Baseball has had a home in the largest city of North Carolina's Triad region, Greensboro, since the early 1900's. Those first teams were known as the Greensboro Patriots, in reference to the famed Revolutionary war battle which was fought at nearby Guilford Court House.
Most of minor league baseball's existence in Greensboro, through various incarnations over the years, would find the Greensboro team calling War Memorial Stadium, a few miles northeast of downtown, home. War Memorial was a venerable stadium, serving Greensboro teams proudly for over 75 years and possessing many interesting characteristics. Many of the seats used during a War Memorial Stadium retrofit were seats taken from Philadelphia's legendary Shibe Park after its demolition.
Even after various upgrades and retrofits over the years War Memorial began to show its age and the press for a new downtown ballpark began in the early 1990's. It would take a few years for those efforts to come to fruition, but in the spring of 2005 minor league baseball's new home in Greensboro, the 8,000 capacity NewBridge Bank Park (then First Horizon Park), would open just on the fringe of downtown Greensboro's north end.
Coinciding with the move to the new park was the name change from the Bats to the current moniker of the Grasshoppers. NewBridge Bank Park was built using Class AA facility standards, in hopes that Greensboro's team might one day find a home at a higher level of play.
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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".
NewBridge Bank Park has all the traditional bases covered when it comes to food and beverage and the offerings are exactly as you would expect for a minor league stadium at the South Atlantic League level. Wait times appeared to be reasonable and the number of windows appeared to be sufficient, especially for an evening when a full house was present. A few types of the classic hot dog were offered, each with a specifically chosen name relevant to the Grasshoppers. I skipped a dog in favor of the Boar & Castle branded burger, with fries, and a water, for $10.
As is the norm in most parks today, kiosks are scattered around the concourse. Any kiosk visit at NewBridge should begin at the Chick-fil-A located down the right field line. Located alongside the Chick-fil-A kiosk were other kiosks offering an assortment of concessions ranging from various flavors of popcorn, to cotton candy, to Dippin' Dots.
Bruster's ice cream also maintained a kiosk, should you desire a hearty sized waffle cone to contain your favorite frozen flavor. Brews from local favorite, Natty Greene's Brewing Co., are featured at NewBridge and readily available at various points around the stadium.
I just happened to visit NewBridge on a weekend Saturday night, a night when two featured events were taking place at the park. The first was the promotion that evening, Christmas in June, which in its first few years, has proven to be a very popular promotional evening in Greensboro. The event features Christmas music playing throughout, staff wearing Santa jackets and Elf hats, and large Christmas themed inflatables around the concourse and in the outfield. A large, and I do mean large, fully decorated Christmas tree was located just inside the main gate for all to see upon arriving inside NewBridge.
The Christmas in June feature that attracted the most interest from the children, and even a few of the adults, was the sledding area which was constructed on the berm in left-field. Children could be found sledding down the small hill here all evening, yelling and screaming on the way down until their abrupt crash (padded mind you) in to the backside of the outfield wall. Just watching those children in their shorts sled down the hill while Santa's helpers loomed nearby, in the hot and humid air of an 80+ degree Greensboro evening with the crack of ball and bat looming in the background, one could not help but smile.
The second featured event of the evening was the appearance of 2010 overall number one draft pick, Bryce Harper, and his Hagerstown Suns teammates. Even though the line score would indicate a below-average evening at the plate, at least by Harper's successful first-half of the season standards, it was apparent that a good number of fans in attendance were at NewBridge to witness Bryce Harper playing South Atlantic League ball in their backyard, for it would surely not be long (All-Star break as a matter-of-fact) before he would be summoned to a higher level of the minor leagues. You could definitely tell that a buzz was in the air that evening and that the crowd was enjoying their Saturday evening at the park.
NewBridge Bank Park was built where it now stands, in large part, to encourage revitalization and development in a part of downtown Greensboro that was mostly comprised of office/government buildings. Very little was happening in terms of entertainment, restaurants/bars, etc. in this area and a new downtown ballpark, even at the minor league level, is often viewed as one of the quickest sure-fire ways to inject momentum into a neighborhood.
