For those who have never made the trek to Lynchburg, Virginia, they are missing out on one of the more interesting stories in both athletics and academia. Liberty University arose from humble beginnings in 1971, then known as Lynchburg Baptist College. In just greater than 40 years, the university has swelled to an enrollment of over 100,000 students, when combining the school's on-campus and online offerings. The university features well-known musical acts, national talent show winners, political reporters, ESPN personalities, politicians and national radio stars in its list of famous graduates. Also, as one might imagine, a number of prominent religious figures have walked across the stage at Liberty before beginning their careers.
Liberty can also claim quite a bit of success on the diamond. Just 11 years before "The Slide," former Braves and Pirates first baseman Sid Bream roamed the grass of then-Worthington Stadium, so named for the former Liberty coach who founded the program in 1974. Fellow Flames Doug Brady, Lee Guetterman and Randy Tomlin went on to join Bream in the big leagues after leaving Lynchburg. These four join an ever-expanding list of former Liberty players who have been selected in the draft (more on this later).
Worthington Stadium reached the end of its 33-year life just before the 2013 season, as the brand new Liberty Baseball Stadium opened its doors to fans. The facility has drawn nationwide acclaim in its short time of existence, and it sets a clear standard to which programs of its class should aspire.
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Liberty Baseball Stadium features all of the normal ballpark "classics" as part of their Flame Zone menu. These offerings include pizza slices ($3 for cheese or pepperoni), popcorn ($3 for a cup, $6 for a bucket), hot dogs ($3.50), nachos ($3.50) and pretzels ($3.50). Extra cheese or jalapenos are available for 50 cents.
If you need a snack to go along with your hot item, you can choose from candy bars ($1.50), chips ($1), peanuts ($3), sunflower seeds ($2), Big League Chew gum ($2.50, and this writer's favorite), Blow Pops and other assorted candy ($.50) or ice cream ($2.50). The ice cream selections are a great choice on the warm Virginia evenings that appear as the season winds down in late April and early May.
Those Central Virginia evenings aren't quite so warm early in the season, though, and the school has you covered there, too. Hot chocolate ($2.50 or $3, depending on size), cappucino (same pricing as the hot chocolate), coffee and hot tea ($2 or $2.50, depending on size) will warm your blood on a cool day or night. Pepsi products serve the campus, and bottled sodas are available for $2.50. Energy drinks are $3.
All of the food offerings are enough to satisfy, and the lines are never unmanageable, even on nights when the school only opens one stand. I heard several fans talking during my visit about how it would be nice to have a hamburger or cheeseburger among the offerings, so this may be an option for Liberty in the future. I also noticed a number of fans bringing in outside food from Cook-Out and other local restaurants, though the stadium prohibits doing so among its policies. If you choose to bring in outside food, do it at your own risk.
Liberty University offers a much-heralded view, as it rests on one of the more elevated areas of the Hill City. Though some parts of the immediate view beyond the outfield wall are a bit less desirable, including a train track and the now lesser-visited River Ridge Mall, there is still much to see beyond the walls at Liberty Baseball Stadium. The open feel of the facility yields to a distant view of the Blue Ridge Mountains beyond the wall in left-center. The building for LU's online department is visible across Evans Boulevard beyond the wall in right-center, just beyond a series of flags that display the current Big South Conference standings. The LaHaye Ice Center, home of Liberty University's ice hockey teams, and Williams Stadium rest just steps outside the gates, behind the grandstand. Of course, the view of the high-tech synthetic field surface is important, too, and that view is a great one from any of the fixed seats, berm areas or patios in the facility.
Speaking of the fixed seats, almost every seat in the ballpark is a fixed seat. There are no bleachers in the facility, just wide seats with cup holders and ample leg room. The wide concourse at the top of the seating bowl allows for free movement to the patios and grassy berm on the first and third base lines, along with the rocking chairs atop the first base hill. For evening games, especially later in the season, it may be better to stay on the third base side in the early innings until the sun sets. The third base seats may also be preferable for Liberty fans, as the home dugout is on that side. All seating is general admission, except for the two sections directly behind the plate. The seating is color-coded (blue for general admission, red for reserved) for fans' convenience. There are also luxury suites in the enclosed area atop the seating bowl.
