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Official Review by Brian Wilmer, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
As you are more than likely aware if you have read our reviews of Elon University's basketball and football facilities, growth is a constant among the Phoenix athletic programs. This Southern Conference member school boasts an impressive collection of facilities, from the old to the new. It would be easy to look at the listing of NCAA regional appearances on the wall at Latham Park and think that Elon has only recently started to experience success on the diamond. This is far from the case, however.
Elon's storied baseball history actually got its start at the beginning of the 20th century, facing off against Greensboro, North Carolina's Guilford College in the school's first-ever contest in any sport in 1900. Elon won a number of conference titles in the 1930s, and made numerous appearances in the NAIA World Series before finally moving on to NCAA Division I baseball. Elon's current baseball home opened as Newsome Field in 1978, and while the actual field retains this name, the facility has seen a number of improvements in 35-plus years, along with a new name, Walter C. Latham Park. Though Elon does not have an extensive history in NCAA Division I baseball or in the Southern Conference, their facility certainly ranks near the top of their league.
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".
The one place where Latham Park lags a bit behind is in the concessions. Served from a trailer behind the third base stands, the concessions menu is fairly pedestrian. Hot dogs, peanuts and nachos ($3 each) are the "major" items on the board. The peanuts are actually a great deal, as the $3 price gets you a full-size bag similar to the ones you might see in a grocery store. Candy bars ($1), Cracker Jacks ($1.50), Blow Pops ($.50) and sunflower seeds ($.50) round out the available choices.
Coca-Cola is the campus' bottler, with 20-ounce bottled sodas, bottled water and Powerade available for $3 each. Hot chocolate can also be purchased for $3, which is a nice touch at some of the cooler early-season contests in the North Carolina piedmont. Be careful when going to purchase concessions, though, as the trailer closed at random intervals on the day I attended. The stand closed and reopened at least twice, that I saw. The best suggestion is to plan ahead and buy any concessions you may need early in the contest.
Latham Park has experienced a number of upgrades in its time, and one of the largest upgrades is in the seating. All of fhe fixed seating between the dugouts is chairback seating, which is a nice perk for a school this size. The seats can get a bit uncomfortable after a while, as they are composed of hard plastic. The seat backs can also cause back pain, depending on your height. This may inspire you to head to the berm down the third base line. This was a rather popular area on the day I visited, with some fans standing and some sitting in lawn chairs.
The playing surface (the infield is turf, with a grass outfield) is visible from any seat in the facility. Sight lines are not a large concern, except for the netting behind the plate, as with most parks. The bullpens are visible down each line, allowing you to keep up with any pitchers warming up to enter the game. There is a pond behind the left field wall that is visible from many of the seats in the park, and is a nice relaxing place to visit after a game.
There is a scoreboard in left-center field that resembles those found in many ballparks. The scoreboard shows the number of the player at bat, the ball/strike/out count and the game's linescore. Player statistics appear on a single-line display above the game's linescore. There is also a rotating advertisement board below the score section.
Elon is a town built around the school, for the most part. The true attraction to the surrounding community is the beauty of the campus. Spring days often see students walking, throwing a frisbee or just enjoying the nice weather. The campus and town are a great place to explore.
There are a few restaurants in Elon itself (the Town Table being the closest), but most of the activity is in neighboring Burlington. There are a number of chain restaurants in Burlington, along with shopping and entertainment. Many of the choices in Burlington are located just off exits 140 (University Drive) and 141 (Huffman Mill Road) on North Carolina Interstate 85.
Latham Park may not see every seat filled for every game, but those who attend Elon games are certainly supportive of their Phoenix. Athletes from some of the other teams at Elon also come out to support the team, which is good to see. The day I attended in early 2013 was extremely cold, but a good number of fans from both Elon and visiting Furman made their way out to see the game. The crowd started to thin out a bit as the afternoon wore on, as the game went into extra innings and the cold got the better of some people.
Elon also has its own playful "heckling" section. Granted, this section consists of three or four fans at the top of the seating on the first base side, but they are quite vocal and amusing. Furman's manager tripped over the turf coming back from a mound visit, which drew a smile from him and some playful annoyance from the fans, with their mentioning it wasn't any fun if he enjoyed it.
Elon is accessible via North Carolina Interstates 85 and 40. US 70 and North Carolina Highway 100 also serve the greater Elon/Burlington area. The campus is several miles away from the interstate, however, it make take a good 15-20 minute drive from the interstate on heavy traffic days. Piedmont Triad International Airport (PTI) is 25-30 minutes away from the campus in Greensboro, with Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU) 45-50 minutes to the east in Morrisville, between Durham and Raleigh.
Parking at Latham Park is an extremely easy affair. There are a number of spots between Latham Park and Rhodes Stadium (Elon's football facility), and they are all free and within steps of the park. If you are afraid of a foul ball "decorating" your car, there is ample parking at the new Hunt Softball Park across the street from Latham Park. The walk is not that long, particularly on a warm spring day, and this parking is also free.
There are two bathrooms (one for each sex) underneath the seating bowl. The bathrooms are a bit small, though certainly of an appropriate size for most Elon crowds. The facilities are clean and well-kept.
Attending an Elon game is no great strain on the wallet. Tickets for most games (all seats are general admission) are $5, with some "premium" (East Carolina and NC State, for example) games priced at $7. Youth tickets are priced at $3.
With free parking, this allows you to buy a non-premium game ticket, hot dog and soda for $11. Should you choose a premium game, this total only increases to $13. Elon has experienced a great deal of success in a short time at the Division I level, and seeing a consistent quality product for this price is absolutely worth your small investment.
Programs are available at the ticket window as you enter the park. The programs are a nice touch, and they keep you from having to bury yourself in your smartphone to find out more about the Elon team. The university may want to publicize these programs a bit more, but just making them available is a solid start.
There are three commemorative plaques in Latham Park. There is a plaque honoring the Bill Graham Baseball Scholarship, one for W. Bryan Latham, M.D.'s contributions to the upgrades in the facility and one outside telling the story of Walter C. Latham, the man for whom the park is named. Latham is enshrined in the Elon Sports Hall of Fame and played at the school. The stories behind the names of many facilities are left to the fans to research, so the explanation of Latham's story is an extremely nice touch.
A banner on the bullpen wall in left field commemorates Elon's Southern Conference championships (2006, 2008, 2009 and 2011). There is a similar banner on the bullpen wall in right field to honor the university's NCAA regional appearances (2002, 2006, 2008, 2009 and 2010). As mentioned earlier, Elon has spent just over a decade at the Division I level, and this is a nice nod to the school's tremendous level of success in a short amount of time.
Elon baseball is rapidly becoming known as one of the top programs in the Carolinas and the southeastern United States, and they have a beautiful facility to match this success. The park is located next to Elon's football facility, Rhodes Stadium, as well as their continually-growing athletic complex. This makes for quite lively surroundings in and around Latham Park. If your travels lead you to north central North Carolina, you certainly owe it to yourself to see one of the elite programs in the Southern Conference.
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