So far it appeared, at least to the casual observer, that the area immediately in and around the stadium has begun to show signs of increasing life, yet work remains to be done. The economic slowdown of the past few years has no doubt hindered these efforts, with the park opening in 2005, thus, it is easy to assume the last few years have for the most part, been lost years in terms of development speed around NewBridge.
That having been said, it is possible to experience a great meal near the ballpark, find an upscale stay for the evening, and enjoy various cultural attractions, all within a short walk of the park.
Parking at NewBridge is scattered among various surface lots around the stadium in all directions. Some of these lots appeared to be managed by the Grasshoppers (as was the case with the large lot down the right field line where I parked) while others appeared to be manned by the private property owners of the various offices, warehouses, etc. Parking fees looked to be mostly in the $3-$5 range. Being that the stadium is in an urban environment I am sure on-street parking, among other areas, could be found on a weekend evening where one could avoid a parking charge while heading out to the game.
The street directly adjacent to the stadium and the lot in which I parked is closed off on game evenings, allowing for easier pedestrian flow. I also noted a few vendors (such as Trek Bicycles) which had set up a tent in the roadway to peddle their wares to those walking from the parking areas to the stadium's gates. A cash only, general admission, walk-up ticket tent was also set up in this roadway before the game, helping to ease congestion around the main box office gates in the hours leading up to first pitch.
I arrived at the park over an hour before first pitch to find a large crowd gathered in the entry plaza area outside the park, a large crowd waiting at the will-call ticket tent set up in this area, and then a large crowd already inside. This is somewhat unusual from most minor league experiences where the crowd is normally, at least in my experience, later in arriving. I attribute the early arrival in Greensboro to a few factors, the aforementioned Christmas in June promotion and the appearance of Bryce Harper in Greensboro, as well as an almost festive party like atmosphere that NewBridge naturally encourages.
NewBridge was definitely designed to facilitate a good time, quickly evidenced by the quiet large covered bar, almost tiki-style, down the left-field line. Patrons were gathered around this area all evening long, drinking the various brews on tap. It is from this area than fans can access the Natty's Hill area in left field, a clearly popular seating option for those bringing their glove to the park in hopes of snagging a homerun ball from a rising future star.
Just below the bar area is a terraced seating section, angled towards the field to present better site lines, complete with 5 levels of pub-style tables for entertaining.
Adjacent to the suite level, just towards the home plate side of the terraced area below, is a party deck which is compatible for corporate functions, birthday parties, etc. This area is completely covered from the elements and can be broken down to accommodate multiple functions. A large buffet servicing area is available for these parties as well as stadium seating along the front of the deck offering a wonderful view of downtown Greensboro's skyline over the right field line.
A large area of tables are also available down the right field line at NewBridge, adjacent to a smaller berm area where parents can sit and watch their children play on the hill or in the large play area just behind this area. The screened off children's play area features a rope climb, several small slides, a fast pitch area, and all of this without the worry of skinned knees as the entire area is covered in a soft rubber to absorb falls.
Every one of the 5,300 physical seats inside the stadium is chairback, complete with armrests and cupholders, finished like much of the park in a deep Forest green color scheme. The park is constructed almost entirely of two shades of brick, using cream colored siding, in a clapboard style, accented by the deep green which is also the primary color of the team.
It is this green throughout that helps add to the park's retro feel, along with features such as lighting designed to evoke a bygone era, a single level of outfield wall complete with sponsorship signage and traditional dimensions, and even a live organist playing from a perch just above the seating bowl almost directly behind home plate.
The organist is only pushed towards the third base side of home plate by what I believe are the best seats in the house, plush recliners, and I do mean lazy-boy plush. I'm still not quite sure how you access this special treat of a seating option, but I can only assume it was via a contest or "best seat in the house" promotion that I simply missed hearing. The folks sitting in these seats on this night clearly loved the view and the prestige of watching a live game in person from a seat that is usually reserved for your den at home.
