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Official Review by Brian Wilmer, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
When thinking of the origins of baseball in the Carolinas, one name immediately jumps to the forefront: John Henry Moss. Moss helped to create the class-D Western Carolinas League in 1947, then took over the league in 1948. He went on to become a scout and hold other positions in the game before returning to the helm of the league in 1959. The league became what is now the class-A South Atlantic League, and Moss was the top man there until 2007. The number 50 has been retired league-wide because of Moss' 50 years of service to the circuit.
John Henry Moss was also from Kings Mountain, North Carolina, a town just one half-hour from Boiling Springs, the home of Gardner-Webb University. Many of the towns in the initial Western Carolinas League surrounded Boiling Springs, including neighboring Shelby. It is only fitting, then, that Moss' name grace the baseball stadium at Gardner-Webb.
John Henry Moss Stadium opened in 2011, and its place among the top facilities in the Big South Conference has quickly been established. The park seats 700, with an intimate feel that is perfect for the campus on which it resides. Gardner-Webb may not offer the largest ballpark in the country, but they do provide a truly comfortable and enjoyable baseball experience.
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".
The offerings and prices at Gardner-Webb are not necessarily "fine dining", though they are on par with most similar facilities. Hot items include nachos ($2) and hot dogs ($2.50), with both seeming to be equally popular among fans. Snacks are the order of the day, with candy, Air Heads, bubble gum, popcorn, Ring Pops, sunflower seeds and chips completing the menu. None of these items cost greater than two dollars, with most under a dollar. Peanuts were on the menu on the day I visited, though the line was scratched out.
Beverages are Pepsi products, with bottled sodas available for $2. In another unexplained menu casualty, coffee ($1) was listed, but scratched out when I visited.
It should also be noted that you should have cash handy for any concession purchases. This will make your transaction considerably easier.
As with football's Spangler Stadium, Gardner-Webb's pastoral campus is on display beyond the confines of the park. Though the setting sun beyond the left field wall can occasionally make life tough for those fans on the first base side, the reward comes in the form of a breathtaking view of the sunset toward campus. If the sun may present a problem, be sure to pack some sunglasses or sit on the third base side, occupied by the Runnin' Bulldogs.
With as few seats as John Henry Moss Stadium offers, it seems obvious that every seat has a great view of the action taking place on the field. The entirety of the seating bowl is behind netting, though this seems as much a necessity as a hindrance. The seats are a mixture of chairback seats, chairback bleachers and "conventional" bleachers, and though leg room is not an issue, it may be helpful to bring a seat cushion.
The scoreboard resides behind the right-center field wall, and is plainly visible from every seat in the park. Brick columns line the scoreboard, with artwork of two bats and a baseball adorning either side of the columns. The Gardner-Webb Runnin' Bulldog logo sits atop the board. The "body" of the scoreboard contains the usual information, with the game's line score, ball/strike/out indicators, number of the player at bat and hit/error indicator.
Suites are a somewhat unexpected commodity at smaller schools, and Gardner-Webb offers two suites, one on either end of the press box. The suites offer the typical indoor entertainment area for special guests of the university, as well as an outdoor patio for warmer days. The option of indoor or outdoor entertainment is an excellent addition, particularly as spring approaches in western North Carolina.
If someone were tasked to describe the "stereotypical" college town, Boiling Springs would likely come to mind. The town is small, easy to walk through and surrounded by nature. There are several restaurants nearby, including Georgio's, which is just across the street from the campus. Despite the small-town surroundings, a number of options can fill your day. Additional information on dining and entertainment is available in the reviews of Paul Porter Arena and Spangler Stadium.
Shelby, as mentioned, borders Boiling Springs. Shelby is a town of just 20,000 (or so) residents, but it offers a small mall, several restaurants and other entertainment and shopping. If you happen to have a car -- and some time -- you can make the 15-minute drive to Gaffney, South Carolina. Gaffney is also a reasonably small town, though there is an outlet mall, along with several additional dining choices (Aegean Pizza being a local favorite).
