Fans of the Coastal Plain League and residents of the Midlands region of South Carolina are quite familiar with the Blowfish franchise. The team first took the field in Columbia's Capital City Stadium in 2006. The historic ballpark gradually reached the end of its usefulness, and amidst flooding problems on Assembly Street, land sales and multiple closing dates at "The Cap," the team finally saw its final downtown pitch in 2014.
Before the last out was recorded, though, the Blowfish had already sealed the deal on a new home. The team moved about a half hour west to Lexington, becoming the star attraction in a brand new ballpark built by Lexington County for baseball, festivals and other events. The roughly $25 million ballpark was constructed in roughly ten months, allowing the Blowfish to take the field in their new home digs to begin the 2015 season.
Lexington County Baseball Stadium will join the new facility off Columbia's Bull Street for the relocated Savannah Sand Gnats to form a formidable grouping of baseball options for fans in the Midlands.
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One would expect a variety of food and drink offerings in a new ballpark, and Lexington County Baseball Stadium fits that bill. Fans who attended Blowfish games in Capital City Stadium will find many of their old favorites, along with a number of unexpected selections.
Food and drink are available pretty much everywhere along the main concourse, with the primary stand in the multi-purpose building behind the first base dugout. The choices are broken into candy ($2 for typical candies), specialty items ($3-$6 for fries, hot dogs and sandwiches) and snacks ($2-$3 for pretzels, popcorn and nachos). The specialty items include hamburgers, cheeseburgers, chicken tenders and the locally-inspired "Blow-B-Que" barbecue sandwich ($4). The food is of typical ballpark quality, but is very popular with those in attendance. Numerous satellite stands are lined around the concourse, including the Ballpark Village food court area behind third base.
Coca-Cola is the facility's bottler. Sodas are available in 16-ounce ($3), 20-ounce bottle ($3) and 32-ounce souvenir ($5) sizes. Bottled iced tea and Coke Zero are among the beverage choices, for those who prefer to avoid full-sugar sodas on muggy Midlands evenings. Powerade is also available for $4. If you're craving a cold beer, those are also available. Budweiser (along with Bud Light and Bud Light Lime) and Corona/Corona Light are available for $4 apiece. Wine (Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio) can also be purchased, along with the Budweiser margarita flavors (strawberry and lime) for $4.
The "definitive" item, however, is available from a small shed just inside the stadium's entry gates. Boiled peanuts (or "p-nuts," as they are commonly noted in South Carolina) are sold for $3 (small) or $5 (large), and are a favorite of nearly everyone in the Palmetto State. Vendors also wander through the stands selling the delicacy from time to time, should you not want to miss any game action.
For those familiar with Blowfish games at Capital City Stadium, the feel of a game in Lexington County is quite similar. From team mascot Blowie posing for photos on the concourse to "Sandstorm" blaring from the speakers late in the game, fans should find a lot of items that make them feel at home. The fourth-inning Mascot Chase (featuring Blowie and a buddy or two) even made the trip over from Columbia.
The stadium borrows -- in its own words -- much of its architectural style. Part of the seating from the old Lexington High School football stadium (called "Wildcat Hollow") is implemented as bleacher seating on the visiting (third base) side of the park. Elements from Fenway Park, Wrigley Field, Dodger Stadium and Yankee Stadium are included, according to the stadium's architects.
The grandstand seating accompanies fixed seats near the field, along with bleacher seating under an overhang behind the plate. A wide concourse features plenty of standing room and drink rails, for those who would prefer not to stay seated. If you want the best view of the action and don't feel like standing for nine innings, pay the extra and get a fixed box seat. There is also an enclosed hospitality area down the right field line.
Be careful when purchasing any seats under the overhang or in the general admission grandstand. The front row of overhang seating behind the plate -- especially in section 206 -- is largely obscured by a series of stair railings and support columns, making the seats a poor value. The seats are also reserved bleachers, making them very tight, in terms of pitch and width. A child seemed to be squeezed out of the row in which he was seated -- he had to ask his mother, "is there room for me?" -- and a woman behind me needed to ask an usher for a bandage after cutting her leg on a visible support screw from the bleachers.
