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Official Review by Brian Wilmer, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Much like its North Carolina neighbor to the southeast, the town of Thomasville has a long history with manufacturing. While Asheboro made its name in textiles, Thomasville is a world-famous name in furniture. The town even features a nod to this history in The Big Chair, a ninety-year-old statue (since reworked) in the city center.
There is more to this Piedmont town than just furniture, though, as baseball here dates back to the 1937 Chair Makers of the North Carolina State League. Five championships made their way to the city between 1937 and 1969, including the 1949 HiToms (named for the neighboring towns of High Point and Thomasville), who went 90-34 while featuring future Hall of Fame third baseman Eddie Mathews. Legendary big leaguer Curt Flood was a HiTom in 1956, while “Trader” Jack McKeon led the co-op HiToms to the Carolina League crown in 1968.
The championship tradition did not stop there, however, as the collegiate wood-bat HiToms joined the Coastal Plain League in 1999 and brought home three consecutive titles from 2006-08. There is also a successful American Legion franchise in Thomasville, along with the “Junior HiToms” program that hosts a summer league and fall league. Wil Myers of the Royals chain is a graduate of this program, as well as over forty major college players.
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".
There are two points of sale in Finch Field. The primary concession area is on the concourse behind the seating bowl and features a lot of what one might expect at a game. Nachos are $3 ($3.25 with chili) and are decent, despite coming out of a bag. The nachos are assembled for you at Finch, as compared to the "build-it-yourself" model in Asheboro. Hot dogs ($3.25), the "Finch Dog" ($3.50), the all-beef "Tommies Dog" ($3), the "Home Run Dog" ($3.50), popcorn ($3), peanuts ($3), pretzels ($3), chips ($1 for Lay's plain or barbecue), and Pizza Hut pizza ($4) are the food options at this stand, with bottled water ($2.25), bottled soda/Gatorade ($2.75 for Pepsi products), or a cup from the fountain ($2.25) to drink. Sno-cones and ice cream ($3 each) will help satisfy your sweet tooth.
There is also a fairly large stand down the third-base line. This stand did not have a sign with its prices listed when I first arrived, as the worker told me to state what I wanted, and I would be told how much it would cost. A sign eventually appeared, and I noticed that there were a lot more options at this stand. Aside from the items that could also be purchased at the other stand, there were hamburgers ($3), cheeseburgers ($3.50), sausage dogs ($3.25), chicken fingers ($3), chicken sandwiches ($3), french fries ($2.50, $3 with cheese or $3.50 with chili and cheese), and barbecue ($4) to be found here, with the added benefit of being able to see the action taking place on the field from this stand. There is another sweet option at this stand with a $4 shake.
For those looking to imbibe, this stand certainly has you covered. Bud Light ($3) and Shock Top ($4) are poured in 16-ounce drafts, with $3 cans of Bud, Bud Light, Natural Light, Michelob Light, and Michelob Ultra. Corona Extra, Corona Light, and Mike's Hard Lemonade are available in bottles for $4. There are numerous picnic tables with umbrellas in the "garden" area, as well as a sheltered picnic section for you to enjoy your food and beverage purchases, should you not want to wander back to your seats.
As one might gather from the manual scoreboard in left-center, the focus is mostly on the baseball at Finch Field. Since this is the case, there is very little in terms of between-innings promotions. There was one interesting promotion where a truck drove around the field and fans tried to toss specially-marked rubber baseballs into the bed of the truck for the chance of winning a prize. The truck got so close to the stands that it was not a challenge for many to get their ball in the bed. I was thankful for the lack of between-innings intrusions, silly dances to "YMCA", and the like aside. The team also employs a mascot, Tommy. He did very little on the evening, but seemed to be a favorite of the kids.
The real problem with the atmosphere in Thomasville is the same one that exists at NewBridge Bank Park in Greensboro, less than a half-hour away. There are so many different sound effects - seemingly at least one after every pitch - that it really starts to wear on you after a while. To the team's credit (or, perhaps to their detriment), they do not repeat a lot of the effects, except for the variations of "woo woo!" that also seem to take place in perpetuity in Greensboro. The fan is still, however, left with the feeling of having every spare second filled with some wacky clip. This is a great place to watch a game, but some selective deletions from the sound board would further increase the level of enjoyment.
The park itself is just off the business loop of Interstate 85 (co-signed as U.S. Routes 29 and 70), and very little is directly beside the premises. The safer bet is to travel north on North Carolina Highway 68 (National Highway). There are chain restaurants (Burger King and Subway), Asian restaurants, Italian dining (Sicily's Pizza and Milo's), and a sports bar (Last Call) all under a mile north along National Highway. North Carolina is also famous for its barbecue, and Tommy's Bar-B-Que is a couple of miles south on National. Tommy's provided the post-game meals for the players on the night I attended.