To be fair, I visited Gardner-Webb on a Tuesday night after classes were dismissed for the year. These two factors likely played a role in the fan experience on the night. That said, the Runnin' Bulldogs were hosting Furman University, a regional foe with a decent amount of talent.
The announced attendance on the night was 129, and this number came with good news and not-so-good news. The good news was that the crowd was respectful and into the action on the field. The not-so-good news was that this led to a very quiet setting for most of the night. The crowd responded at the appropriate times, but the lack of numbers -- and, possibly, the seven-run first inning by the visitors -- dampened the festivities. This facility deserves a more feisty crowd, and the hope is that this will eventually be the norm.
Boiling Springs can be a bit of a tough place to reach. If you drive from the Charlotte area, traffic can be a problem on Interstate 85 southbound and US Highway 74 westbound. US 74 bypasses Kings Mountain, though it encounters a number of traffic lights in Shelby. If you are traveling to Boiling Springs for an evening game, be sure to budget some extra time to navigate these congested areas.
Parking is free and plentiful around the athletic complex, particularly when school is not in session. As you turn onto Stadium Drive, there are signs indicating the availability of event parking to the right. The parking area is just a brief walk from the stadium.
The entry gate leads to a brick walkway that travels down the first base line and behind the dugouts. This serves as the main concourse to the facility, as the seating bowl has a separate entrance from that walkway. The sidewalk area is quite wide and roomy enough for any crowd, but the layout of the seating bowl prevents you from seeing the action on the field if you go to get concessions. Therefore, it is probably best to save any concession runs for between innings.
There are restrooms on either side of the concession stand, and the facilities are clean and well-kept. There should be no concerns with lines to access the restrooms, as the school offers enough facilities for the between-innings rush.
We should also mention that Gardner-Webb does not offer an online ticketing option. This would be a tremendous convenience upgrade for a school of this caliber.
Tickets to a Runnin' Bulldogs game are $5, with each seat being general admission. Gardner-Webb students get into games free, with students of any other school paying just $2.
Using the standard test of a game ticket, hot dog, soda and parking, the total fare is just $9.50. The ability to take in Big South baseball -- one of the better "mid-major" conferences in Division I -- for just $38 for a family of four is an outstanding value. The school also offers occasional ticket deals and promotions, so be on the lookout for those deals.
Though you cannot buy a ticket online, there is a small perk to buying a ticket in person. The school offers roster sheets at the ticketing tent beside the entry gate. The sheets are not a glossy program, by any means, but they are a helpful item.
A merchandise stand is located in the same building as the concession stand. Gardner-Webb logo items are available for sale, including hats, shirts and much more. Items are competitively priced, and if you want the same cap the team wears on the field -- or just a new shirt -- the school has you covered.
The university honors those who contribute to its success with plaques all over the ballpark. The suite patios and first base dugout are adorned with the names of current and former coaches, along with financial contributors to the program. The plaques are a simple gesture, but they add an attractive touch to the park.
North Carolina is known for its somewhat unusual climate -- especially the western part of the state, in which Gardner-Webb resides -- but this is no problem at John Henry Moss Stadium. The school has large ceiling fans in the seating bowl for really warm days, and, in a somewhat unusual touch, offers a heater for the really cool early-season games. This extra nod to fan comfort is a great added service.
The school's legendary radio voice, Fabian Fuentes, also bears mention. Fabian is on the call for just about every Runnin' Bulldog game in each "major" sport, except for those occasions where sports information director Marc Rabb slides over to take the reins. His call is audible on 88.3 FM WGWG in the Boiling Springs area, or over the internet for those Runnin' Bulldog fans who may be far away from their favorite school.
Gardner-Webb is one of many schools in the Big South Conference (Coastal Carolina, Liberty and Campbell are among the others) who have made moves to open new or upgraded facilities. While John Henry Moss Stadium may not be on the level of, say, Boshamer Stadium in Chapel Hill, it is a clean, modern and comfortable facility. Gardner-Webb also offers some of the nicest people you will encounter anywhere, both in the stands and representing the university, and it is tough for flashy luxuries to compete with the simple things that cost nothing to provide.
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