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Official Review by Bob Waldrop, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Founded in 1841 as Howard College, Samford University sits a few miles south of downtown Birmingham, Alabama in the shadow of Shades Mountain. While its two most recognizable alumni center around its football program – former Howard coach Bobby Bowden went on to fame with Florida State while current coach Pat Sullivan won the 1971 Heisman Trophy as a QB at Auburn – many may not be aware that Samford baseball enjoys success as member of the Southern Conference.
The Bulldogs play their games at Joe Lee Griffin Field, which opened in 1958 but underwent major renovations (including its current name) beginning in 2000 and today serves as a testament that smaller, private schools who don’t have big athletic budgets can still create a tremendous experience for their fans.
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The food offerings at JLG Field are plentiful, if not necessarily spectacular, and the prices are in-line with schools of similar size which I've visited. A large concession stand located under adjacent Seibert Stadium down the left field line offers the most options, including hot dogs ($2.50), sausage dogs ($4) and a deli sandwich (also $4). Chips, pretzels, cookies, sunflower seeds and popcorn can all be had for $2.50 or less. Bottled water is available for $2, and fountain drinks are available for $2/$4, with the latter being a large 32-ounce souvenir Samford cup. There is another concession stand located under the main bleachers of JLG Field and several carts set up, mainly down the third base side, offering bottled sodas, Cracker Jacks and the ever-popular Dippin' Dots.
Joe Lee Griffin Field is part of a beautiful athletic complex on the western edge of Samford's gorgeous suburban campus. Two other athletic venues almost serve as a border down the left and right field lines (see photo gallery). The Pete Hanna Center rises prominently down the right field side of JLG Field, while the main stands of Seibert Stadium frame the left field side.
The main grandstands seat approximately 500 fans and provide both bench and individual seats, each with much appreciated seat backs. Many fans, however, will take advantage of the low brick walls that extend from the dugouts to the foul poles and bring their own chairs to place in the grassy areas down either the right or left field foul lines. This feature gives JLG Field a distinctly cozy feel, as you can get within a few feet of the foul line. Fair warning, however - if you do choose this option, you really need to pay attention to the action on the field, because you are DEFINITELY in play for some screaming line-drive foul balls.
The park itself is symmetrical, with tall trees sitting just beyond the fences all the way around the stadium, providing an aesthetically pleasing backdrop. A beautiful, lush, green natural grass playing surface will rival any collegiate park in America. The only major improvement would be to the scoreboard, which, while providing the basics, does not contain any video capabilities.
Samford is a suburban university located approximately eight miles south of downtown Birmingham in an area surrounded by residential houses and corporate office complexes. The campus blends seamlessly into its surroundings, and features several green areas and hundreds of mature trees, along with immaculate landscaping. It is hilly, with a significant elevation change from front to back. Given this sort of land-locked feature, there aren't many off-campus activities available within walking distance; however, it is worth carving out some extra time before or after the game to take a walking tour of the beautiful campus.
Outside of some of the major hotbeds of college baseball, most fans attending games either know one of the players or are there just to take in a relaxing day at the ballpark. Few venues will create the type of rowdy atmosphere generated by their football counterparts. Samford fans fall in line with philosophy, undoubtedly aided in no small part by the beautiful setting and relaxing atmosphere generated by JLG Field. For a school with a small enrollment (~3,000 undergraduates), the student presence isn't terribly strong, but there does seem to be a loyal alumni presence, as well as the obvious die-hard regulars you will find at most schools. Those who are there are knowledgeable and definitely into the game.
Samford is easy to find. Its location is on Lakeshore Drive, a busy east-west connector between I-65 and Highway 280, which are the two main traffic thoroughfares in and around Birmingham. There are two main entrances - east and west - to the main campus, with Joe Lee Griffin Field best accessed from the west entrance. Travel just past the guard station and take an immediate left up the hill. Once you reach the top, JLG Field will be easily seen on your right. Parking is free, and for most games you will not have a problem finding a space within easy walking distance of the stadium.
One of the great things about college baseball is the "big boys" giving the little guys a chance. In Samford's case, they get home (and away) dates with both in-state SEC behemoths Alabama and Auburn. For non-SEC games, adult tickets run $5, while a child's ticket (ages 3-12) costs $3. For the two SEC dates, those prices jump to $8/$5, respectively. My barometer for measuring ROI for college baseball usually revolves around the movie test - if you can attend a game for about the same price as a first-run movie, to me that is more than a reasonable value for your time. A game at JLG Field exceeds those parameters, even for the premium prices paid for the aforementioned SEC teams. With free parking and reasonable concessions, it is difficult to complain about the cost of attending a game, though if there would be one suggestion, it would be to change ages for kids tickets to 5-15.
All tickets are General Admission, and the ticket booths only accept cash.
Several extra points are awarded for Samford baseball:
A free pre-printed scorecard complete with rosters of both teams is available at the entrance. This would seem like a standard for every college but, unfortunately, it isn't.
A small tent with Samford-logoed gear is available, which isn't unusual; however, an extra point is awarded for the Nike-logoed t-shirts that read "Sam not Stan" - a reference to Samford vs. Stanford. Very clever, almost Duke-like.
An extra point is awarded to the free giveaways that occur between most innings.
A final extra point is awarded just for the general layout and setting of the ballpark. Many parks for schools of this size are little better than your local high school fields. It is obvious much thought and consideration went into the layout of Joe Lee Griffin Field, from the intimate setting, to the low brick walls down each foul line to the beautiful natural grass playing surface. It all combines into an overall beautiful setting for college baseball.
If your travels find you in the Birmingham area in the spring, you owe it to yourself to try and catch a game at Samford's Joe Lee Griffin Field. It is part of a beautiful campus that offers some of the finest sports facilities in the state. If you can catch a break with the often turbulent spring weather, I assure you a visit to watch Samford baseball will not leave you disappointed.
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