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Official Review by Brian Wilmer, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
It is a reasonably safe bet that most visitors to this review are unfamiliar with Virginia and the Carolinas' history with the textile industry. Textile and mill workers helped to produce many of the consumable products of the early 1900s, but also got together on the baseball field. Cities like Asheboro, North Carolina played host to mill teams, and later went on to host professional baseball. The Class D North Carolina State League existed for 16 years in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s.
The North Carolina town of Mooresville featured the league champion Moors during the North Carolina State League's inaugural season in 1937. That league title was earned on the surface of nearly two-decades-old Moor Park. Just shy of two decades later, though, baseball would leave this small town northwest of Charlotte for almost three generations.
The old saying "everything old is new again" proved true yet again in 2014, as the Carolina-Virginia Collegiate League brought summer collegiate wood-bat baseball to this venerable park. The Mooresville Spinners began play as an expansion team with a plan to breathe new life into this time-worn classic. Though the reset button has just been pressed on this facility, this project should be exciting to follow in the years to come.
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".
Skipping dinner before a night out at a Spinners game may not be the wisest idea, but there is more than enough to keep the hunger pangs at bay for nine innings. Temporary stations are set up behind home plate -- concessions updates are part of the stadium renovations master plan -- and offer most of the basics. Chips, candy, sunflower seeds and peanuts are all available for a dollar each, for those wanting to enjoy a light snack. Gum can also be purchased for a quarter a piece.
A grill can also be found at a second temporary location nearby. Flames rise high on the grill throughout the night, where cheeseburgers ($3.50), hamburgers ($3.50) and hot dogs ($2) can be found. These items are sold as fundraisers for a local high school, so your money goes to a great cause..
You will quickly find out that beverages are an absolute requirement on warm North Carolina summer evenings. Canned Coke products and bottles of water can be purchased for $1. Gatorade is also sold for $1.50. For those wanting to quench their thirst with a bit more of an adult-oriented beverage, a very small beer "garden"-like area behind the plate offers Bud and Bud Light for $3.
Moor Park is in a somewhat unusual setting. As this is a downtown park, houses surround the park on three sides. This gives fans a residential view beyond the seating arrangement. The former mill represented by the team is now occupied by another business, and is just across North Carolina Highway 115 (South Broad Street) behind the ballpark. This may not be the most entertaining view for some, but it does allow fans to see the surrounding neighborhood.
Most of the items that affect the atmosphere at a Spinners game are slated for upgrades or replacement as part of the master stadium plan, but they bear mention here. The primary scoreboard is found beyond the left-center field wall, but is barely visible from most seats. The ball-strike-out counts are tiny lights at the very bottom of the already-small scoreboard. These are so tough to see that the PA announcer occasionally announces the count to the crowd between pitches. There is an old-style scoreboard that hangs on the wall in right field, but it seems to be strictly decorative.
The field surface has also been redone in an effort to modernize it a bit more, and while it drains extremely well (there was a heavy rain on the night we visited, and with only the plate and mound tarped, play resumed in less than an hour), the grass is still not the standard swath of green one expects to see when going out for a night at the ballpark. This will likely change as time passes, however.
If you plan to sit on the same side as the home nine, pull up a seat on the third-base side. All of the seating -- for now -- is in older bleachers, but many fans tend to bring folding chairs and take advantage of the open space down the baseline. Picnic tables are also set up around the ballpark, so if you want to take your snacks or other food to a table, that is also an option.
There are a few between-innings promotions (a hula hoop contest, for example), and though they are a bit cheesy at times, they do very little to take away from the baseball-forward experience provided at a Spinners game.
As with many of the towns in southern North Carolina, development has centered around the interstate, and Mooresville is no exception. Interstate 77 is a matter of minutes from Moor Park, and restaurants of every stripe can be found near the highway. Many NASCAR race shops also line the landscape, along with big-box stores and other retail offerings.
South Broad Street is a different animal, though, and is much more reminiscent of the downtown areas of long ago. One of North Carolina's classics, What-A-Burger, is just under a mile from the park. This 50s-style establishment offers hamburgers, cheeseburgers, hamburger steaks, barbecue plates, corn dogs and other regional favorites. There is, however, a polarizing option available at What-A-Burger.