The scoreboard can be found to the right of the home bullpen beyond the wall in left-center field. An analog clock sits atop the structure, with a high-quality video board just below. The board shows the current lineups, biographical and statistical information on the current batter and any new pitchers that enter the game, along with advertisements, movie clips, replays and much more. Fans are also shown singing "Take Me Out To The Ball Game" in a pre-recorded package during the seventh inning stretch. A digital board can be found below this structure, displaying the linescore, ball/strike/out counts and miles per hour on the previous pitch. A train graphic indicating the oncoming Flame Train (the standard fan name for the team) also appears after home runs or key moments in the game.
There is not much of a focus on between-inning entertainment, with the occasional t-shirt giveaway and Baseball Bingo game being the primary functions. This is a welcome touch, though, as it allows fans to enjoy the new facility without the need for constant intrusions during every second of the game. The Liberty fight song ("Fan The Flames") plays after each game, with a great selection of music filling the air before the game and during the inning breaks. The PA system gets excessively loud at times, though, making it a bit tough to carry on a conversation when this is the case.
The area surrounding Liberty University has immensely grown over the last 20 years or so, with several options now walkable from the facility. Doc's Diner is the primary on-campus eatery, and is just across the bridge over US Highway 460. Be aware, though, that this facility operates under modified hours based on those of the university. Do your research ahead of time if you wish to eat at Doc's. If the hours do not match, Macado's and La Villa Express are both just across Candlers Mountain Road from the stadium. Macado's offers a variety of American-style foods, with La Villa Express offering some of the best sandwiches and pizza in Lynchburg. La Villa also has a full-service restaurant on Timberlake Road in Lynchburg, about 10-15 minutes away from the university.
A number of fast food options are available near River Ridge Mall and on Wards Road (US 29 Business), just down the hill from the university. A number of chain restaurants (Texas Roadhouse, Cracker Barrel, Bob Evans and the like) join with local and regional favorites (Arosto and Ledo Pizza, to name two) to offer dining choices for every palate imaginable. A Buffalo Wild Wings is also just a couple of minutes away, should you feel the need to grab a beverage and watch another game or two. The mall also offers a 14-screen Regal movie theater, if you want to take in a film after a game. Though Lynchburg is no metropolis, you will have no problem finding something to eat or somewhere to go after a game.
Several hotels are also within walking or driving distance, for fans who are traveling to a game in Lynchburg. The Wingate is atop the hill behind the stadium, and even offers a partial view into the park from outside the lobby. Extended Stay America is just across University Boulevard from the stadium, and Super 8 and Sleep Inn are within minutes along Candlers Mountain Road.
Liberty fans are a truly hearty group. The Flames are routinely a top-40 to top-50 club in attendance, despite playing in a somewhat small market that also has a Minor League Baseball team, the Lynchburg Hillcats. Though not all games sell out, many do, and those that do not sell out are still quite well-attended. Liberty takes their motto of "be early, be loud, wear red" quite seriously, as boisterous groups of Flames supporters take their seats, even on nights when the students are on break or school has ended for the year.
Another testament to the devotion of Liberty fans is evident in how well they travel. Whether the Flame Train is somewhere in Virginia, the Carolinas or anywhere else, fans in red, white and blue Liberty gear follow their team. This following has helped Liberty establish success as a road team, as well as within the confines of Liberty Baseball Stadium.
It should be noted that our visit came after school had completed for the year, though many summer school students were still in attendance. A lot of those students and some others in attendance unfortunately left the park before the final pitch, even during a close game on a gorgeous night. In fairness to Liberty fans, however, this is not always the case.
Lynchburg is seen by many as a "can't get there from here"-type city, noting its lack of direct interstate access. This does not mean, though, that it is impossible to reach Liberty University. US Highways 29 and 460 are both mere minutes from the campus, and serve as direct north-south and east-west routes (respectively) to Washington, DC (two-and-a-half hours north), Richmond (two hours east) and other "major" markets. Lynchburg Regional Airport is also only about ten minutes away from campus, for fans traveling by air. LYH offers several daily flights on large carriers to and from large eastern hub cities.
