If you know Augusta, GA for the PGA Tour's Masters Tournament and only the Masters, you're not alone. Here sits a young man born and raised in the same state as said city, a mere two-and-a-half hours away, who (prior to a week ago) had never seen anything but the greens of the Augusta National Golf Club on a TV screen.
And that, readers, is a shame. Not only is Augusta a perfectly pretty mid-size town on the border of South Carolina, it's also home to Cal Ripken, Jr.'s very own minor league club, the Giants South Atlantic League affiliate, Augusta GreenJackets, an organization that replicates old-time small-town baseball better than anywhere I've been so far.
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There are all of two concessions stands in Lake Olmstead Park, but considering the concourse doesn't wrap around but two sides of the diamond, that's practically overkill. The two locations are less than a stone's throw away, too, and considering their menus are identical, they could very well share a kitchen somewhere in the depths.
But this theoretical underground laboratory has only the best of intentions: to serve the normal ballpark treats at reasonable prices. Here we have your hot dogs, cheeseburgers, chicken, barbecue, nachos, fries, pretzels, peanuts and more, with no individual item topping $5.
In terms of a full meal, there are baskets (sandwich or chicken tenders plus fries and a drink) for no more than $9, and those of age are in for a treat: A small beer (16 oz.) is $4, and for each additional eight ounces from there on, you tack on the proportionate $2. Not cheap, and the selection is limited to Bud, Michelob, Miller Lite, PBR and Killians, but the price is so much better than typical!
Maybe it was just the excellent borderline-summertime weather of the late-April evening, but the feeling in this park is delicious. Careful construction had a breeze flowing under the overhang, while the immediate surroundings (there really is a "Lake Olmstead", with water and everything) brought even more of nature's touch to the game.
Ripken clearly wants his fans treated right, and as such has plenty of staff available at all times, patrolling the aisles, being cordial and occasionally tossing out a free t-shirt. We'll get to this more in "Fans" below, but the predominance of families with small children and constant lively chatter were not at all detractors, instead adding more charm to the proceedings.
As stated, Augusta's bread is buttered by golf, and in its layout, the city recognizes this fact. There are five (count " em: 5!) courses in the immediate vicinity including the dominant Augusta National, placed prominently less than two miles from the heart of the city.
Forming a nearly equilateral triangle with the National and downtown is Lake Olmstead, so it benefits from the infrastructure of both. There is a wealth of neat restaurants to check out, but the consensus picks seem to be the Boll Weevil (American and casual at 10 Ninth Street Plaza) and T-Bonz (steakhouse on main strip Washington Rd.).
Beyond regular sit-down, great barbecue can be had at Edmund's, and the unusual fusion of German and Italian at Villa Europa is intriguing. Also, expect a location of any favorite chain, too: It's not all for mint-julep-sippers.
Alluded to before and confirmed here: GreenJackets fans are a refreshing change of pace. There's always noise, but it's the kind you want to hear: Folks actually know these minor-leaguers' names and cheer every out, and when the team fell way behind the Delmarva Shorebirds the night I was present, they didn't quit.
Somehow, scurrying children are less distracting here. Perhaps it's the playground over the left-side foul line where they can burn out all their energy, or maybe the mascot "" a hapless, pajama-pants wearing insect named Auggie.
I don't know, but I can tell you this: Even the tyke to my left would get up out of his seat and slam his fists in rage if a hometown batter didn't hustle in an attempt to make a single out of a groundball. Where else can you see that?
Distance travelers will obviously take advantage of highway access courtesy I-20 (a.k.a. Carl Sanders Highway) and looping 520. Particularly, Exit 199 off the former dumps you right onto Washington St., from which you simply head east, slide onto Broad, and take a left on Milledge.
Problem is, Milledge is the one and only road in - once you start seeing clear signs of baseball, find a lot or space on the street or face the grass (or mud) lots at the end of the line. There is no far walk from parking (for which there is no charge anywhere I saw) to the stadium, however.
Inside, go right or left, and you'll be decently close to your seat either way. Again, there are few options in terms of which direction one can go, and as such you're more or less guaranteed to find the section or bathroom, either you might be looking for.
In what I perceive as a staggeringly good deal, "box" (read: first few rows, plus wait service) seats reach a max of $13 on Saturdays and are otherwise less. General admission is in the single-digits all week, kids get in dirt-cheap and yet a bad sight-line can't be had.
Recommend to spend the extra $1 for "reserved," meaning behind home plate, and try to take advantage of one of the daily promotions: "Thirsty Thursday" and its small drinks - including beer - at a buck in particular sounds awesome.
Wondering where that nickname comes from? I can admit, I was until about the 6th inning. If you're still having any trouble, I'll give you a hint: It's related to something that starts with an "M" and ends with an "asters."
But beyond that creative little play-on-words, the color scheme, presentation and logo stand on its own too. It's classic minor-league stuff in that it's not exactly intimidating or something to shout in a bar, but the way the hunter green pervades throughout the park sets a nice tone.
Finally, look up Scott Skadan, the P.A. announcer, if you don't know much about him yet. Not only is he great on the mic, but he's a cool character otherwise.
Lake Olmstead Stadium is a newish ballpark that doesn't feel like a "new" park. And I mean this in a good way - despite being built in '95, they didn't follow the new ballpark template that has been so prevalent over the last couple decades. It may not have all the amenities that some fans want, but for a baseball fan like me, it works just fine. The atmosphere is pretty laid back, the concessions are affordable and tasty, and the setting is quite serene. Unfortunately, Augusta is already considering building another new park for the Green Jackets. Of course this would just be for the owners, who obviously can't squeeze any more money out of "outdated" Lake Olmstead Stadium. For my full review of Augusta's quaint ballpark, you can check it out on ballparkreviews.com.
10 Ninth St
Augusta, GA 30901
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