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Official Review by Andy Mantsch, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
A lot of the country considers college baseball an afterthought, but not in Columbia, South Carolina. Tailgaters, boiled peanuts, cold beer and shouts of "Go Cocks!" start hours before first pitch is even thrown on game days outside Founders Park. Baseball season for the South Carolina Gamecocks is second only to football season. And even that is debatable, depending on who you ask.
The South Carolina Gamecocks baseball program emerged over the last decade as one of the elite programs in the country, with top-level coaching, recruiting and facilities. Legendary coach Ray Tanner led a baseball renaissance in Columbia in the 2000s, and the team won back to back national titles in 2010 and 2011 and appeared in the title game a third time in 2012. Perhaps part of the draw for recruits to Columbia is the 8,242-seat capacity gem of a college baseball venue, Founders Park. Or perhaps it's that thousands of rabid fans consistently pack the stands.
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".
Founders Park is chock-full of unique food options all around the park, but the best options might just be the old favorites. Regardless, there's something for every palate.
The first food item you'll notice when entering the stadium is the wafting smells of the grills in left and right field cooking up fresh burgers, brats and hot dogs. These are straight out of a backyard barbecue and are easily the best choice for the ballgame. Standard concession stands offer chicken tenders, cheese steaks and burgers with fries, all for $7.50. Other options include Johnsonville brats ($4.75), Carolina slaw dogs ($4.50), Kayem hot dogs ($3.50) and a few other options. If you want something a little less standard you can find an Oriental Chicken tent serving teriyaki options, Marco's Pizza, various barbecue options, Bavarian Nuts, Bojangles' chicken, Rita's Italian Ice and Dippin' Dots around the park. Probably the most unique option is High Heel Homemaker, which sells a variety of cakes and pies.
At the main concession stands, sodas are available for $3 in a 16-ounce size and $5.50 in a 32-ounce size. There is also a bottomless souvenir soda option at $12. You can also purchase bottled water and Powerade here for $3.75. Other concessions stands include specialty lemonades and gourmet coffee and hot chocolate options.
There are really options for just about everyone here, with most of them being very high-quality food. Personally, I don't recommend walking by the grill without picking up a fresh burger or brat. You really can't go wrong with anything, though.
College baseball may not be known for its elite sports atmospheres, but among the insiders, a few names will consistently come up. Founders Park is always on that short list.
The stadium design is simple, yet incredibly comfortable. The concourse is wide and circles the entire field, providing clean views of the play from everywhere but center field. Behind the center field wall, you'll find a glass case with two National Championship trophies and some seats from the famous Rosenblatt Stadium, where the Gamecocks won the last College World Series hosted there in 2010. Comfortable, garnet-colored seats wrap around from almost the right field foul pole back around into left center field. Bleachers extend up beyond the wall in left field. Club-level seats above home plate offer spectacular patio seating, with a view of the field and downtown Columbia beyond the wall in center field. Despite 6,000 to 8,000 fans at every game, the stadium still feels small enough to get around easily and embrace the action.
And the venue alone isn't what makes this a great atmosphere. The video board will get the crowd fired up with hype videos before the game. "2001" will blare as the players take the field and white towels will wave as "Sandstorm" pumps through the speakers. Cocky makes his rounds around the stadium, high-fiving fans and posing for pictures, as well. Gamecock fans love their baseball, and game day atmosphere is intense and passionate.
Because of the layout, there's really not a bad seat. Some people prefer the nice seats behind home plate, some enjoy the concourse taking in the views from different angles, and some prefer to bring a blanket and sit on the berm in right field. All of these are great options at Founders Park.
There are definite advantages and disadvantages to the stadium location. It's riverside on the Congaree River with plenty of lots available for tailgate, but at the same time, it's not really within easy walking distance of anything of significance.
Just a short drive from the stadium is the Vista, Columbia's heart for good food and drinks. There are more than enough good options to choose from here, but the closest to the stadium and possibly best for pre or post-game refreshments is the Thirsty Fellow. Here you can get craft beer and tasty flat bread pizza. Another pizza option not far from Founders Park is Village Idiot, which has been a Columbia staple for years. There is a location in the 5 Points area of town, but also a new location just down the road from the ballpark, near Whaley's Mill.
The Columbia area has its share of decent attractions. The Riverbanks Zoo is one of the more underrated zoos in the country, the historic State House still has markings from the Civil War and Congaree National Park is just a short drive away, as well. All are worth a stop.
