The Atlantic Coast Conference first held a baseball tournament in 1973, and the 39 following years have produced a lot of excitement, both on and off the field of play. The conference has seen boycotts, cancellations due to scheduling conflicts, expansion and much more, while future stars and Olympians too numerous to mention have graced its playing fields.
After hosting the tournament in five different states, the conference seems to have found a home in North Carolina. The ACC is now rotating between Durham Bulls Athletic Park and 2012's host, NewBridge Bank Park in Greensboro.
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Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
One of the things fans will absolutely require when potentially watching three games in one day is a great selection of food. NewBridge Bank Park comes through for its guests in this regard. All of the so-called classics are available at the three large stands on the concourse (one on each base line and one behind the plate), including popcorn ($3 for a large, $4 for a "jumbo" and $7 for a bottomless popcorn helmet), nachos ($4), peanuts ($3.50) and Cracker Jacks ($3).
These fixed stands also contain some interesting variety, including barbecue platters ($8) and sliders ($5.50), veggie burgers ($5), garlic or chili cheese fries ($5), hush puppies ($3.50), fried pickles ($4.50) and barbecue nachos ($6). Pizza chain Hungry Howie's also sells personal-sized ($7) and large ($17) pizzas at the stand behind the plate.
Believe it or not, there is still more in terms of food choice. There is a hot dog vendor that sells Milwaukee brats ($6.50), Chicago dogs ($5), Dodger dogs ($4) and Cincinnati chili cheese coneys ($5). Carts and standalone points of sale also ring the concourses, including concessions for funnel cakes ($5), frozen treats, something called "crispy critters", brats and sausages, Chick-fil-A chicken and more. Some may see the prices as a bit high, but no one can claim to suffer from a lack of variety.
The ACC puts on a tremendous show for their tournament. The conference used the video board at NewBridge Bank Park to display facts about the conference and its successes in postseason play and to show commercials for the member institutions. A lot of the fans venturing through the turnstiles will be familiar with this information, but it was a nice touch to see the conference taking the opportunity to educate those in attendance. There were also several bus loads of kids brought to the park for field trips.
The one negative with the atmosphere was that it felt much more like a minor league game than a conference tournament. Any idle second during the game was filled with a wacky sound effect or a song, which served as a distraction. When playing three games in a day, these already grating sounds become even more so in their repetition. Though there were a lot of kids in attendance for part of the day, any chance to let the games breathe - even for a few seconds - would have been welcome.
The area around the ballpark is a bit tough to define. It is an area very much in transition, as some of the older buildings in the area are finding new life, spurred on by the success of the normal inhabitant of the park. The Greensboro Grasshoppers are enjoying huge numbers as the Marlins' affiliate in the South Atlantic League, routinely drawing well above average numbers to downtown Greensboro.
Don't be fooled by the area, though, as there are several choices near the park for pre or post-game activities. Natty Greene's is a local pub under a mile away from the park, and is tremendously popular with residents and visitors alike. There are other choices available, from diner fare (Fincastle's) to fine dining (Undercurrent) and everything in between. Greensboro also features a number of choices away from the park, though you may find yourself driving a bit to get to your preferred destination. With the surrounding area still developing, it may be wise to accordingly plan your activities, versus simply wandering about.
This was a hit-and-miss subject for most of the weekend, which was a shame. There was a lot of drama throughout, with several one-run games and late heroics dotting the proverbial landscape. Many of the early games, though, featured a lot of empty seats. It is impossible to know without taking a survey of attendees whether this was affected by the tournament using a pool play format instead of a standard double-elimination bracket system, clearing the stadium after each game and requiring a separate ticket purchase for each individual game or other factors.
The flip side of this coin, though, was the final game of the final night of pool play. The game between North Carolina and NC State set an attendance record for a college baseball game in the state of North Carolina, drawing 10,229 fans. To put this in its proper perspective, capacity in NewBridge Bank Park is only 7,499 fans. This crowd also set an ACC tournament record.
The support from North Carolina and NC State fans was great to see, and I only wish more schools' fans - and Greensboro locals - had turned out in numbers and voice in a similar fashion.
Parking is a bit of a challenge here, as it is at a lot of downtown parks. There are a number of surrounding businesses and churches that offer parking, with most of that parking at a $5 rate. These lots usually advertise that the money from the lots goes toward outside causes. Despite the nobility of this redirection of funds, traffic can back up on surrounding streets while other vehicles enter the lot, pay for parking and locate a space. This can also slow egress out of downtown after the game, with the closest US highways and interstates miles away from the park.
Once inside the park, the concourses are wide and offer plenty of room to move, even with concession carts in place. The concourse is shaded (a nice perk, considering the Greensboro weather in May) and affords fans the chance to still be able to see the game while ordering food. Bathrooms and other facilities (the souvenir store, for instance) are also prevalent and easily accessed.
Tickets are $10 per game at this tournament, with passes available for the entirety of the action for $130. Watching three games per day, parking a vehicle and having a meal or two can set you back a fairly noticeable amount. If the only interest you have is in your team, and they somehow make the championship game, that can also add up. Tickets ($40 per fan for four games), parking ($20 total) and concessions and souvenirs all rather quickly factor together.
Cost aside, this is a great chance to get an up close and personal look at some of the best major college baseball action in the country. A number of future major leaguers take the field each May, and seeing these players before they become professionals is well worth the trip.
As previously mentioned, the ACC is an elite baseball conference, and they know how to convey the gravity of postseason baseball. A number of ACC souvenirs - including gear for each participating school - were available in the team store at the ballpark.
The ACC also involved kids in some of the between-innings activities, having them guess phrases on the video board and take part in other games for some pretty nice prizes, including tickets to the ACC football championship in Charlotte.
Finally, the conference also tossed t-shirts to fans in the crowd, which was a nice potential freebie for kids and adults alike.
If your "bucket list" includes seeing postseason college baseball, a trip to Greensboro in a year where the ACC is playing should help you fulfill that item. Great on-field action, a fun experience in the stands and professional game day staff all await you at NewBridge Bank Park. Durham will welcome this event in 2013, but it is never too early to make plans for your next trip to the Triad.
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