If Thomasville is not exactly your speed, High Point is just a few short minutes away along NC 68 or the I-85 business loop. Main Street in High Point has eateries of every stripe, as well as some options for nightlife. Greensboro is less than a half-hour away, with the famous Greensboro Coliseum routinely hosting sporting events and concerts.
Finch Field draws a group of loyalists through its gates, and they love their HiToms. The stands were not full on the night I visited, as a storm came through just before the game, causing a delay. A reasonable number filled the seats, though, and those seats stayed full throughout the contest.
There were a couple of fans that stood out among the crowd, though. The HiToms frequently acknowledge their biggest fan, Warren, over the public address system. He also joins the team's staff in leading between-inning dances, singing during the seventh-inning stretch, and conducting cheers. We will discuss Warren - and another fan - a little more during the Extras portion of this review.
Finch Field's proximity to the I-85 business loop and several other major US routes and interstates in the Triad region makes it an easy travel destination for fans. There are multiple entrances to the park, but the parking itself is a bit choppy. There is a lot that begins down the left-field line and circles around behind the plate. There is an arched entryway from this lot that brings you into the park near the beer and food concession down the third-base line.
There is also a lot behind the first-base dugout that runs between the HiToms' offices and a house behind the park. This lot allows an easy exit after the game from the first-base side. Keep in mind, however, that the ticket office is behind the plate, so there is a bit of a walk from either parking area. The parking is free at Finch Field, but the lots are gravel.
The concourses are nice and wide with plenty of room, as they have been recently renovated. The bathrooms are alongside the concession stand behind the plate, so they are easy to reach from your seat. Though the bathrooms are also recently renovated, the brick surroundings are a bit stark, and there were cobwebs in some of the corners.
Thomasville's pricing is on par with a lot of the minor league facilities in the state, despite not being the cheapest on this circuit. Box seats are $7, with general admission seats a dollar cheaper at $6. Children (11 and under) are $4. The Coastal Plain League presents a good product, both on and off the field.
The concessions are a reasonable value, depending on what you purchase. Some of the portions can be a bit small, and the prices a little high, but a night out at Finch Field will never break your wallet into pieces. The free parking is a nice benefit, though it seems to be more the rule than the exception in the league.
The days of the manual scoreboard in ballparks are fading fast, but one is still in operation at Finch Field. This is a nice nod to the ballpark's history and an interesting bridge between the park of old and the renovated facility in its current place. Every scoreless inning by the visiting team results in an appearance by a goose named Gertie, controlled by the scoreboard operator. Gertie does dances and various other silly things atop the visitors' portion of the scoreboard, and the zero is there to serve as one of Gertie's eggs. The scoreboard sits atop the banked outfield area, which takes the place of a warning track.
I mentioned two fans earlier, and they deserve extra mention here. You already know about Warren, the team's biggest fan. He spent the evening hanging cardboard "K" cutouts on the press box, though some of them were not for strikeouts. I began to lose track of what exactly each K meant. The HiToms obviously take care of Warren, as I have seen him in the dugout in uniform at a HiToms road game this year. They also involved him in a lot of the promotions and activities on the evening, and it is always good to see a team that honors its fans.
While the HiToms took care of Warren, another of their fans took care of me by making the best of a pretty upsetting situation. I was told before arriving at Finch Field that the team takes credit cards at the box office, which is quite the help when the team does not offer online ticketing. I tried to use my credit card at the ticket office when I arrived, only to be told that the machine occasionally malfunctions when it rains. Of course, I was not aware of this beforehand, and I managed to capture one of the "lucky" times that this happened. An unknown fan saved the day, though, and offered me a ticket. I thanked him in person for this gesture, but I'll thank him again here, should he ever read this piece. Thomasville, as with the rest of the Carolinas, is loaded with great people, and this was no exception.
The night I attended was Back to School Night at Thomasville, and the team was giving away backpacks to fans as they entered. With the ever-increasing cost of school supplies, giveaways such as this could be a help to families attending HiToms games.
The final - and to me, most important - extra happens before each game. Before the anthem is performed, the team pauses for a moment of silence to honor the United States military at home and abroad. North Carolina is a state with a heavy military presence, and the HiToms' willingness to honor those who serve is to be commended.
North Carolina is known for the presence of the elements in the summer, and Finch Field has you covered - literally - should the elements present themselves during your trip. Every fixed seat in the park, both reserved and general admission, is covered by a roof. This is a great help as far as keeping out the sun and the rain, but be sure to temper your celebration about this feature of Finch Field. There are numerous support beams holding up the roof, some placed quite close together. This can result in obstructed views from a lot of the seats, so choose wisely. The open areas down each line provide a fairly intimate view of the field, and they seem to be popular with fans enjoying a beer, a lawn chair, or some company.
If you want to enjoy the game of baseball the way it is played now while being surrounded by reminders of how it used to be, Finch Field is a preferred destination. The park, like the town, is reasonably small and unassuming, but there is a lot to be found in both. The short trip off the main road is worth it for all involved parties.
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