Remember going to the skating rink, or whatever other place, as a child and getting a soft drink with a mixture of every available fountain soda? You can do that here -- and you can even get a little extra, too. There is a drink offering called the Witch Doctor, which is every soda on the fountain, combined with pickle juice. Yes, pickle juice. That concoction is not necessarily designed for this author, but if this sounds like your thing, give it a try.
Mooresville also has the opposite end of the dining spectrum covered, with the Epic Chophouse just steps away from What-A-Burger. All of the expected steakhouse fare can be found at Epic, with a few unexpected surprises. If regular steak isn't going to get it done, check out the veal, lamb or duck dishes.
For a still-young team, Mooresville features a pretty hearty fan base. They are not the loudest group ever -- in fact, they are usually quiet, respectful and focused on the on-field action, like in many smaller towns. Games are also a social event in markets like these, as people go to celebrate wedding anniversaries and birthdays, along with just seeing friends from work, school and church.
The fans could honestly be a bit louder, so be prepared to leave the normal din of the bigger ballparks out of your mind. The rain delay on the night we attended was just shy of an hour, though, and very few people left the park during that delay. Considering that this was the second game of a doubleheader, it would have been understandable if fans had just pulled the rip cord on the day, so give them credit for waiting it out to see their boys finish the game.
We have established that Moor Park is not exactly near Interstate 77. Travel from Charlotte International Airport and the center of the Queen City is a reasonably swift half-hour along Interstate 77, but access to the park from there is a bit convoluted. Travelers can choose from twists and turns on local surface streets or stop lights and variable speed limits on NC 115. The trip from the interstate to the park takes about half the time as the trip from Charlotte to the interstate exit, which can be a bit frustrating.
Parking is available in a small, grassy lot beyond the right-field wall. Though parking is free -- always a nice plus -- the lot is not graded very well. This leads to quite a few ruts in the lot, and if it rains during your visit, this may cause even more problems. The bigger problem, though, is the entrance to and exit from the lot. If you have a lower-seated car, there is a strong likelihood that the undercarriage of your car will be scraped on the way into and out of the lot. If you have a higher-profile vehicle, bring that to the park instead. Some parking is available on the surrounding streets, but availability is limited and the streets are extremely narrow.
Once inside the park, there is plenty of room to move, and sight lines are, on the whole, quite good. There are wide-open areas down each baseline, where many kids choose to set up shop and toss around a baseball or find other ways to play. The bleachers are a bit cramped, as expected, but there is standing room available between the dugouts, along with the space from the dugouts to the foul poles. The bullpens are also next to the fences down each baseline, so this standing room also allows fans to get a unique vantage point.
Restrooms are available in the main building behind the plate. The facilities are somewhat spartan, though operational and properly stocked. If you choose not to make the trek to the building, there are portable restrooms down the first-base line. Be prepared to trade convenience for possible discomfort, though, as a portable toilet in the summer heat of North Carolina is not really the best place to be.
All seats are general admission at Moor Park, and tickets are just $5. Season tickets are a mere $100. Fans bringing a family of four to the ballpark can enjoy a game ticket, burger and a soda for under $40 total, which is pretty tough to beat.
Though Mooresville may not be close enough to, say, BB&T Ballpark in Charlotte to attend many games there, fans can still see a pretty decent level of summer collegiate baseball, and pay just a fraction of the price to do so.
When walking through the front gate to the ticket table, fans are greeted by a super-nice ticket salesperson, which presents a great first impression. Free pocket schedules and single-sheet game programs can also be found at the table.
The team offers a small souvenir table behind the plate. The offerings are a little sparse and the prices high, but this should hopefully improve as time goes along.
Unlike many teams at this level, fans can keep foul balls, which is a nice plus. This will, of course, draw a number of overzealous children seeking a foul ball. The team really needs to keep tighter controls on kids leaving the park to chase foul balls, however. I saw several children running across the streets and railroad track behind the park trying to collect a souvenir, and the sound of squealing brakes and blaring horns was heard more than once on the night I attended, as kids were almost hit in the chase for a foul ball. Between the parents of these kids and the team, this needs to stop.
The CVCL is one of several collegiate wood-bat leagues in the Carolinas, and many fans may not even be aware of its existence. With a solid ballpark renovation plan and a town with lots of baseball history, Mooresville may just be ready to be a serious player in the league. If you happen to be in the Charlotte area for business or pleasure and are looking for some good baseball, take the side trip to Mooresville and enjoy nine innings of baseball the way it used to be, and hopefully will be again.
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