It is a reasonably safe bet that anyone reading this piece – even those who have been to North Carolina multiple times – may have missed Asheboro. This long-time mill town rests a half-hour south of the better-known Greensboro, in the Uwharrie Mountains of Randolph County. The town is known to many as the home of the North Carolina Zoological Park. The NC Zoo opened in 1976, and is one of the more popular travel destinations in the southeastern United States.
It is that mill history, however, that helps to tell the baseball story of Asheboro. McCrary Park was built in 1946, and it served as the home for the city's entry in the textile leagues of the period. The Acme-McCrary mill played a considerable role in the building of this park (there is still a large red sign in the park commemorating the sock-making company), and the company still owns the park to this day, providing use of the facility to the city at the rate of $1 a year. The facility is still used by the local high school, American Legion teams, and the Asheboro Copperheads, who joined the Coastal Plain League as an “expansion” team in 1999.
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".
This is very much a small-town park and as such, there are not endless concession offerings served from the large brick building on the first-base side. Many of the things one would normally expect at the park are here, though, with popcorn ($2 for the standard box), peanuts ($3), hot dogs and corn dogs ($2.50), cheeseburgers ($3.50), and Chick-fil-A sandwiches ($4) gracing the menu. Nachos are available for $3, but they are the "build-it-yourself" type where you get a bag of chips, a canister of cheese, and a tray. On the sweet side, lollipops (25˘), freezer pops ($1), and ice cream ($2) are available.
All of this can be washed down with a bottled Pepsi product or Gatorade ($2.50), water ($2), or lemonade ($3). There is also a beer garden down the right field line that seems to be quite popular with the locals. The club offers nine different beer choices for $3 each (Bud and Bud Light are $2 each on Thirsty Thursdays). Part of the popularity of the beer garden on the night I attended stems from the team's keeping the garden open until the top of the eighth inning; there was a 2:17 lightning delay in the seventh and while the concession stand eventually closed, drinks continued to flow in the orange tent.
Most of the between-innings entertainment that awaits you in Asheboro is the same you see in many other places - the dizzy bat race, the tire roll, kids putting on team uniforms and racing around the bases - but it is not what truly "makes" this experience. Asheboro is not a baseball tourist destination, as it were, so the people sitting near you in the stands are families, multiple generations of baseball fans and - most importantly - friends. Most of them know each other, and they treat you as though they know you, too. This makes for a tremendous community event. The rhythm of the game is broken up a bit by silly sound effects that seemed to happen between every pitch at times, and songs that started playing before the batter-runner had slid into second base. The sounds are fine, but it might be suggested that the team ease up on them a bit, as they are not necessary to the degree to which they are used.
The Copperheads employ a mascot named Fang, who did very little on the night I attended. Both teams certainly made up for the lack of mascot action, though, as they spent a lot of the time during the delay playing games, dancing, and hunting. The last part of that sentence is not a misprint. Two players stood near the plate with bats pointed toward the outfield, while two other players hopped across the outfield like rabbits. The players then celebrated and showed off their "kill" to a very appreciative and amused crowd. This will obviously not take place every game, but it was a funny way to break the monotony of a draining delay.
McCrary Park is in a residential area just off U.S. Route 220 and Interstates 73 and 74. There is literally next to nothing within walking distance - or even a short drive - of the field. Most of the so-called action is off US 64, near the NC Zoo.
Should you decide to eat in Asheboro, Something Different Restaurant seems to be a popular choice among those who call this central North Carolina burg home. I would also recommend Rock-Ola Cafe in Asheboro, The Rock-Ola was a popular stop for this humble correspondent (in another city, mind you) as a college student in North Carolina. The restaurant features burgers, chicken, sandwiches, salads - and even wine, for those inclined - at reasonable rates in a fun "retro" atmosphere. A lot of the other establishments in town are chain-fare, so if you want something without a drive-thru window, these might be a decent fit.
This score was not achieved by overwhelming numbers of fans - the announced attendance on the night I attended was 846 in a park that seats 1400 - but by the way those 846 acted. Copperhead baseball is one of the few shows in town during the summer, and those in Asheboro love the guys who make up the team each year. The fans obviously have their favorites, but they support each and every player with a snake on his hat, whether he's 4-for-4 or 0-for-4.
I also have to give credit to those fans who waited out the considerable delay on the night I attended. A lot of people went home (and rightly so) when the storms started getting bad, but the park did not completely empty. A good group stayed around huddled under the roof in the main seating bowl and sung along with various songs over the PA, laughed at the shenanigans taking place on the field, and enjoyed conversation with friends. I appreciated the group that hung in until the end, and I know the team and players did as well.
