Minor League Baseball has been alive in Norfolk, VA for over 50 years. The Tidewater Tides started as a High-A affiliate of the Kansas City A’s in 1961, but they are most well-known for being the AAA International League team for the New York Mets. That relationship started in 1969, and their famous alumni include Dwight Gooden, Darryl Strawberry and Lenny Dykstra, who all saw this as their last stop before major league stardom.
In 1993, not only did the team change the name to the current Norfolk Tides, but they also opened a new stadium - Harbor Park. Located in downtown Norfolk, this was a $16 million investment for the city and replaced the old Met Park that was located close to the airport, about 20 minutes north of downtown. The new stadium’s seating capacity of over 12,000 almost doubled the Tides' previous home, more in line for a AAA ballclub.
In 2007, the Tides began a new chapter in their history, as they became the Orioles' AAA farm club, replacing Ottawa. All of Baltimore’s class A and above minor league teams are now located in Maryland or Virginia.
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Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
As you enter the main concourse of Harbor Park, your sense of smell can almost be overwhelmed at some point. Coming from the third base side, you will find all of the fixed concession stands that offer typical ballpark fare on the right-hand side. Some of the better deals include a cheeseburger and fries ($7.50), souvenir helmet of fries ($4.75) and a Family 4 Pack (hot dogs, soda and chips for four) for $23, which would cost over $30 if separately purchased.. A large souvenir soda (Coca-Cola products) is $5.25, with refills costing $2.75, which is a great deal. Keep going to the first base side and you will find Flamingo Joe's, which offers funnel cakes along with other fried sweets (Snickers, s'mores, etc.) that will satisfy your sweet tooth.
Before making a choice on what you are going to chow down on, be sure to look at all the mobile vendors located across the concourse. Specialty hot dogs, italian sausages, large soft pretzels (warmed in front of you on a charcoal grill), and quesadillas are a few of the items that caught my attention. There are also plenty of beer vendors, with a decent variety offered. A large draft is $8.50 and a large can will set you back $9. Single-serve bottles of wine are also available, if beer is not your adult beverage of choice. Most of these vendors are cash-only, but each has a sign clearly stating if they take cash and/or credit. I recommend bringing cash just in case; however, there is an ATM on site, located in the main concourse behind home plate.
If you are looking for a restaurant experience, you are in luck. Hits at the Park is located on the first base side by the foul pole, and offers a buffet for $18.95 for adults and tiered pricing for children. The selection includes not only hot dogs and chicken tenders, but also items like cornish game hen and stuffed flounder. You can find more information here. The restaurant offers a great view of the playing field and is also available for special events.
As I pulled into Harbor Park an hour before game time, I noticed a lot of other cars, but I found myself wondering 'Where are all the people?". I didn't feel any pre-game excitement or anticipation of the game. I soon found out that fans are not allowed to tailgate or gather in the parking lot. I am sure there are reasons for this, but I see this as a big miss in creating a positive atmosphere before the game.
If you are picking your tickets up at Will Call, head to the gate behind home plate. Otherwise, you can enter on the third base side. Gates typically open 65 minutes before game time, so watching batting practice is out of the question. Getting through the gate is easy enough, as they scan your ticket as you go through, allowing you to keep your ticket intact.
The Tides' dugout is on the first base side, and if you want to avoid the sun setting in your eyes in the evening, I would recommend sitting on that side of the park. All of the sections on the first side base of the stadium are even-numbered, so that may help you in making your seating decision. Seat numbers are low to high, going from left to right if you are looking at the field, and every seat has a cup holder, which I always find as a plus. Suite rentals are available and are located on the second level of the ballpark. Another seating option is the party deck in right field that has a bar and a few flat screen TV's. The view is good, and the deck overlooks the home bullpen. The deck books for parties before the game, but is typically available to the general public 30 minutes after the start of the game. Lastly, there is a huge picnic area out in left field that is open to the public about halfway through the game, after the parties have left.
There is a scoreboard in left-center field that gives you the basic information, and there are two digital scoreboards in right-center that provide live action play, stats and out of town scores. I am a huge fan of stats and appreciate the information throughout the game. The PA announcer does a nice job of blending in with the game, and the acoustics throughout the stadium are good.
