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Official Review by Harrison Huntley, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Much like the city, baseball in Charleston carries a long and rich history. There are reports of teams playing organized games in the late 1800s until 1911. That’s when a hurricane hit the area and destroyed the stadium. The next year, College Park was built to house the team. In the years following, The Citadel (a military college in Charleston) began playing in College Park in the few years it was vacant, and then began sharing with the new minor league team, the Charleston Pirates. They became the RiverDogs in 1980, and have held that moniker ever since. Though a historic stadium, College Park became in dire need of replacement. A new stadium was built in 1996 and was named after the city’s beloved mayor, Joseph Riley. “The Joe” seats a few thousand more than College Park, but its surroundings make it far better than most single-A stadiums. Its location right on the Ashley River and near downtown provide a perfect setting for a baseball night in Charleston.
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 RiverDogs, and their food and beverage director John Schumacher, have become famous around the minor leagues for great tasting unique concessions. You'll probably have to visit the park more than once if you want try all the crazy menu items. I'll be highlighting a few, but check out the menu to decide which ones you want to try.
Of course, if you don't want to branch out, all the stadium favorites are offered as well. With all the options though, you may as well go for something crazy. Let's start with hot dogs. There's the Riverdog, which is topped with pickled okra, slaw, and SC barbecue sauce. Pig on a stick is a foot long corn dog wrapped in bacon. Finally, there's the Homewrecker. Food Network's Man vs Food came into town to try this foot long hot dog that comes topped with all 20 of the toppings. Also, the stand will let you make your own creation with any three toppings.
Moving on to sandwiches, chicken and waffle sliders are chicken tenders between Belgian waffles and glazed with honey and Sriracha sauce. A Lowcountry Taco is stuffed with pulled pork, collards, and mac 'n cheese.
Roaming the stands is Tony the Peanut Man. Tony sells boiled peanuts, a local delicacy, but also provides his own character. He loves to talk with the fans and embodies the term "southern hospitality."
As you may have guessed, the innovation continues to the drink menu. Just like the name suggests, Beer Shakes taste like a regular milkshake, but with your favorite beer mixed in. Flavors include Palmetto Espresso Porter Chocolate, Guinness Caramel, Anderson Valley Oatmeal Stout Raisin Cookie, and Shock Top Creamsicle.
Concessions at The Joe certainly entice fans to eat at the park. The food and drink make this one of the few stadiums, no matter what level, where eating at the park is actually recommended.
It's hard not to enjoy yourself at a RiverDogs game. Everywhere you look, you see the beauty of the area. Whether it's the swamp behind the home plate concourse, the Ashley River that's just past right field, or the downtown area off in the distance, the lovely city of Charleston is everywhere you look.
Being a single-A ballpark, the focus isn't really on the game. The fans are into the action, but the food, contests, and promotions are usually more exciting. This is a team decision. They (correctly) assume that most fans in attendance come to the park expecting much more than a ballgame.
If you come expecting an atmosphere similar to the RiverDogs' parent club, the New York Yankees, you'll be disappointed. The atmosphere is perfect for a small minor league team, and those in attendance love it.
Surely though, you cannot visit Charleston only for the RiverDogs. Charleston regularly appears on top travel destination lists and for good reason. The city has so much to offer in terms of shopping, dining, and culture.
When going downtown, parking is a flat $1 per half hour for most parking decks. Street parking is free after 6pm and all day on Sunday. King Street acts as a mall with most major retailers and even a few restaurants. Market Street is split by the historic Charleston market that is still in operation.
If there's a bad meal in Charleston, I haven't found it yet. There's something for every budget; from college kids to those looking for fine dining. One of my personal favorites is Henry's on Market. This place features affordable southern food and even offers rooftop seating for one of the best views in Charleston.
No trip to the Holy City is compete without a visit to the Battery Park. The historic park sits right on the waterfront and is a can't miss spot for locals and tourists alike.
The fans absolutely pay attention to the game and will cheer at the appropriate times. That being said, the focus is much more on the contests and promotions. The RiverDogs are a low-A team, so most of the players are little nown prospects. Aside from the occasional big league rehab (Alex Rodriguez in 2013), there isn't much in terms of household names. The crowd certainly isn't dead, though. Most of the fans do get involved in the on-field promotions, which cater to all ages.
US-17 runs almost right past the park, so that no matter what direction you're coming from, you should easily be able to find the park. The team owns several of the adjacent lots and parking costs $5, except for Sundays, when parking is free in team lots.
At first glance, ticket prices seem a little high. Tickets range anywhere from $8-$18, depending on where you want to sit. The thing about the RiverDogs is that with the right planning, you'll never pay face value.
First off, purchasing any tickets before the day of the game will get you $2 off. You can also wear red to any Friday game to receive $1 off. Tuesdays are 2 for $20, which gets you 2 tickets, 2 tacos, 2 drinks, and nachos. Other deals come often, so check out the promotional calendar to maximize your value.
With $5 parking, and reasonable concession prices, you should expect to spend around $20 a person, which is reasonable.
Every Sunday is Family Sunday. In addition to the inflatables outside the park, kids eat free, and families can even play catch in the outfield prior to the game.
Charlie T. Riverdog is the mascot for the team and is quite involved. He wanders the park, leads games, and has even been known to bust a move.
Finally, the Joe's grass is famous (or infamous) for needing to be replaced every few years. This is because the swamp land it is built on swallows a few inches of the field each year.
The city of Charleston is an overall fun city and a great place to visit. The same can be said about their baseball stadium. The organization really understands what a minor league team needs to do to succeed. They combine unique and quality food with a laid back atmosphere. All together, it turns out to be a fun night. When you visit the city of Charleston, you definitely need to add in a trip to see the RiverDogs.
Member Review by brian on Apr 25, 2012
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.
Member Review by MarcV on Aug 04, 2013
The Charleston RiverDogs of the Single-A South Atlantic League have called Joseph P. Riley, Jr., Park home since 1997. The 6,000-seat stadium features a field that is among the best manicured in the minor leagues. The organization has also been noted for having some of the most unusual promotions in all of baseball making headlines across the country. The theme throughout the stadium is to have fun and that is easy in a place like Charleston. During my visit it was Splash Day, an event geared towards local campers.
Member Review by sportsroadtrips on Aug 14, 2015
The review is accurate in that baseball is simply not what people come to see and so the team caters to them. If you are like me and want to watch baseball, this is not the place to do so. Loud from the get go, with every possible outcome sponsored (this single brought to you by whomever, etc), pitching changes ignored, a single scoreboard that doesn't show the count or linescore all the time and makes mistakes when something does happen, terrible fans who couldn't care less about the game or if someone else is watching, constantly moving during the play. Expensive too, with parking at $5 and the best seats at $18. Benches can cost up to $14. These aren't the Yankees yet. Sure there is good variety in the food, but the same can be said of most restaurants. Shame that the atmosphere here completely ignores the game because the park itself is quite nice. Just wish the staff and fans spent a bit more paying attention to game.
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