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Official Review by Harrison Huntley, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
One of the multiple NC towns in the I-95 corridor, Fayetteville is a town most famous for its military base, Fort Bragg. Fayetteville is also home to the SwampDogs, a team from the Collegiate summer league, the Coastal Plain League.
J.P.Riddle Stadium, or “The Swamp”, was originally built as a temporary stadium for the Fayetteville Generals, the Class-A affiliate for the Detroit Tigers. Talks of a new stadium ran around for years but nothing was ever finalized. Unfortunately, the team took a path similar to other teams in their league and folded in 1996. Now that the professional team was gone, this temporary stadium would become permanent.
While it may never again house professional baseball, this stadium serves as an adequate home to the SwampDogs. The team has a favorite phrase around the ballpark: “Exciting SwampDogs Baseball.” While the game may not be exciting for everyone, there are plenty of promotions, games, and other fun things to do that will keep even non-baseball lovers in the game.
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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".
There are hamburgers, hot dogs, popcorn, and your other basic stadium foods available. It might not be much to write home about until you read the menu again and notice the unique offerings. You may not notice them the first time, but Riddle Stadium has some of the more unique offerings in the CPL.
First is the Junkyard Dog which costs $9.50. This may seem a lot for a specialty dog, but the Junkyard Dog is TWO foot-long hot dogs topped with chili, cheese, peppers, onions, bacon, and fries. I'm assuming that it is meant to be shared, but this is still a monstrosity of a dish. There is also a nacho version of this which costs the same price. If toppings aren't your thing, then you can always go for the big dog which is simply 1/3-lb. hot dog.
As far as beverages, Riddle Stadium serves Pepsi products and offers refills for any size for just $1.50. For beer, the SwampDogs operate on the wristband system. You can obtain a wristband at the entrance that allows you to purchase alcohol. It's a quicker way to ID fans for the purchase of drinks.
With its variety and uniqueness, it's safe to say that Riddle Stadium features some of the best concessions the CPL has to offer.
The stadium was simply not meant to last as long as it did. The portable metal bleachers accompanied by its metal-walled press box and its broken scoreboard seem to be begging for a new stadium.
On the bright side, the SwampDogs really do a great job of engaging the fans. After every between inning contest, the announcer leads with "Now back to more..." and the contestant always answers with "exciting SwampDogs baseball!" While the on field product may not be as exciting as the kids keep telling you it is, the staff really knows how to make the ballpark experience exciting by getting those young fans involved.
There are several promotional nights such as Duck Dynasty night as well as plenty of creative between inning games. The promotions are embraced by the staff in the outfits and sometimes the games are even themed for the night.
You have two options for seating. One is an $8 "box" seat which is a "lower level" seat with a metal chair back and handles. On the other hand, you can spend $6 ($5 for kids) for an "upper level" seat on a metal bench. The two levels are separated by a small concourse and any seat has a decent view of the action.
The atmosphere varies game to game. At its best, Riddle is packed with families who know appropriate times to cheer but are mostly there for a night out. At its worse, the stadium is nearly empty with a few locals just looking to watch a ball game. Either way, the atmosphere would be seriously lacking without the exceptional on field staff.
Unless you want fast food from a strip mall down the road, there is nothing in the area. There are plenty of places to hang around closer to the downtown area of Fayetteville, but that's all about 10 minutes away. There just isn't a lot going on the in general area of the ballpark.
There is not a huge interest in the game from the fans. The attendance fluctuates game by game, but no matter how many fans are there, the diehards are few. Most families are just there for a day at the ballpark, which is fine, but it does not help in creating a baseball atmosphere. Most fans know when to cheer, the same as it is at many small ballparks. The difference is that there aren't enough diehard fans to create any serious noise. Normally at these parks, you can find a small base of season ticket holders who know every player by name and can be easily heard. While it's possible these fans exist, I have never found them during my visits to Riddle Stadium.
While the neighborhood isn't the most exciting, at least finding your way to the park is quite easy. Roughly 15 minutes from I-95, Riddle Stadium isn't hard to find and has plenty of free parking options right next to the stadium. On the way in to the stadium, you will notice that the only thing on the ground is the field and concessions. All the bleachers are elevated a considerable distance from the field. This can probably be contributed, again, to the fact that this stadium has lasted much longer than initially intended. Regardless of the reason, the number of stairs up to the seats can make transporting concessions a challenge.
$6 general admission tickets ($5 for students, soldiers, and seniors) along with adequate concession prices create yet another good value on the CPL circuit. While it isn't the best value I've seen, this is yet another example of the CPL doing what it does best: creating a family baseball experience that is not hard on the wallet.
I always make an attempt to recognize mascots because there is a certain element of creativity involved in creating one. The SwampDogs mascots are Fun-Go and Cookie, two costumed dogs that actively participate in the between inning games and are always around to greet kids. Fun-Go also has a "Homerun Haven" which features inflatable play houses. Let me again emphasize the amazing job done by the SwampDogs' on-field staff. They really try to keep fans into the game in all kinds of creative ways. Finally, if mascots and children aren't your thing, you can appreciate the CPL leaderboard posted at the entrance. Updated daily, it is very helpful to the fan who may not attend every game.
J.P. Riddle Stadium is a peculiar stadium. It was obviously meant to be improved but never has been. That being said, the SwampDogs use it to its fullest extent. They take the ballpark that they have, put in a catchy slogan and some between inning games, and it becomes a great place for a family night out at a baseball game.
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