If you are a fan of between-inning promotions, you will get your fill here. I don't think an inning went by where the promotional department wasn't doing something on the field. Some of them are geared for the kids, so it helps to keep them entertained. If that's not enough, there is a play area with a moon bounce and a speed pitch on the far end of the third base side. I also noticed a balloon animal artist in the main concourse that had a pretty constant line anytime I walked by. Parents, be warned - these aren't free and while the cost is nominal, it will add up quickly and these are cash-only businesses.
As far as the immediate neighborhood around the stadium goes, there's not a lot to do here. The ballpark is in a mostly industrial and residential area, and is not a place I would recommend for sightseeing. Head a mile east (drive, don't walk) and you will find the downtown area of Norfolk, with a shopping mall and plenty of places to eat. You can park at the MacArthur Center mall for a maximum of $10 during the week and $2 on weekends and see what Norfolk has to offer.
If you have time, head down to Waterside and take the ferry boat over to downtown Portsmouth. There you will find shops and restaurants, along with a nice place to take a stroll before the game. If you have youngsters, there is a Children's Museum, and if you're looking for a decent sports bar, try Roger Brown's. They have great food (get the she-crab soup!), a good beer selection and outdoor seating.
I don't see anything special that stands out for me about the fan base of the Tides. Yes, they applaud when appropriate and are happy when their team wins, but I just don't get that feel of energy in the crowd. I saw quite a few fans wearing apparel from other major league teams besides the Orioles, and with the huge military presence in the area, many of the fans may not feel the same connection as others that have been Tides fans for years. I may be wrong, but the impression I have from attending a game at Harbor Park is that it is a good place to get together and be social with friends, and that the action on the field is secondary.
Harbor Park is located in downtown Norfolk right off of I-264, and is easily accessible off of any of the major highways in the Hampton Roads area. Easy, that is, on a good traffic day. There are many bridges and tunnels for you to navigate on your way to the park if you are coming from outside of Norfolk, so be sure to plan accordingly, as there are few detour options when you are dealing with traveling over (or under) bodies of water. If you are staying locally in Norfolk, you can take the light rail to the game, as there is a stop right at the stadium.
Once you get to the stadium, there is plenty of on-site parking and also some local garages, so you won't need to be stressed about leaving your car on a dark side street in a downtown area. The current rate (2013) for on-site parking is $5.
If you are in need of accessible seating, there is a row behind each section on the main concourse. Enter on the third base side of the stadium, and there are ramps to get to the seating bowl. You can also enter behind home plate and use the elevator.
Restrooms are sufficient in quantity and size, but they are definitely in need of a makeover. They look worn and dated, and make the stadium appear older than it is.
Tickets run from $9-$12, a reasonable price to see the future stars of MLB. What wasn't as reasonable was the $2 surcharge for tickets purchased on the day of the game. If you know you are going to a particular game and want to save a few bucks, buy early.
Another way to save a little cash is to take advantage of the Tides' 'Baseball Bucks' deal, where you can get $56 worth of value for $50. Baseball Bucks can be spent anywhere in the park except Hits at the Park and for tickets, so if you know you are going to be spending that much on concessions and/or merchandise, stop by the box office and take advantage of the deal.
Parking pricing is fair for a downtown location, and there are some decent values to be found on food. Overall, a night at Harbor Park is a fair investment of your entertainment dollar.
The Hampton Roads Hall of Fame is worth checking out. If you're not from the area, it will educate you about the athletic talent that comes from this area. The exhibits are not fancy - plaques on a wall - but I found it interesting. The Hall of Fame is located at the main entrance behind home plate, or you can access it by stairs from the main concourse.
There is a team store located right behind home plate that has items for the Tides and the parent-team Orioles. Prices are what you expect at a stadium shop, but I did find their selection and variety to be pretty good.
In 1995, Baseball America named two-year-old Harbor Park the best minor league stadium in the United States. The ballpark turned 20 in 2013, and while it is still a solid place to see a game, the Tides' home is starting to show its age a little, and is not a place that I would consider a 'must-see' on my stadium list.