Founders Park is just a few blocks from downtown (although not particularly walkable), so there are plenty of hotel options. The best for the dollar and easy access may be Holiday Inn Express & Suites Columbia Downtown and Courtyard Columbia Downtown at USC. If you're looking for something more upscale right in the Vista, the Hilton Columbia Center Hotel is a great bet.
South Carolina baseball fans are easily one of the top fan bases in all of college baseball. Games are crowded, loud and intense. They love their Gamecocks.
The Gamecocks consistently rank in the top five (and sometimes atop) the overall attendance rankings in the country. In 2015, they sold 6,049 season tickets for a stadium that seats 8,242. Fans pack the house here.
And those fans don't sit on their hands. White towels will wave, rooster crows will be crowed and Gamecocks cheers will be shouted throughout the game. You'll see colorful characters all around the stands dressing in crazy outfits for the game. The rest will just be dressed in customary garnet, making the stands a sea of the color. And those fans don't just show up for the game, they show up early. For a 1pm first pitch, you can see tailgaters starting to pull in as early as 9am to prepare. And these fans stay until the last pitch to sing the alma mater, ending in a toast to the university. The fans truly contribute to the venue just as much as any architecture and trophies do.
Carolina Stadium is pretty easy to find and is accessible from all three major interstates passing through Columbia. And it's not much harder to move around the stadium that it is to get there.
The Columbia Airport is about a 15-minute drive out 321/302 from the stadium and basically a straight shot. Columbia doesn't have much public transit, but it's easy enough to get around otherwise.
Parking is easy, but relatively limited for big games. There is a $10 lot just outside the gates of the stadium where tailgaters tend to gather. Across the street, there are two $5 lots that usually accommodate the majority of the traffic. If not, paid lots open up and down Huger Street just a short walk away.
You can usually get a ticket at the gates, but for SEC opponents or bigger games, I'd recommend buying your tickets in advance. If you want a good seat and not standing room or bleachers, I'd definitely recommend advance purchase. There are gates on either side of the stadium, but the main gate enters into center field, so your first view will be of the National Championship trophies. It's usually pretty easy to get in and out of the stadium.
Once inside, you'll be hard pressed to find a stadium that's easier to get around. The concourse that loops the park is wide and easy to navigate with full field views almost the whole way around. The stadium and restrooms are incredibly clean and nice. Overall, the interior is incredibly easy to navigate.
While not the cheapest ticket in college baseball, it's hard to argue any price when you're visiting one of the best venues around.
Tickets run $10-$18, which is pretty reasonable for an elite experience. With parking available for $5 and food under $10, it's quite a deal. This ballpark is a must-visit for college baseball fans, and it's nice that it can be done affordably.
This park is constantly improving. I absolutely love the ability to walk/stand anywhere around the park and see the game without feeling far from it. The berm in right field is an ideal place to pull up a blanket, put on your glove and wait for a foul ball. Because that tends to be such a family area of the park, the stadium put in a playground on a grassy hill across the concourse. The fan experience gets points for being one of the best. The National Championship display is also incredibly cool, and the inclusion of seats from Rosenblatt just adds to it all. Don't come to Founders Park without taking a moment to pause for a picture with the back-to-back National Title trophies.
As college baseball ballparks go, you could hardly do any better that Founders Park. If you're a baseball fan at all and passing through Columbia, this is a must.
Member Review by Chris Slade on Apr 26, 2013
With the grand opening of the new Carolina Stadium on the 21st of February, 2009, a new standard was born in Columbia. That fateful day, the doors were first opened to the general public to what has become recognized by many as one of the finest college baseball facilities one can visit in the country. An era of high expectations - I’d say met expectations - and of dominance has ensued in the following years, as the Gamecocks' sterling home record indicates. Proudly hanging along the opposites side of the great center field wall are the 2010 and 2011 championship banners - the first two national championships of any sport in South Carolina athletics history. With around 6,400 seats available and an estimated capacity of 8,242 fans, Carolina Stadium embodies one of the larger venues in college baseball.
Member Review by Drew4479 on Mar 16, 2014
Some places just do college baseball better. Before you walk through the gates and are greeted by two national championship trophies, you’ll be greeted by tailgaters, boiled peanuts, cold beer and general excitement. Baseball season at Carolina Stadium in Columbia, SC is second only to football season. And even that is debatable, depending on who you ask.
Always a strong baseball program, the South Carolina Gamecocks baseball program emerged over the last decade as one of the elite programs in the country. Legendary coach Ray Tanner led a baseball renaissance in Columbia in the 2000s, and the team won two national titles and appeared in the title game a third time in recent years. Perhaps part of the draw for recruits to Columbia is the 8,242-seat capacity gem of a college baseball venue, Carolina Stadium.
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