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Official Review by Harrison Huntley, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
In Cary, North Carolina, a suburb of Raleigh, you will find the USA Baseball National Training Complex (NTC). In 2000, Cary won the bid to house Team USA, and has not disappointed. Each year, the four-field complex houses the country’s best youth, collegiate and professional baseball. In addition, the complex has hosted the NCAA Division II national baseball tournament since 2009. The NTC is a great venue for this tournament, because it pleases everybody from the rowdy alumni to the local families.
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The food is very impressive, considering the size of the venue. In addition to the traditional stadium food, there are combos featuring entrees, fries and a drink. There are also subs with ham or turkey, as well as a variety of candy, snacks and drinks. Of course, this is a stadium, so the prices are not great, but certainly are not the worst I've seen. For dessert, there is an Italian ice stand adjacent to the concession stand. The ice is probably the most popular snack at the game, and every kid seems to have one. There is only one concession stand with two windows. However, one window is cash-only. If you want to move through the line quickly, bring cash.
There are two different atmospheres in this stadium. The amazing condition of the field and the exterior of the press boxes and concession stand give the stadium a feeling that it may be a minor-league quality stadium someday. On the other hand, the simple scoreboard, lack of on-field entertainment, and metal bench seats give the feeling that the stadium is content in its current state.
The field itself is maintained by a 13-member grounds crew and is held to MLB standards. The PA announcer is great and really tries to keep the fans in the game. The buildings have a concrete exterior and attempt to create a professional atmosphere. The atmosphere does not translate down to the seats. Most of the seats are metal bleachers, except for a section right behind home plate that has typical stadium seats.
The scoreboard is a simple nine-inning scoreboard, which is good, except for its lack of radar gun. There are no covered seats, and if you are attending a day game, it will be hot.
The neat thing about this stadium is that there are quite a few hidden perks. For one, a good spot to sit is on the grass berms located on either side of the stadium. The berms are angled perfectly so that you can lie down and watch the game. Right below the berms are the bullpens. You can literally stand feet from the pitcher, and kids occasionally get handed baseballs. Speaking of baseballs, the NTC also features one of the smartest promotions I've seen. If you catch a foul ball, you can turn it in to the concession stand for a free drink. This is a great promo, because it encourages fans to return foul balls.
The Town of Cary is not your average town. With recent expansions, it has become incredibly spread out. Unfortunately, the NTC is located in a new development on the edge of town. The only neighborhood it currently has is subdivisions and a recently built toll road. Depending on the team playing, there may be a few tailgaters, but there is not much as far as restaurants or bars. About 10 minutes down NC-55, there is a shopping center called Beaver Creek Commons with many places to eat and shop.
Depending on the game you attend, the fans range from normal to rowdy. When two teams from across the country play, most fans are just local families that are baseball fans. They cheer at the usual times, but do not really pick a side. When two nearby teams play, the atmosphere is much better. The alumni really come out for the games and definitely can be heard. Some have signs and others have t-shirts, but overall they create an atmosphere comparable to any Division I tournament.
You have two options coming into the NTC. You can pay the toll on the new I-540 that almost runs through right field (prices can be found here). Otherwise, you can take NC-55 which runs parallel to I-540. The only difference between the two is the stop lights on NC-55 and the cost of I-540.
Once at the stadium, parking is free and is never a problem. There is one concourse that is above all seats and can provide a nice opening view. The restrooms are clean and are almost never overcrowded. Disabled seating is available above the seats on the edge of the concourse, just as you can find at most ballparks.
Tickets are $10 a day or $30 for the whole tournament (or $7 and $25 if you live in Wake County). With concessions reasonably priced, the return on investment is what you make it. If you end up staying the whole day, you will definitely get a good return. If you stay for one game, $10 may be a little much, but overall, not that bad.
The Town of Cary gave out free tickets to its residents at a local community center about a week before the 2013 tournament. If you live in Cary, be on the lookout for this.
The fact that you can visit the USA Baseball National Training complex is cool, just in its own right. Even better, you can buy official Team USA gear in the Team USA shop near the entrance. Another extra is that you can watch an NCAA Championship for just $10. The 13-member MLB-quality grounds crew earns another point. Finally, the flags and sidewalk decals for each team are a nice touch. Each team has a flag that is taken down and given to them when they are eliminated.
Division II baseball is different from most Division II sports, in that many players are drafted out of these schools by Major League teams. For $10, you can see the best in Division II baseball, as well as some great fans at the USA Baseball National Training complex. The NTC is a great place for this tournament, and will likely continue to host it for many years to come.
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