Single game ticket prices at NewBridge range from $6-$9, less any discounts, which are commonly available on selected nights, through group associations, etc. Season tickets range in price from $420 to $560. One thing I noticed about the Grasshoppers season ticket pricing structure that I particularly found interesting was a 3-year commitment option. If agreeing to purchase season tickets for a period of 3 years, a discount was applied dropping the per season ticket price to a range of $370 to $510. This would result in an on-average three year savings of $150 per seat, not too shabby.
Like most minor league teams today, competing in a shrinking market for entertainment dollars, the Grasshoppers have introduced a "mini-season ticket" plan for those not willing, or unable, to commit to a full season plan. Here at NewBridge that option is known as the Hoppers Hot Pass and includes 12 Friday & Saturday evening games, including July 4th, with every game featuring post-game fireworks. The price for this package is a very reasonable $99 per seat and includes prime seating behind home plate.
I think the price ranges offered at NewBridge are very competitive for a stadium of this caliber, especially in a good sized city such as Greensboro. The South Atlantic League is the premier Class A league in minor league baseball and as such, you are assured of not only seeing future Marlins stars representing the hometown Grasshoppers, but numerous future major leaguers passing through Greensboro on their way to the show. Combine that fact with the lively entertainment aspects, a helpful and friendly staff, and a modern stadium that is not short on amenities and you will find your return on investment to be substantial.
One thing you will immediately notice upon entering NewBridge Bank Park, especially on a warm evening, is the large ceiling fans placed all around the concourse, providing a wonderful breeze while waiting in a concession line for a soda or snack.
NewBridge also features a number of public art pieces, from a replica cannon near the main entrance gates, a large baseball bat, a large glove, a Grasshopper statue, in uniform, sitting out in the entry plaza, and a very nice water feature in the same area.
NewBridge features a large LED board hanging just beyond right-center field. The Grasshoppers also have an in-house video production crew which provides crowd shots, coverage of between inning entertainment, etc.
This stadium features one of the largest souvenir shops I've seen at this level, complete with an extensive amount of Grasshoppers paraphernalia, including a large selection of Nike and designer/fitted merchandise. Just outside the doors to the souvenir shop you will see banners hanging, as they do all the way around the concourse, highlighting great moments in Greensboro baseball history and including things such as former players who have passed through Greensboro, many of them notable Yankees from the teams long association with that organization, including present pinstripe notables like Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano, Jorge Posada, and Mariano Rivera.
I would be remiss if I didn't mention the appearance of Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) signage located around the park and in Grasshoppers sponsorship efforts. The corporate offices of the venerable collegiate conference are just down the road and Greensboro has long been known as "title-town" here in the heart of ACC country.
I have definitely saved the single, or duel in this case, best "extras" feature of this park for last. NewBridge Bank Park is home to the only brother and sister duo in baseball: Miss Babe Ruth and Master Yogi Berra, who also were doubling as reindeer on this Christmas in June evening. The beautiful black labs not only serve as unofficial "alternate" mascots for the Grasshoppers but they also serve as the teams bat girl and ball boy. Miss Babe Ruth has been trained to retrieve the player's bats and Master Yogi Berra is responsible for fetching balls for the umpire. Both are also experts when it comes to running the bases. The crowd loves these lovable pooches, and for good reason. They're incredibly friendly and provide me with a great "Welcome to Greensboro and NewBridge Bank Park" moment just after arriving for the ballgame. If for no other reason, and you have plenty of other reasons, you should get to a Grasshoppers game just to see this duo in action.
In my 40+ stadium visits, I rate this one the highest for these reasons: (1) it's a beautiful park; (2) you can walk from a nearby hotel; (3) you have the option of buying a microbrew beer; and (4) good between innings entertainment. The "bad" was being carded everytime I bought a beer. I suggested wrist-bands and employees told me that they didn't work (go figure that one out). So, believe it or not, don't go on Thirsty Thursday.
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