Charleston, South Carolina, is a city practically swimming in history. Between churches, military installations, architecture, television and film, and books, there is something for which this port city is known in virtually all walks of life. There has always been a sense of mystery, intrigue and “old South” around the Holy City.
Baseball also holds a place in the hearts and history of Charleston, as affiliated baseball has graced the confines for over 50 years, with baseball in the city dating all the way back to 1886. Future stars such as Kevin Seitzer, B.J. Upton, and Carl Crawford all called Charleston home on their way to the big leagues. Charleston's teams used to call College Park home (“Major League: Back to the Minors” was also partially filmed there) before moving to Joseph P. Riley, Jr. Park in 1997. Known to locals as “The Joe”, this stadium sits along the banks of the Ashley River, just down Rutledge Avenue from the old park.
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I'm not at all kidding when I say there is something for everyone at Riley Park. Considering this is a park that has drawn the attention of multiple Food Network hosts, you know you will get something out of the ordinary. Sure, there's the list of ballpark standards, with pizza, popcorn, peanuts, burgers, and fries available at moderate prices, but there are even spins on the "usual". Just about any item can be turned into a basket, with the hot dog basket at $6.50 and cheeseburger basket at $8, surrounded at $7.50 by baskets of chicken tenders, corn dogs and hamburgers.
Everyone loves nachos at the ballpark, right? Riley Park features FIVE VARIETIES of nachos, including the All-American, chipotle chicken, barbecue, vegetarian, and frighteningly-named kitchen sink nachos, which are advertised to require two people to finish. These will set you back $15, but they include pulled pork, Southwestern beef, two cheeses, sweet chili sauce, pico de gallo, and tons of other ingredients.
If you're used to the normal hot dog at a baseball game, be prepared to have that turned on its ear. You can sample "pig on a stick", which is a foot-long corn dog wrapped in bacon ($7.50). If that's not enough for you, there is also an alligator with petal sauce dog ($7), a duck with plum sauce dog ($7), and a venison with chipotle barbecue sauce dog ($7).
After you've eaten your way through the ballpark, you can wash it down with a waffle cone ($4), a milkshake ($4), or slush ($4), or for the drinking-inclined, a 24 ounce beer for $5.50 or $6 (depending on location).
One of the coolest parts of this park is also one of its biggest drawbacks. This park seems to be a place for people to gather and really enjoy themselves, which is awesome. The problem with that is that everyone seems to assemble on the main concourse leading to the concession area and seating bowl. This creates a logistical nightmare for fans trying to navigate the concourse and return to their seats or leave the park after the game is complete.
That aside, this is a park in a historic area with a pretty cool aesthetic. If you sit in the general admission seats along the third base side, some seats afford you a view of the Ashley River beyond the wall in right field. Just about every seat in the park is a good one, though, and you won't be bombarded with a ton of over-the-top gimmickry between innings. There was the requisite t-shirt cannon, a "cheese race" on the scoreboard, a dance-off between two kids, and a weiner dancing to "YMCA". No, I'm not making that up.
The aforementioned Ashley River makes for a beautiful neighbor for Riley Park, and should you wish to picnic before or after the game, Brittlebank Park is just beyond the outfield walls. This riverfront setting is a wonderful way to spend a few hours or to take a relaxing walk.
There is not an overload of activity near the park itself, but you are mere minutes away from the Charleston beaches, Patriots Point, downtown, and a plethora of options in North Charleston. A word of caution, though: stick to U.S. Route 17 (Septima Clark Parkway) on your way out of the ballpark district. One wrong turn will put you in a lesser (to put it mildly) area.
Though the number was surely helped by Atlanta Braves righthander Tim Hudson's rehab appearance, the park was actually sold out and then some. The park seats 6,000 fans, and attendance came in just shy of 6,100 on this night. The fans were rather smart and involved, and there was a nice mix of RiverDogs fans and Braves fans. This made for a pretty lively crowd. The game was close throughout, which also helped.
Even though the park was full, kudos to the Riley Park staff and Charleston police for a great job of crowd control, as they did a commendable job of keeping things moving throughout the night, from tickets to concessions to parking. I have been in a number of other sold-out venues that were not handled with this level of skill.
This is a pretty easy place to travel from anywhere in the Charleston area. It is just blocks from the end (or beginning, depending on direction) of Interstate 26. The park is just off US 17 at Lockwood Drive. Parking is available in Brittlebank Park or in the MUSC lot across the street from the park. Both lots are $5.
There are two caveats about parking, though. The lot at Brittlebank has the possibility of flooding, as there were rather high spots of water on the night I attended. I prefer this lot, but it may be wise to choose the MUSC lot if there has been a lot of rain. The MUSC lot is gravel, and paying $5 to park in a gravel lot seems a bit excessive. There are also limited areas of egress, so this may cause a bit of a backup as you try to leave the ballpark district.
Tickets range from $7-$17, depending on the day you attend. When combining the ticket prices, the concessions and the parking, this can get a bit steep. Souvenirs also can be a bit high-priced here, too, so keep that in mind.
That said, the experience at Riley Park is tremendously fun, and you will be assured quality baseball. The RiverDogs are a Yankees affiliate, and they play in the routinely prospect-laden South Atlantic League.
There are a number of nice touches about this park. The one I feel most compelled to point out is the extremely nice woman in the ticket office who took the time to reprint my tickets after I left them at home. This was something she was by no means required to do, and I appreciate her time.
There are also things you'll get here that you won't get anywhere else, such as the view of the Ashley River from some of the seats, and the on-field interview of the MVP of that night's game. This helps fans build a connection with the local team, and with players constantly moving up and down, anything to connect the fans and the players on the field is a great idea.
The South Carolina coast is a must-see area, and Charleston certainly provides tourists and locals alike with an opportunity for a great night out at Riley Park. I will warn you to bring a jacket, particularly early in the season. As the sun sets below the treeline and the water (a beautiful sight, by the way), the park gets a little cool. The sun also tends to set in your eyes if your seats are on the third base side.
There are nice nods to history here, too, with Larry Doby's retired number 14 on the outfield wall. There are also odd quirks, such as the left field corner and foul pole that are actually behind the seating bowl, creating for the occasional strange angle. If cookie-cutter parks that could literally be plunked down anywhere in America bore you, Riley Park is definitely a place to add to your travel itinerary.
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