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Official Review by Brian Wilmer, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
A number of interesting events took place in America in 1956. The soap opera As The World Turns debuted that year. Elvis Presley graced the screen on the Ed Sullivan Show. Eisenhower created the current system of interstate highways we have come to know and love in the United States. Don Larsen pitched a perfect game against the Brooklyn Dodgers in the World Series. Most importantly -- for this piece's purposes, anyway -- Latham Stadium (named for local physician Dr. John T. Latham and his wife Gloria, whose son Tommy was a star baseball player at Furman) opened on Furman University's campus in 1956. The stadium was known as Furman Baseball Stadium before being renamed in 2008.
A trip to the facility fifty-plus years after its opening yields what was likely much the same feel of those early years. Sure, there are modern trappings nearby; the school's baseball complex is steps from the entry gate, and when the renovations to the facility are complete, the park will be much more reminiscent of the 2010s than the 1950s. The ideal of baseball among a beautiful western South Carolina setting remains the same though, and no modernization will take that away from Latham Stadium.
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 concession offerings at a Furman game are on par with what one would expect at most venues of its size. The hot offerings include hot dogs ($2.50, and available plain, with cheese or with chili), peanuts ($3 for roasted or the preferred delicacy of the Carolinas, boiled) and nachos ($3). Among the snack choices, Itti Bitz ice cream ($4), popcorn ($2.50), cotton candy ($2.50) and candy or chips ($1-$2, depending on your selection) will help calm your hunger pangs.
Pepsi is the campus' bottler, with bottled sodas and water priced at $2. Lemonade and sweet tea (both appearing to be freshly-made) are also $2. The tea is a must-have item, as you are, after all, in South Carolina. Coffee is $1 for a small cup, $2 for a large.
Latham Stadium is part of Furman University's athletic complex. Though basketball's Timmons Arena and most other facilities are not easily visible, the view around Latham Stadium is still quite picturesque. Large, mature trees and classic brick buildings surround the stadium, giving the fan a true sense of location. A grassy berm also rests behind the outfield wall, in case you would rather look straight ahead than to the side or behind you. The standard Furman "diamond F" logo is located on that berm. This logo may also be a nice addition to the grassy area behind the plate, as this area features a lot of blank space.
Seating is all general admission, though the choices are not wholly optimal. There are currently 300 fixed seats behind the plate, with the remaining seating capacity served by concrete bleachers. Many fans bring folding chairs to the park, using these chairs on the top row of the bleachers. The bleachers are, as one would imagine, quite uncomfortable, so it is recommended to bring your chair. If the fixed seats are full, your chair will suit you well on the top of the bleachers, or on the porch of the baseball complex, the only shaded part of the stadium.
The scoreboard is outlined in a grey color with the text in the Paladin purple color. There is an apparently non-functional portion of the board located above the line score, though the number of the player at bat, the ball/strike/out count, hit/error indicator and line score function as expected. The board is located behind the right field wall, and can be tough to see, depending on your seating location and the lighting conditions.
The Paladins utilize the dugout on the third base side of the field. The entry gate is behind the plate, just to the first base side of the press box. The compact nature of the stadium makes your walk to any portion of the park quite short, though a bottle of sunscreen would be a smart investment for most games.
Furman is only a few miles from downtown Greenville, but it feels a world away. The campus is very scenic, with tree-lined walkways, bicycle paths and a chapel used for many local weddings just a few of the sights you may see on a drive through the grounds. The green and lush surroundings are evident throughout, and a pond and bell tower provide beautiful additions to the trip. Though this hardly offers much in the way of nightlife, nature lovers will feel right at home.
Most of the local dining and shopping options can be found at Cherrydale, a shopping complex approximately three miles from the university along US Highway 276. Department stores, movie theaters and restaurants can be found with ease in this complex. Stax's Original Restaurant is located across the road from Cherrydale, and it is a favorite of the locals. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are offered at Stax's Original, though the hours are a bit unusual. Make a quick phone call or visit to the website to be sure the restaurant is open before you make the trip.
Though Furman did not have a sellout crowd on the day I attended, fans of both teams deserve a lot of credit for their patience. The game I visited was delayed for three hours and 25 minutes due to rain, and despite the conditions, a number of loyal fans stayed around to enjoy the game. Once the game got underway, the fans, though small in number, were quite boisterous.
You will certainly find bigger crowds at other universities, and you may even find louder groups. Furman baseball draws a loyal group of fans, though, and they are very welcoming. Southern hospitality goes a long way, and it is on display in the stands at Latham Stadium.
If you attend a Furman game, be sure to follow your GPS instead of the signs on campus. The signs will lead you by the Furman soccer stadium -- with the baseball stadium clearly visible -- then down a one-way road that takes you the long way to the stadium. Though the view is certainly scenic, it can add a little bit of time to your trip. If you travel along Duncan Chapel Road past the entrance to Timmons Arena, this will bring you to the entrance by the softball field and Latham Stadium. There is one parking lot just outside the stadium entrance, but this lot is usually full. The lot below this lot (near the softball field) is much more likely to have available spaces, though you will need to climb a hill or some stairs to reach the stadium.
There is plenty of room to move around the seating area, but the search for a bathroom may not be as successful. There is a bathroom for women and family use in the same building as the concession stand, but the restroom for men is located in the baseball complex. There is only one toilet in that restroom, so male fans may have a bit of a wait on busy days. Another female restroom is also located in the complex.
Furman games are, as previously mentioned, all general admission. This fact makes every seat a good seat. Tickets are $5 for adults, $3 for children ages 4-16 and free for children younger than three years old. The Paladins use a certain famous online broker to service single-game tickets, so it is probably beneficial to buy your tickets at the gate to save on convenience fees.
Using our typical test, a game ticket, parking, hot dog and soda totals $9.50. Being able to take a family of four to a game for less than $40 is a tremendous value, made even better by the level of play in the Southern Conference, of which Furman is a member.
Furman has a series of signs placed along the fencing behind the seating bowl to honor the school's past successes on the diamond. These signs honor the school's Southern Conference tournament champion teams, All-America players, NCAA appearances and more. Fans can get a nice briefing on the history of the program through these signs, though they would likely be better served on the outfield wall. This may be in the works for the renovations being planned at the stadium, however.
Depending on your seat, you may also be able to take in the Furman radio broadcast -- without even having a radio. Dan Scott, the Paladins' play-by-play voice and a local sports talk host, can be heard through some portions of the top row of fixed seats. Scott does a tremendous job on the play-by-play call, and if you are not fortunate enough to hear him from your seat, you can hear his call on 105.9 FM in the seats. Bring your radio if you want Dan to narrate your viewing experience.
Furman is in the process of completing two phases of renovations to Latham Stadium. Phase I involved the construction of the baseball complex beyond the right field line, including new locker room facilities, a convertible indoor/outdoor hitting area and offices for the coaches, among the numerous upgrades. Phase II of the renovations will address the current press box and seating areas, as well as the stadium entry, restrooms and concessions. Furman maintains a page that outlines the upgrades and the players' reactions to the new facilities.
If you want great baseball in a quiet, beautiful setting, Furman is your place. There is no need to wait for the renovations to be complete to come catch a game at Latham Stadium. The visual aspects of the experience may change, but the "soul" will remain.
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