There are fans from the overhang to help keep those seated underneath somewhat cool on warm South Carolina nights, however, which is a nice touch.
The grandstand seating behind third base encounters issues with the sun for the first few innings, as it sets behind the first base bag. The grandstand feels really far from the action on the field, as there is a large play area for kids below the bleachers. These seats are also angled toward the outfield, not the plate. Further, the lower few rows of the grandstand are obscured by the dugout in front of them.
The team also features a rendering of the stadium on their site that makes the seating behind the plate appear clear of railings or stairs. This is not the case.
A basic scoreboard can be found beyond the right-center field fence. The scoreboard offers the pitch speed, ball/strike/out counts, the uniform number of the current batter and the linescore. This scoreboard is passable -- when it works. On the night we visited, the scoreboard began to display odd numbers in multiple categories. The pitch speed indicator also stopped working about halfway through the game.
Lexington is two-and-a-half hours inland from Myrtle Beach and the "Redneck Riviera," as it is affectionately called, but Lexington County Baseball Stadium has a distinctly coastal feel. A soundtrack of Carolina beach music wafts through the air between many innings, with other ballpark standards mixed in at alternating intervals. The stadium is largely free of silly sound effects, save for the occasional breaking glass sound effect and the public-address announcer reminding all fans to return foul balls to the press box for a free frosted lemonade from Chick-fil-A. This is referred to as a Chick-fil-A "fowl ball."
One of the bigger attractions to moving the team to Lexington County is also one of the bigger drawbacks. Lexington County Baseball Stadium is back within a somewhat remote mixed-use development away from South Carolina Interstate 20, so there are virtually zero options for grabbing a quick bite before or after a game within walking distance of the park. Some fans do tailgate before Blowfish games, so this might be the most desirable choice.
Luce Cucina Italiano is roughly two miles from the park on Augusta Road (US Highway 1), and is one of the only nearby dining options. All of the Italian food favorites can be found at quite reasonable prices at Luce. Be mindful, however, that the restaurant will likely be closed at the end of most game nights, so fill up on carbs before heading to the yard.
There are a number of additional options for your dining pleasure near the Lexington exits off I-20 (exit 55/SC Highway 6, exit 58/US 1 and exit 61/US 378). Keep in mind, however, that these exits are anywhere between 10 and 20 minutes from the ballpark, depending on traffic and stop lights. Columbia is a half-hour or so to the east, while Augusta, Georgia, is an hour west.
A number of hotels can be found about 10 minutes away from the ballpark, near the intersection of US highways 378 and 1. Comfort Suites, Quality Inn & Suites and Hampton Inn Columbia/Lexington are likely the best lodging choices in the area.
Baseball is a popular sport in the Midlands, as one might expect. Between South Carolina's recent success, the new team in Columbia and the Blowfish, there is lots of diamond action from which to choose.
One of the reasons behind the club's move to Lexington County was the stated desire to draw consistent support from a more "small-town" group of fans. This has certainly paid early dividends, as fans are coming out in droves to check out the new digs. The club opened the park with a string of consecutive sellouts.
The fans who pack Lexington County Baseball Stadium love their Blowfish, but are respectful of the opposing team. Cheering is hearty, but not over the top. A number of fans unfortunately left early on the night we visited (though the game went extra innings, it was a weekend contest), but those who stayed until the final out certainly made themselves heard.
Lexington County Baseball Stadium is not the most convenient option for ballpark travelers, in terms of proximity to interstates. The ballpark is in a mostly residential area, and is either accessed by a lengthy trip down a US highway or sparsely-populated country roads.
South Carolina Interstate 20 is the main road one would use to access the ballpark from the east or west, and it is easily 15 minutes from the ballpark. US Highways 1 and 378 are the other primary options. Columbia (CAE) and Augusta (AGS) are the two best airport options, about a half hour and hour, respectively, from the park. Charlotte (CLT) is also an option, but is an hour-and-a-half from the park.
