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Official Review by Chris Green, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Warner University is a small, unassuming Christian college steeped in sports history, and when one says small, it is very small (enrollment is just 1,600). The school is so small, in fact, that one is likely to easily drive right past it on US-27 without realizing they had done so. But this does not mean that its stadium experience at Royal Baseball Field is without merit. Indeed, after driving through the small campus to the equally small and unassuming baseball diamond nestled in the back corner of campus, it quickly becomes apparent that this is a gathering place, a watering hole of sorts for the sports lover's soul. And, indeed, you may find yourself feeling a little bit better about the state of sportsmanship, family, and the values of sport in college baseball after leaving here.
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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".
There isn't much to be said about the tiny shack that is the concessions stand at Royal Baseball Field. While the menu is extremely limited (a hot dog is the biggest item on the list), the prices are insanely low. Said hot dog costs just $2, as does a soda or Gatorade. Everything else (water, coffee, hot cocoa, dried peanuts, boiled peanuts, chips, candy, sunflower seeds, and pickles) is just $1.
There isn't anything fancy about this baseball field. Indeed, some high school fields boast fancier setups. The grandstands don't have backs, the scoreboard simply shows your standard baseball scores and pitch counts. The press box isn't fancy and barely sits above eye level of someone standing behind home plate. And yet, the feeling penetrating the entire atmosphere here is that this is how small-town college baseball should be. Families are everywhere, as the fans take up every open seat, and then some. Kids run around playing catch while their parents catch up on the latest comings and goings. Students study in the grassy fields around the stadium before first pitch. Both teams practice during warmups while coaches cut up with each other and old timers relive their glory days. It just feels right here. You feel like you're one of the family -- like a Royal.
Lake Wales is quite literally halfway between a metropolis and nothing. An hour to the north is Orlando and I-4. To the south, Sebring is the next largest town until you reach South Florida, a good four hours away. Nearby attractions include the stunning Bok Tower Gardens and Legoland (formerly Cypress Gardens). For the sports fans, South Florida State College and Sebring International Raceway are a short drive away in Sebring. For lodging, your best bet is either Sebring to the south, Lake Wales itself, or Eagle Ridge to the north. There is also a mall at Eagle Ridge, and places to eat in Sebring.
The fans undoubtedly make this experience what it is. Everyone knows everyone, even from the visiting teams. Families are a big contingent of the fan base at Warner University. Some fans set up folding chairs, picnic blankets, and pop-up canopies along the left field line to shield themselves from the hot sun. Kids throw balls around in a friendly game of catch. Players' parents delve into family discussions and talk about life as a baseball parent. Never is a foul word shouted from the stands at an opposing player or umpire. Fans recognize quality play and effort with applause, even when not from their own hometown players. And there is rarely an open seat available or plot of grass not taken by a passionate fan.
Getting to Warner University is a bit of a drive from either direction. Located on US-27, the college is small and hard to find, unless you're looking for it. Once you're on campus, you have to drive through several parking lots and on some small roads to get to the back of campus where the baseball stadium is located. There, you will find a shared parking lot with some of the dorms, but there are always plenty of spaces, regardless of the day or time of first pitch. Parking is always free.
Tickets are $5 for Royal games, and parking is free, so considering that you can easily get two hot dogs, a soda, and some snacks for under $10, you are coming away with one of the lowest-priced sports options around. This only helps make the experience at a Warner University baseball game even that much more enjoyable.
The campus is small, but there are some beautiful sights, including a pagoda by a lake in the main entrance.
Also, you drive past the school's softball field when driving in, making a stop by for a doubleheader an easy process.
There are few places one can find small-town comfort mixed with college athletics that melds as perfectly as it does at Warner University. The Royal Baseball Field is home not only to a top-notch NAIA baseball program, but to somewhere that is as relaxing as one can expect in central Florida for sports. When traveling through the state, it would be highly recommended to stop by this hidden gem.
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