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Official Review by Brian Wilmer, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
When approaching the University of South Carolina Upstate via Interstate 85, the billboards let you know about the sleeping giant living in the city of Spartanburg. Though Cleveland S. Harley Baseball Park and the university’s time in Division I baseball are still in their infancy, this hidden gem will not stay hidden for long.
The park opened in 2004, while the university’s program only joined college baseball’s highest level in 2008. Formerly known as USC-Spartanburg, this university has gained acclaim from many national publications for its academics. The athletic programs are starting to make their demands for attention, though, and the team that makes this facility their home is making a loud statement.
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This is a really small stadium (capacity is 500 in the seating bowl), so there is not a lot to be expected from the concession offerings. There were some highlights, however.
Most of the ballpark staples are available, including hot dogs, nachos ($3 for a pretty considerable portion), and popcorn. Bottled sodas are also available from the spartan (pardon the pun) concession area for a fair price of $2. I also saw some fans with food and drink items that were brought in from outside the stadium. There was no signage prohibiting this practice, but be careful should you choose this option.
You will not find a goofy mascot wandering around, a bunch of on-field promotions, or anything silly at Harley Park. For fans of the game and not the between-innings trappings, this is just fine. Most of the intrusions are left to the PA announcer providing occasional updates on other Upstate sporting events, the occasional announcement and a classic rock soundtrack between innings.
Another welcome change here is that people at the park are really nice. Going to a game at Harley Park gives you a feeling of being among friends. The informal nature even extends to the ticketing process, as Upstate does not even hand out paper tickets. The attendant simply stamps your hand, letting you come and go as you please. This is a nice change from the usual concerns at the gate.
The park is on the outskirts of a university campus just off the interstate, so there is not a very vibrant environment around the campus. There are restaurants and other spots to be found just down Interstate 585 near Wofford College and downtown Spartanburg, and most of these can be reached in a short 10-minute drive.
The world-famous Beacon Drive-In is also in Spartanburg, so should you have the desire to sample the local "flavor", this is a good place to start. Greenville is also 20 minutes away from the campus, and there is a nice combination of chain restaurants and local places once you get there.
This is still a program on the rise, but those who filled the park on the day I attended were involved, wearing Upstate gear and excited for their home team. I also noticed some members of the Upstate softball team making their way over after their game finished to support their fellow Spartans. It's always good to see different teams supporting each other, and this is definitely the case on the campus.
The ease with which this park can be accessed was rather impressive. As previously mentioned, this park is just off the interstate, and there are no convoluted directions to get to the park. There is signage on the interstate and the surrounding roads leading you to the university. The park is located in an athletic complex near the softball field and tennis courts.
Parking is also plentiful and free both next to the complex and within a short walking distance. As with any university campus, though, be careful of where you park, particularly on weekdays. The lots are signed with the required permits.
Tickets are cheap, seats are close to the action, and the available concessions are reasonably-priced. Upstate presents a fun brand of baseball at a price that is as easy to swallow as the hot dogs and soda you will enjoy in your seats. If you can take a ten dollar bill to a park and get a ticket ($5), nachos ($3) and a soda ($2), that's a great night of entertainment.
One of the best things about being a fan is the feeling of being appreciated by those who get your hard-earned dollar. This is certainly the case at USC Upstate, as I must have heard "thank you" ten times on the day I attended the park. You may not get the latest and greatest amenities at this park, and there is no breathtaking view in the distance (you can see the trees and the highway), but the people make you feel as though all these things are within your reach.
It is also noteworthy that the Upstate athletic department is active on Twitter (@UpstateSpartans), along with several players. This connection to social media helps draw attention to the program and helps build a fan base. This is a tremendously smart move by those involved.
There may not be much of an occasion for your travels to lead you to Spartanburg, South Carolina, but if they do, you won't waste the trip if you check out a game at Harley Park. This is a comfortable facility staffed by nice people, and all the money and trappings cannot compensate for that feeling. Bring a lawn chair, have a seat on the hill (assuming you don't want to sit in the comfortable seats, that is) and enjoy a fun experience.
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