Parking is located in a paved lot across the street from the stadium entrance. Though revenue streams are at a premium for summer collegiate teams, the $3 price to park is less than optimal. Ingress backs up a bit, as traffic is trying to simultaneously turn left and right into the parking lot. Egress is a bit easier, as fans can either go left toward Barr Road or right toward US 1.
The stadium entry gate is just to the right of the ticket booth, and traffic moves relatively quickly. The team offers an online ticketing system that allows for easy scanning; however, there is an additional $1 (per ticket) fee for buying online.
The facility offers a wide concourse, but there are drawbacks to this setup. Numerous fans congregate on the concourse, leading to a bit of a slalom course-type feel in navigating to or from your seat. Concession lines can get a bit long, as many fans want items that can only be purchased at the main stand. Restrooms are near the main gate, and offer ample facilities for fans.
The other major drawback comes if you are sitting in the third base stands. To get from the concessions or bathrooms to your third base grandstand seat, you will need to navigate the entire concourse, then take the stairs down to field level and walk through what will inevitably be a large group of playing kids to return to your seat. This can become a bit of a hassle as the game wears on.
Coastal Plain League baseball is about as good of a baseball investment as one will find. Lexington County is no exception - assuming, of course, that you choose the right seats, or don't mind standing.
Box seats are $9 for a single game, with a dollar discount for seniors, students (with ID), military members and children 12 and under. Children four and under are free with a paid adult admission. Grandstand seats are $8, with the same discount. The third base seats are a reasonable $6. Keep in mind, again, that there is a $1 (per ticket) charge for online ticket purchases.
If one were to purchase a box seat ($9), sandwich ($4), bottled soda ($3), program ($3) and parking ($3), that results in a reasonable $22 cash outlay. There are also several tiering options to lessen the cost.
The club also offers a number of season ticket options. Box seats are $250 for 28 games ($224 with a VIP discount), with a half-season option available for $126 ($119 as a VIP member). General admission season tickets are as low as $150 for an entire season, with a 15-game general admission ticket package for $75.
The team operates a merchandise stand next to the concession area. This is not a store, per se, but the gear is prominently displayed and decently priced. Many of the options -- especially the hats -- are popular with fans.
A guest relations booth can be found between the entry gates and the concession area. The team conducts silent auctions, giveaway signups and other business at the booth, and offers most services in which fans would be interested.
Blowfish game day staff are easy to spot. The ushers and club staff wear Blowfish jerseys and name tags, so if you have any questions, just look for those Blowfish jerseys and ask away. The staff is friendly and eager to help.
Though the Coastal Plain League offers online streaming of all of their games, the Blowfish take things a step further. The team's games can be heard on Z93.1 FM in the Lexington area. The club also hosts a weekly talk show on the same station.
We live in a mobile world, and one's cell phone is rarely further than a few feet away. The Blowfish have their fans covered there, as well. The team offers a mobile app for Android and iPhone users. The team publishes their roster, schedule, updates and other news via the app. This is a nice incentive for fans to stay connected with the team.
There are two final extras -- one easy to notice, with the other not so easy. There is a lineup board on display just inside the main entry gate, and I saw a number of fans jotting down the starters with the intent of keeping score. It is always a nice touch to see fans keeping score. We also mentioned above the parks from which Lexington County Baseball Stadium draws its influences, and these are on display on the dimension signs in left, center and right (see the photo gallery for an example).
A night at a Blowfish game is always a fun experience. Nice people, great baseball and a comfortable South Carolina feel are always featured at every contest. The club aims to treat fans as welcome guests in their home, and succeeds in that endeavor. Their new home is a great start, but still has room to grow. If you do some homework before you go -- and the team is able to capitalize on the available opportunities with the ballpark -- this will be a great night out in the South Carolina Midlands.
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1812 Augusta Hwy #G
Lexington, SC 29072
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