Since its construction in 1993, Harbor Park in Norfolk (Va.) has been the go-to sports attraction for Hampton Roads area families.
Sure, there's the Norfolk Scope, home to the Norfolk Admirals, the AHL affiliate of the NHL's Tampa Bay Lightning, but that's for a rowdier set. And it smells much more like the inside of a game-worn hockey skate.
Norfolk, the epicenter of the United States' 36th-largest metropolitan area, has tried a few hare-brained schemes to woo professional franchises over the years. City representatives pitched the "Hampton Roads Rhinos" to the NHL as an expansion team in 1997, courted the Hornets when they left Charlotte in 2002, and offered to expand Harbor Park to accommodate the Montreal Expos in 2004. But for better or worse, the Triple-A Norfolk Tides have remained the biggest game in town since they showed up back in 1969.
For a franchise that's been a Norfolk institution for over 40 years, you would figure the ballpark would be more distinctive.
I was at a game here last week and it certainly is a beautiful ballpark from both the outside and inside. The name of the ballpark is a bit deceptive as one would think you have this terrific harbor view, when in actuality the view is of cranes, cargo ships and old buildings. I do agree the whole experience here is rather unremarkable as a Sunday afternoon game featured stands that were mostly empty and a rather bland atmosphere. The neighborhood immediately around Harbor Park is dull, but downtown Norfolk is beautiful and its right around the corner. Had a great time checking out downtown after the game.
I went to a Saturday and Sunday game (6/1/13 & 6/2/13) vs. my favorite team, the Buffalo Bisons. If you're in Norfolk and are looking to catch a ballgame, it's definitely worth a trip out.
Food & Beverage
First and foremost, the food and beverage staff were exceptional. We ate both at the 'Hits at the Park' restaurant and at the concession stands. They were by far the most polite and caring staff I've seen at a ballpark.
That said, the concessions were pretty standard fare at average ballpark prices. Beer prices were pretty outrageous at $9 a pop(, so get drunk before you come). There was a veggie burger option, which I was impressed with, although I did not try it.
If you are a vegetarian or have one in your group, the Hits at the Park restaurant's buffet is not for you. I was very disappointed in their lack of ANYTHING vegetarian. My brother and nephew seemed to enjoy their dinners (more on that in extras). I got stuck eating buns with sauer kraut in them.
The park was clean, bright, and it didn't look like there was a bad seat in the house. There was also a nice breeze coming in off the harbor, and the occasional boat horn to remind you that it was there. The scoreboard and information display were modern and nice, although an instant replay feature would have made it even nicer (there were a few questionable calls). All and all, a nice setting to watch a ballgame.
The neighborhood was fine. I don't know the area that well, so I don't know if you can walk to anything else. The neighborhood was safe and parking was abundant.
I neither liked nor disliked the Norfolk fans...well, I should say I both liked and disliked them. Positives: No drunken hooligans and people actually watched the game (vs. talk on their phones like I've seen at other parks). Negatives: Fans seemed apathetic - not a lot of passion for their team or the outcome of the game, parents let their kids run wild in the stands (maybe my fault for coming to family day)
We took the light rail from VA Beach on Saturday night (still experimental...but it was nice for our purpose). We drove and parked on Sunday ($5 fee). We did both with ease. Both were extremely close. No complaints.
Return on Investment
I would say average return on investment based on other AAA ballparks I've been to. Way high compared to a Major League Park.
The extras were not quite as abundant as I've seen at other parks (Lehigh Valley IronPigs / Buffalo Bisons). There are some in-between inning contests, etc, but nothing inspiring.
We went intending that my brother was going to complete 'Salute to Pork Challenge'. We got scared away because they want to make a big to-do about it with an announcer in the restaurant, etc. If you're into that, sweet. If you're going hoping to eat 5lbs of food in private shame, it's probably not going to work out for you. That said, I made my own Russ's Dirty Dozen challenge, where I made him eat 12 hot dogs. He is now on my own Personal Wall of Fame (which is actually a wall of shame because he ate 12 hot dogs).
300 Monticello Ave
Norfolk, VA 23510
777 Waterside Dr
Norfolk, VA 23510