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Official Review by Aaron S. Terry, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University (thankfully shortened to Virginia Tech) is located in Blacksburg, Virginia. English Field is home to Virginia Tech’s baseball team, and is named after Red and Ruth English, who donated lots of money to the Hokies' athletics programs over a period of 50 years. The home dugout is named after Red Laird, a hall of fame coach who led the Hokie’s baseball team for almost three decades. In March 2008, the stadium hosted an exhibition game between the Hokies and the New York Yankees, a move designed to help aid the healing process following the 2007 shootings.
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English Field offers two concession stands, with prices slightly on the high side compared to similarly-sized venues, but about average for stadiums in general. Hot dogs, nachos, and pretzels are available for $4, while kielbasa, cheese steak, and barbecue chicken sandwiches cost $5 to $7. Regular popcorn starts at $3, going up to $5 for kettle corn. Sunflower seeds cost $2, with peanuts, Cracker Jack, cookies, brownies, and fruit cups selling for $3, and candy for $3.50. Drink options include Coke products, bottled water, Powerade, and sweet tea starting at $4 - you can also purchase coffee or cocoa for $3.
The layout at English Field is truly unique - there is a section of bucket-style seats behind home plate (colored bright orange for the Hokies) that makes up the official seating capacity of 1,033. However, in addition to those there is a long bank of Hokie Stone seating built into the hill alongside the third base line (a grey dolomite-limestone rock, Hokie Stone is mined exclusively for use in Virginia Tech buildings from a quarry about 10 miles from campus). This additional seating probably triples the capacity. Furthermore, fans can also sit or stand on the hill that runs along the first base line, or even on the hill that overlooks the outfield (these fans are affectionately known as the Hilltop Hecklers).
The dugouts are similarly atypical - also built of Hokie Stone, they are free-standing longish buildings located on each baseline, unattached to the stands. The field itself is separated from the stands by a two-foot "moat," which ostensibly exists for additional safety on top of the netting. The different vantage points provide some great and unusual views of the game, and fans are free to walk all around during the game to take it all in. The field also boasts Astroturf, which is common enough for football, but is a relative unknown among baseball venues. Curious what this Hokie Stone is all about? Check out the video:
English Field is built on the south side of campus, practically next door to the football stadium, so it is hard to miss when you come into town. You can't even see the main part of campus from here, so it feels rather rural, not least because of the dairy farm sitting diagonally across from the field (the farm is actually part of the veterinary program).
Most of the restaurants and hotels tend to be on the north side of campus, and there are several great options for before or after the game over that way, including Buffalo Wild Wings, if you are into chains. If you want something more unique, however, be sure to check out the Blacksburg Taproom Gastropub on Main Street. This upscale restaurant features several TVs, a wide selection of beer and liquor, and a fun menu that ties into campus, with sections titled things like Orientation (appetizers) or Agriculture (burgers). Of course, if you prefer to soak up the student vibe, Virginia Tech boasts the nation's number one on-campus dining (so says Niche, College Magazine, and the Princeton Review). West End Marketplace (which, ironically, is in the center of campus) features pretty much any type of cuisine you could ask for, including a Sports Lounge complete with zebra stripe-attired chefs that offers burgers, fried shrimp, and chicken tenders; West End also offers salads, soups, wraps, a carvery, even breakfast and dessert.
If you are coming for the weekend, there are several upscale hotels near campus not far from the conference center (think Hilton and Holiday Inn), and there is plenty to do in the area. To start, there is the campus itself - notable attractions here include the myriad Hokie Stone buildings, the gargoyles, the April 16th Monument honoring the 32 students who died in the 2007 shooting, and the War Memorial commemorating Virginia Tech students and graduates who gave their lives for our country. If outdoor activities are more your style, there are numerous hiking trails crisscrossing the nearby Cascades, as well as tubing and kayaking on the New River.
The number of fans at a typical game varies based on the day of the week - on weekdays, you might see 500 to 700, while on Saturdays, you could see 1500 or more. Sundays are the least well-attended; you may only see a few hundred. While the official capacity is only listed at 1,033, with the additional Hokie Stone seating, the field has been known to attract well over 3,000 for tournaments and marquee games.
The fans are supportive of their team, with many wearing team gear (which is sold at the stadium from a makeshift booth at the top of the stands), and they enjoy several fun traditions, including jumping up and down to Metallica's "Enter Sandman" at the beginning of each game, and the squawk (or is it a warble?) of the gobbler, which can be clearly heard every time there is a strike out. You will, of course, see some visiting fans, especially for ACC games. See the video for more on the seating:
Virginia Tech is easy to get to, about 10 miles up US 460 from I-81, and English Field is easy to find since it is so close to the football stadium, which can be seem from much further away. Parking is free for baseball, but there isn't any parking right next to the field, so you have to walk about a quarter or half-mile. While there is more than enough parking for the typical capacity, for big games when it is much more crowded, you may have to park further away. The same is true of the bathrooms - there is only one for each gender, which is more than adequate for the stated capacity, but you may run into trouble when it gets really busy.
Virginia Tech does not charge admission to baseball games (or softball or volleyball games, for that matter, nor many other sports). Parking is also free, so except for concessions and maybe team gear, there is nothing you need to buy. For such a unique venue, this is definitely a stadium to put on your college baseball bucket list. There are many different vantage points to watch the game from, the seating is unique, and the traditions are a lot of fun - I highly recommend it.
One point for the uniqueness of the seating - there are many stadiums which have a grassy area or something similar where you can watch the game, but those areas are generally not actually designed for seating, and are more of an aesthetic. At English Field, however, the additional seating is clearly there by design; so much so that it is quite surprising that the official capacity does not include it.
A second point for the many different vantage points - the third base fence, the hill along the third baseline, or the hill overlooking the rear of the outfield. At most venues, fences and other obstructions would (intentionally) block such views, but at Virginia Tech fans are welcome to stand wherever they want.
A third point for the campus - the Hokie Stone buildings are gorgeous and unique, and the gargoyles are intriguing. There are also the two monuments mentioned earlier, in addition to other on-campus attractions, including the on-campus dining cited above.
A fourth point for the Astroturf field, which provides a very unique look to the playing surface.
Finally, a fifth point is given because the Yankees played here - how many college baseball stadiums can make that boast?
English Field is a truly unique baseball stadium. The seating is unique and varied, and the field itself has several unique features. This is definitely a top college baseball stadium, and because it is in the ACC you will see some great match-ups here. This is a must see, if you can make it happen.
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