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Official Review by Bob Waldrop, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Since its inception, UAB has fought an uphill battle to establish itself as a player in NCAA Division I athletics. In the medical community, a mention of UAB instantly resonates as one of the finest medical and research facilities in the entire world. In a sports context, however, the thoughts likely drift toward either the Blazer hoops team founded by the late Gene Bartow, which has enjoyed a modicum of success over the past decades, or the moribund football program which in almost 20 years of play at the D1 level has an overall record of over 40 games under .500, with exactly one bowl appearance. For fans of college baseball, however, it is worth taking a look a Blazer team which plays its on-campus games at beautiful Young Memorial Field.
(An important note: This review covers games played at UAB’s on-campus stadium. Beginning in 2014, UAB will play a majority of their home dates at the new downtown Regions Field, home of the Birmingham Barons. Prices differ for concessions, parking and admission between the two venues.)
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".
There is a single concession stand located under the bleachers, and while the food and drink options are somewhat limited, compared to other baseball venues of this size, there are options - and all at very reasonable prices. The most expensive item is nachos ($3.50). Hot dogs are available for $2.50, but looked to be cooked elsewhere and brought in. A large bag of peanuts ($3) are a popular item with Blazer fans. Candy, chips, Cracker Jacks and sunflower seeds can all be had for the shockingly low cost of $1.25. If you want a cool treat, Snickers Ice Cream bars ($1.50) and ice cream sandwiches ($1) are available. Twenty-ounce bottled drinks (Pepsi products), including water and Gatorade, can be had for $2. At these prices, you would almost be doing yourself a disservice not to partake in some of the offerings available.
If you are looking for something a little more substantive, you can try the fare at world famous Dreamland BBQ, located about a mile from Young Memorial Field (see Food & Drink Tab). Chances are, if the wind is blowing out of the south, the smoke from their restaurant will drift over the stadium, making a trip there almost irresistible.
It is obvious when you first walk into the stadium that a lot of thought was put into the design and layout of Young Memorial Field for the purposes of enhancing the fan experience. Although it is a symmetrical ballpark, a 30'x100' "Green Monster" type wall looms in center field; however, there is a yellow line atop the main fence which serves as the home run indicator. The natural grass playing surface is beautiful and well-kept. A modern electronic scoreboard in left-center keeps fans updated with all pertinent game information. A beautiful plaza area is located behind the grandstand if you are attending a game with your kids and need a safe place for them to run around and play catch. A picnic area down the right field line offers a great place to enjoy your concession purchases under beautiful shade trees.
UAB is in an urban setting, about a mile south of downtown Birmingham. Young Memorial Field is on the far southwest corner of campus in an area containing many of the school's athletic facilities including the softball and soccer complexes. Directly across University Avenue is the football practice field and Bartow Arena sits two blocks north of the stadium. There is no on-campus football stadium, however (a source of much consternation among UAB alumni and students), as the Blazers play their home games a few miles away in crumbling Legion Field.
The campus itself has undergone many significant improvements in the past few years, with more in the works. Just a couple of blocks to the east sits the Campus Green - a beautiful grassy area popular with many students. A new student Rec Center recently opened, and a new student union is under construction and scheduled to open in 2015. The world class UAB Hospital and associated facilities are just past the eastern borders of the campus.
Crowds at college baseball games often tend to be "family and friends only," but this didn't appear to be the case on this day. Although the venue is relatively small, the stands were about three-quarters full, with additional fans sitting in their folding chairs lining both foul lines. A couple of little league teams were also in attendance, although there was no noticeable student presence. Still, the fans that were there seemed knowledgeable and were into the events happening on the field.
Getting to Young Memorial Field is not difficult at all. The best and most direct way is from I-65 North or South. If travelling from the south (north on I-65), take Exit 259 onto University Boulevard. You'll immediately see the centerfield wall on your right. At the first traffic light, turn right onto 12th Street. Young Memorial Field will be on your right. You can park in the lot directly across from the entrance. From the north (south on I-65) take Exit 259B, which is 4th Avenue South. Immediately after exiting, turn right onto 11th Street and drive three blocks south to University Boulevard. Turn left, drive one block to 12th Street and follow the directions above for parking.
There is little to complain about regarding the cost of attending a UAB baseball game played on campus. Parking is free (always a nice touch) and the concessions, while not overly diverse, are certainly reasonable. All seating is general admission, with tickets costing $5 for adults, $3 for youth (ages 6-17) and free for kids 5 and under. As with concessions, only cash is accepted. Adding it all up, attending a UAB Blazer baseball game comes in at about half the cost of seeing a first-run movie, making it a very attractive option for families.
A pre-printed scorecard complete with rosters of both teams is available at the entrance. A small tent with UAB baseball items (t-shirts, hats, etc.) is located behind the first base dugout. A picnic area down the right field line allows families to sit - albeit with a somewhat obstructed view of the field - under huge shade trees. Several giveaways between innings allow for chances to win Blazer merchandise or tickets to future games.
With rare exceptions, college baseball programs do not generate near enough revenue to cover the costs of running the program, and often the fan experience can suffer in poor facilities. This is especially true in non-"power" conferences without the millions generated by a big time football program - a category into which UAB unfortunately falls. Despite these obstacles, the administration at UAB has created an exceptional fan experience. From the beautiful stadium to the friendly staff to the affordable prices, if you are a college baseball fan who finds yourself in the Birmingham area, a trip to Young Memorial Field is well worth your time.
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