Once on campus, parking is free, both in the lot behind home plate and in the lots outside the Online building across Evans Boulevard. These lots are built to handle even the largest Flames baseball crowd, and they allow easy ingress and egress to and from the stadium onto the major highways in the area. The walk from your car to your seat is quite short.
The concourse does not wrap entirely around the park, but it is spacious and offers plenty of room to maneuver. The concourse is also quite open, allowing the evening breeze to circulate throughout the ballpark. The concession stands also face the field, so you can keep up with the action taking place while waiting for your food or drink. The restrooms are also prominently located along the concourse, offering clean, ample and well-kept facilities.
General admission ticket prices to see a Liberty game are tough to beat. Tickets are just five dollars ($50 for a season ticket) in the general admission section. Reserved seats are also priced well under $10 per game ($75 per season). This is an incredible value to see a team that won back-to-back Big South championships in 2013 and 2014, and who routinely brings in opponents from the ACC, Big Ten and other power conferences.
A general admission ticket, hot dog and bottled soda will only cost $11, with free parking. This allows a family of four to see top notch Division I baseball for less than $50.
The first thing we will mention immediately draws the fan's eye when walking up to the front entrance of the stadium. A statue honoring Al Worthington prominently sits just outside that entrance. Worthington was the university's first-ever baseball coach, and the school's former stadium was named in his honor. The statue mentions that Worthington was the winningest coach in program history (343 wins). The school had winning records during 12 of Worthington's 13 seasons at the school, and nine of his former players joined the professional ranks. Worthington's success helped to set the foundation for the success Liberty now enjoys on the diamond.
Fans of Liberty sports will immediately recognize their eagle mascot, Sparky. Sparky does not roam the concourse at baseball games, but it is still possible -- sort of -- to hang out with him. A statue of the mascot victoriously raising his hand can be found near the concession stand on the third base side. If getting pictures with mascots is your thing, feel free to walk over and put your arm around Sparky to pose for a photo. He'll even keep his hands to himself.
Free roster sheets are available from red boxes on the concourse for each game. This is quite helpful in the era of the smartphone, as biographical information about the players on each team is readily available at your fingertips. There is also a scorecard on the back for those (like I) who love to keep score at the game. The Team Liberty marketing table is also on the concourse behind the plate, offering Baseball Bingo cards, pocket schedules and more.
Pay close attention to the support pole between the third base dugout and the home bullpen. Brooms representing each of Liberty's sweeps are taped to this pole, with the swept team's name written on the tape. This is a fun touch, and is reminiscent of Clemson's opponent "graveyard" and other similar areas.
The concourse also features a merchandise booth and banners commemorating Liberty's conference championships and NCAA tournament appearances. Many fans can be found in the stands wearing Liberty gear, including the official on-field caps. Be aware, however, that the merchandise booth is usually closed for weekday games, along with the second concession stand. The banners provide a nice connection to the school's history, mixed with the ultra-modern design of the nearly-new park. One element of that modern design is the fire pit, located on the patio down the right field line. This is a nice gathering place for fans to sit and talk, particularly during the colder months in the early part of the season.
Keep an eye on the field after each game at Liberty. Both teams gather near home plate and form a prayer circle. The religious component is quite evident at Liberty, but it is never oppressive in any fashion. Irrespective of your religion -- or lack thereof, even -- one has to admit that it is a classy touch to see both teams come together as one after battling it out for nine (or more) innings on the field.
Finally, the Big South Conference has taken great strides in multimedia presentation, and Liberty offers a tremendous broadcast product. Nick Pierce, Alan York, Chierstin Susel and the LFSN team put forth one of the most professional broadcasts in college sports, whether listening on the radio or watching on the internet. Some games are even locally televised across the Lynchburg market.
Living up to the hype is one of the biggest challenges any team, player or stadium faces. To be fair, Liberty creates quite a bit of the hype themselves, as the school is one of the best around at marketing and ad placement. Liberty Baseball Stadium certainly lives up to the billing given it by fans and supporters of the school, though. With a pristine playing surface, wonderful views in almost any direction, comfortable seats, a great product on the field and some of the nicest people you'll encounter anywhere, a trip to Lynchburg to see a Flames game needs to be on your to-do list.
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3777 Candlers Mtn Rd
Lynchburg, VA 24502