baseball-forward. This is the case in many of the ballparks in the short-season Appalachian League, so this should come as no real surprise to anyone familiar with the circuit. There are no sound effects between every pitch or other intrusive nonsense. The pop of the mitt and crack of the bat still rule the day here.
Most of the between-innings promotions are reasonably "standard-issue," if you are a regular in minor league parks. There is, however, a promotion in which inflatable chairs are passed from one side of the bleachers to the other. This is not the same as the passing of the inflatable monkey in Gastonia, but still produces quite a few laughs as fans frantically try to pass the inflatables from side to side. There is also an orange mascot named Bingo -- there is still no real telling what he is, exactly -- who wanders through the stands, signing autographs and saying hello to fans. He also participates in some of the between-innings promotions, including losing the mascot race every night, as all mascots everywhere seem to do.
There are no video boards to distract fans at Burlington Athletic Stadium. A basic scoreboard can be found beyond the right field wall, displaying the ball/strike/out counts, hit/error indicator, line score and other basic information. The board is a bit tough to see in the early innings because of the angle of the sun, but it certainly serves its purpose.
The concourse winds behind the seating area throughout the main grandstand, with steep ramps going up to the actual grandstand. This can be a bit of an issue if rain is in the area, as the ramps get extremely slick in this case. Be careful when navigating the ramps. A second concourse within the seating bowl separates the few rows of box seats from the much larger general admission bleacher seating. Truth be told, a general admission seat is just fine here, but be careful of your choice in seating. Some of the bleacher seats have mildly obstructed views, thanks to the beams that support the covering over the grandstand. This causes one other issue, which we will discuss in the Access portion of this review.
The actual park itself is in a part of Burlington that is surrounded by homes, plants and other industrial buildings, so if you're looking for walkable nightlife, this is not going to be the place for you. Since you'll already need to drive to get to the park, however, fear not.
Much of what Burlington has to offer can be located nearby along Church Street (US Highway 70), including a Burlington staple, Skid's Drive-In. This establishment has been in Burlington for generations, and is loved by the locals. Restaurants of virtually every cuisine line US 70, and are within a reasonable drive from the ballpark. The Blue Ribbon Diner is a bit further from the park, but is a favorite from my time living in the area.
The adjoining town of Elon is also a nice place to spend part of your day. Elon University (in full disclosure, the place where I spent part of my collegiate education) can be found in the town, along with shopping, movie theaters and other forms of entertainment.
Fans in Burlington are a reasonably typical group. They show up ready to cheer on their Royals -- if in a bit of a muted fashion. They cheer in all the right moments, and clearly know the game, but a game in Burlington is, as in much of the state and region, also a social event.
Burlington typically draws near the top of the Appalachian League, so while the park may not always sell out -- especially with the capacity of the facility -- they have a pretty solid number of supporters in the seats. It may be a bit quiet from time to time, but you will not be alone.
The team also has a few "superfans" in the front row of the box seats. They occasionally hold up signs, heckle umpires and count off the steps as pitching coaches or managers walk to the mound. Some of the field personnel will occasionally join in on the joke and speed up or slow down their walk, just to mess with the guys behind the plate.
There are a lot of residential and industrial streets lining the surrounding area. With the location being within a neighborhood, traffic backs up quickly entering and exiting the park. Be sure to plan a little additional time when visiting the park.
Traffic is a bit of a theme here. From the unpaved (though free) parking lot to the occasional backups at the entry gates and narrow concourse behind the seating bowl, consider taking up the lifestyle of the area and living at a bit slower pace. No one is in a real hurry to do much at the park, which is perfectly fine for a native of the region such as myself. Just be sure to manage your expectations.
Restrooms are located on the primary walkway under the seating bowl. While the facilities are clean and well-maintained, this is one of the primary places in which the ballpark's age truly shows. There is certainly room to upgrade this part of the park, though the facilities currently in place are, at worst, functional.
Finally, there is a blessing and a curse down the first base line. There is a grassy area between the bleachers and fence where kids commonly play, which is nice. However, kids tend to throw balls around in the area, which presents quite a danger. I saw a baby who was hit in the face by a thrown ball from one of the kids, which could have seriously injured the child. A better use of the space would be to move the bleachers closer to the fence and create a separate play area where fans would not be in danger of being pelted by thrown objects.
A Royals game will not place a tremendous dent in your entertainment budget. Tickets cost between $7 and $9, in most cases, so they are about on par with the rest of the league. A general admission seat, a hamburger, a bottled soda and program will only cost $13.50, which is certainly reasonable.
One thing to keep in mind when visiting a Royals game is that the purchase of tickets is quite inconvenient. The team does not have a true online ticketing system, and game tickets are not sold online within 24 hours of the first pitch. Weekend games are not available after 5:00 on the Friday afternoon before the game. Therefore, the easier way to buy tickets is just to do so at the gate. One is left to wonder why there is not an easier online option available, however.
Burlington clearly honors its baseball history. There are banners around the ballpark honoring the all-time Burlington Indians team, along with a plaque memorializing the team's former broadcaster. There are also banners commemorating the former Burlington Royals who are now big leaguers. As the numerous signs around the park point out, the future starts here.
The team offers a souvenir stand along the walkway below the seating bowl. It is operated from a small wooden structure and does not have the largest inventory, but almost any gear that a Royal fan would want can be purchased here. If you go later in the season, there are often sales to clear out the year's inventory. This is a nice added perk.
There is a hair-painting station (yes, a hair-painting station) along the concourse, as well. Fans can get all kinds of colors sprayed in their hair, which results in some interesting looks among children and adults alike throughout the game.
If you're looking for an ultra-modern park integrated amongst a vibrant downtown, there are other parks in North Carolina that may be a better fit. Should you prefer the coast, the mountains or some other sort of environment, there are also other options available. There is much to be said for going to a game in Burlington, however. Affordable tickets, friendly people and a trip back in baseball time should program your internal GPS for a night at Burlington Athletic Stadium.
It is said of many parks – usually in a derogatory fashion - that they could be picked up and placed in any other city. Burlington Athletic Stadium is one of the few parks in history that actually WAS picked up and placed in another city. Originally built in Danville, Virginia, the stadium was trucked 50 miles or so to the south for its 1958 “rebirth” in Burlington. The city fielded a Carolina League affiliate on the premises from 1965-1972 as a Senators (later Rangers) farm club, following the first stint of the Burlington Indians. Though now the home of the rookie-level Appalachian League Royals, stars such as Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome, C.C. Sabathia and Luis Tiant all traveled through Burlington as part of their rise to Cleveland.
1610 N Church St
Burlington, NC 27217
2465 S Church St
Burlington, NC 27215
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