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Official Review by David Berger, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
Grayson Stadium (named after Spanish-American War veteran General William L. Grayson), was built in 1926 as the home of the Savannah Indians. It went through a major rebuild in 1941 after a major hurricane decimated the structure in August 1940. A press box and other renovations were added in 1995, and a new scoreboard in 2007.
Currently, there seems to be a movement in Savannah to look at replacing Grayson Stadium with a more modern ballpark designed to spur development at the Savannah River Landing, but at this point, it appears to only be in the earliest of planning stages.
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".
Food at this ballpark seems to come in 2 varieties: With melted cheese or without. The selections are pretty standard; hamburgers, hot dogs, and pretzels. They use a good Hebrew National dog, but they were pre-made well in advance, and not as warm as it should have been by the time they get in your hands.
One nice feature is that toppings that many ballparks offer, but at an extra price, are complimentary in Savannah. This includes jalapeno, for dogs or nachos, which are usually extra or not offered at some parks.
Service suffers as it does at many parks with the use of volunteer prep and servers. The cashier I encountered was very slow, and the runner was too far ahead. I ended up with the crumbled remains of a bag of chips in my nachos, and my food sitting out for 5 minutes before the cashier could ring me up.
The Sand Gnats have recently added a new Philly Cheesesteak stand down the 1st base line that also serves a premium sausage sandwich. Being early in the season, they may not have had all the kinks worked out, because the line was long and unmoving.
This is a classic stadium in every regard. With the core of the structure dating back to 1926, plus a rebuilt grandstand built in the 1940's, this stadium very much resembles Asheville's McCormick Field in style and layout. The main concourse offers no view of the field, as you would find in a modern ballpark, but you do get that moment of old school anticipation as you climb the stairs to your seats and the field is "revealed" to you. There's still something a little special about that, which will always make up for the lack of visibility from the concessions and rest areas.
With a capacity of only 4,000, with most of the standard seating inside the baselines, you're always close to the action. The main grandstand behind home has a cantilevered roof, so there are a few places where support poles will obstruct vision. The roof also has 3 giant fans built in to help with air circulation. I'm sure this is a big benefit in August, but they were not needed on a chilly April evening.
Outfield seats were removed a few years ago, so now all home runs land in a thick swath of trees that extend well beyond the fences. There's a picnic area down the left field line, where many General Admission fans will spend the whole game socializing.
All seating areas are covered by netting or fencing in your line of view. Usually, I will prefer a seat down one of the baselines in order to get out from behind the backstop screen, but that's not an option here.
Coming in from out of town, you do briefly pass through a bit of a sketchy neighborhood, but in the general surroundings around the stadium, it's pure Savannah. The ballpark itself is set in Daffin Park, with a football/soccer stadium and plenty of free parking. The park is just outside the historic district of Savannah, and around the park there are a number of beautifully maintained Georgian homes on either side of the heavily tree-lined streets. In a typical Savannah style, small manicured gardens and small lots lead up to beautifully preserved homes.
There isn't really a ballgame atmosphere to the neighborhood at all, but there's a Southern charm that makes up for that.
It's a small crowd, so any activity by fans seems to be magnified. In general, this is a pretty strongly attentive fan base. Yes, there's always a few kids begging for another trip to the concession stand, but for the most part, people are here to see the game. They react at the right times, and generally get loud when the team does well. During our visit, there were a number of game-changing errors and one bomb of a home run that all elicited appropriate responses from a knowledgeable crowd.
Getting to the game really couldn't be easier. Off the main Interstate, it's just a few turns to the ballpark. With small crowds even on busy nights, in and out is no problem, and as mentioned, parking can be free if you stay on the park side and walk a block.
Tickets for the Savannah Sand Gnats start at $7 for General Admission, to $9 for box seats. You'll want to go with at least the Reserved seating if you want a molded seat back. The seats we sat in had wooden arms, which was something I hadn't encountered before with plastic seating, and served as an old-timey touch.
Concessions are easily your larger ticket expense in A Ball, and in that regard, the Sand Gnats should place a greater emphasis on quality control and oversight of their volunteers.
There aren't a lot of discernible extras. I'd like to see the team come up with a signature food item that's a bit more local... A Po Boy sandwich, or something with a coastal Southern flair. While the park certainly provides a thick level of nostalgia, the Gnats could use more display opportunities in the concourse to reach back to that past. Who's played in Savannah and made it big? A timeline history of the park or something to entertain and enlighten the new visitor as to why the park is not just old but historic.
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