I admit that I initially panicked when approaching McCrary Park. There were cars parked along both sides of the street, and the entrance to the parking lot looked quite full. There is no need for you to share that worry, though, as there is more than enough parking for any game that may take place at this facility. The parking area is all grass and somewhat banked, but there is no real trouble with traction or muddy places on rainy nights, should one occur. Parking is free, which is always a welcome sight, but be careful where you place your car. The lot is really close to the stadium, which is great for saving you a long walk, but might be detrimental to the health of your car's windshield.
The concourse area is very wide, and though there are some strange angles in trying to see the field on your walk to the concession stand or restrooms, there is no problem with feeling cramped. The restrooms are on either side of the concession stand, and despite their being extremely spartan (one fan described them as looking "like a prison"), they are clean and a short walk from your seat.
Allow me to continue to sing the praises of the Coastal Plain League. Every park I have seen on this circuit really gets it as far as pricing, and Asheboro is no different. Tickets are a very reasonable $6 for reserved seats under the roof behind the plate. General admission is $5, and this can get you a bleacher seat or a spot on the lawn for your lawn chair.
The concessions are not five-star dining by any stretch. The portion sizes are certainly in line with what you pay, though, and the quality is fine. A tip of the cap for the availability of Diet Mountain Dew, as well, as it seems I can never find one in a ballpark when I want one.
I briefly mentioned the fans and their devotion earlier, and that in itself is quite the extra. The real extra, though, was being thanked by various members of the staff for staying around until the game was finished. I have said on a number of occasions that running a team - affiliated or unaffiliated - costs a lot of money, but just being nice is free and goes a tremendously long way. They even let me get into the reserved seats under the roof when the rain started to pour, and never asked to see my ticket. Everyone I met at McCrary Park was super nice, and it was no act.
Speaking (somewhat) of the elements, the typical Carolina pop-up storms are far less of a worry in McCrary Park than most facilities. The park received a number of upgrades in 2010, and one of those upgrades is a turf infield. When storms do arrive, the only tarps necessary are over the bullpen areas and the pitcher's mound. The field received over two hours worth of rain, and it was ready for the game to be resumed in 15 minutes. Though rain delays are far from ideal, the field helps speed along the process.
If you are sitting in the reserved seats, there are two nice added features you will notice. First, the seats have been set up to allow for larger rows than usual, which allows some much-appreciated leg room for taller fans like myself. There are also very large, powerful ceiling fans like those you would see in affiliated ballparks like Lake Olmstead Stadium in Augusta. There is not an abundance of day baseball in Asheboro, but the summers do get extremely warm, and this is a nice touch.
The team has sponsor nights instead of promotions, and the sponsors usually donate some kind of giveaway item for those nights. The giveaway on the night I attended was a magnetic chip clip, and though this is probably insignificant to a lot of people, any kind of giveaway at this level of baseball is a welcome addition.
Finally, a lot of those reading likely remember the old bullpen carts employed by MLB teams years ago to bring pitchers in from the bullpen. The Copperheads take that a step further, bringing the night's starting pitcher to the mound on, of all things, a Harley-Davidson. After serving as a chauffeur, the team employee riding the Harley then circles around to all of the players to give them a high-five before exiting the field. I have never in my life - and may never again - see a pitcher enter the field on a motorcycle, but it was a pretty cool thing to see.
There are a few things to know about the seats at McCrary Park before your visit. The bleachers on the first-base side are designated as the Family Section, and they are situated somewhat above the action on the field. These bleachers and the hill down the right-field line make for some interesting angles while watching the game. The third-base bleachers are a bit closer to the action, but the view of the field is somewhat obstructed by a fence that extends down the line from the dugout area. It is recommended to sit a little higher up in the bleachers on this side to give yourself a better view of the action. The left-field bullpen is, unfortunately, blocked from view from almost everywhere in the park, and the aforementioned interesting angles allow for a vast expanse of foul territory on both sides of the field.
One of the true beauties of baseball, particularly baseball in this part of the United States, is the small towns in which it is played. Sure, there are teams in larger markets, but baseball really is a community experience in some of the smaller markets. This is no exception in Asheboro, and what you miss in luxury boxes, you make up for in the luxury of a comfortable baseball experience among friends. No amount of money you can pay in a larger town will buy you that type of enjoyment for nine innings.
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