Buck Hardee Field at Legion Stadium – Wilmington Sharks
Photos by Wil Hapern, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.86
Buck Hardee Field at Legion Stadium 2149 Carolina Beach Road Wilmington, NC 28412
Year Opened: 1935
Baseball Triumphs in the Shark Tank
The Coastal Plain League was founded in 1997 and the Wilmington Sharks are one of the six founding members. The Sharks have had time to settle into Port City and the team does a lot with a little, as they pack far more than the 1,200 seats that Buck Hardee Field at Legion Stadium houses.
Wilmington had been without affiliated baseball for nearly two decades when the Wilmington Waves left town after just a season, so the Sharks are the only team that represents a city of over 100,000 residents. Because efforts to bring minor league baseball to Wilmington have failed in recent years, this leaves the Sharks representing one of the larger markets in Summer Collegiate Baseball.
Food & Beverage 3
Buck Hardee Field at Legion Stadium has run-of-the-mill ballpark food; it’s not great and not terrible, but exactly what you’d expect from a ballpark of this size. The lines aren’t too bad, the food is prepared efficiently, and the concessions workers are friendly.
There is one main concession stand at the park on the first base side of home plate, offering basic ballpark fare: candy at $2; popcorn, peanuts, and hot dogs at $3; chili cheese dogs at $4; and hamburgers, cheeseburgers, and pizza at $5. Everything is reasonably priced and made exactly how you’d expect. It is important to bring cash, though, because there is a ten-dollar minimum to use a credit or debit card. With that in mind, if you’re not carrying cash it might be better to plan ahead and only make one trip to the concessions stands if you are planning on eating at the game.
Pepsi is the soda served at Sharks games, with Budweiser being the main beer supplier, with different beers under that brand such as Landshark and Michelob. There are a few places to purchase a brew, including a party deck in the right field that has a fairly large seating area. A hot dog and a Landshark are good pairings during any Sharks game.
Buck Hardee Field at Legion Stadium is not a very traditional ballpark, but it has its special charm, as the wide variety of places to sit and mingle in the park allows people to rang out and check out potential future professional baseball stars.
The ballpark has rows of traditional seating that are centered around home plate and not much further – these sections are reserved seating, but there is also general admission bleacher seating on both the first and third base sides. Further out in the right field area is the beer garden where people can watch the game from bar seats. Due to the size of the stadium, there is not a bad seat in the park, whether you are sitting on the bleachers, in the reserved seats, or the beer garden.
The bleachers are standard, and the seats are a decent size, but there are no cup holders. There is also a reserved box seating section with tall wooden seats and a table right behind the protective netting on the first base side, and there is also a scoreboard in the outfield with a Sharks logo on top and a decent-sized electronic score line, but no video board.
A good variety of music is played but the sound effects are played almost too often, from various TV shows and movies; while sometimes this would be amusing, at Legion Stadium they tend to get a bit repetitive after a while. The theme song from the movie “Jaws,” however, is the exception, as this goes well with the shark theme of the team.
The Sharks mascot Sharky, serving as the on-field host, does a great job keeping fans entertained throughout the game. There are also a lot of between-inning challenges and promotions, enough so that you almost forgot that the stadium lacks a video board. One notable recent promotion was a challenge to toss tennis balls from the stands into a bucket on the field for a chance to win a trip to New York City.
Balls could be purchased for a dollar each, and this resulted in dozens of tennis balls being tossed, (though none of them made it in the bucket). Another notable promotion was when members of the Wilmington Sharks came into the stands, singing and dancing to the children’s song “Baby Shark” with the fans. Everyone, especially the members of the youth baseball team attending the game, got very into the song.
Legion Field is completely open-air and exposed to the elements, so the only question in terms of where to sit is whether you want chairbacks as opposed to bleacher seating and whether you’re there primarily to watch the game or to mingle with friends or family and relax on a nice summer evening. For those fans wanting the former, I’d recommend the seats behind home plate, and for fans wanting the latter I’d recommend either the bleachers or the Beer Garden.
Buck Hardee Field at Legion Stadium is located just south of downtown Wilmington as part of the Legion Sports Complex, which includes the ballpark and a now joint-use soccer and football stadium. While this area is by no means an urban area, historic downtown Wilmington is just a short drive or bus ride away, and there are also a couple of places to grab a bite or a beverage right near Legion Stadium.
Wilmington has tons of great places to eat and enjoy a drink, but there are two restaurants right around the corner from the Sports Complex. The first is Jamaica House Sports Bar and Grill, which serves classic Jamaican food with a southern soul food twist. Fried green tomatoes, fried okra, and jerk chicken and pork are examples of some of their offerings, and there are also various drink specials all for a good price.
Alternatively, if you are in town for an early game, Ezzell’s Breakfast House is a great place to grab classic breakfast fares such as biscuits and gravy, omelets, and various breakfast sandwiches. This restaurant closes at three, however, so won’t be an option for any evening or night Sharks game.
If you want to venture further from the stadium, downtown Wilmington has a copious number of restaurants overlooking the Cape Fear River. A great place to go if you decide to make the short trek downtown is Front Street Brewery, a 25-year-old establishment serving tasty American and Southern Food with a twist. The hand-breaded fried pickles, low country grit cakes, and pretzel chicken sandwiches are worth trying, and with daily beer specials and NC’s largest whiskey bar, there is something for everyone.
Finally, Wilmington is also known for its seafood, and Something Fishy, located about five miles southeast of Legion Stadium, serves up very delicious seafood in a friendly homestyle setting. The restaurant was visited by Guy Fieri from Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives, and it features the best hush puppies I’ve ever had, along with fantastic clam chowder and various seafood such as flounder and trout all at a good price.
Wilmington is a fantastic place to visit and it’s not by accident that people from all over the country and the world come to the Port City. There are three main beaches around Wilmington, though the closest one is Wrightsville Beach which is about a 15-minute drive from Legion Stadium.
Also, beyond the beaches is The Cotton Exchange, which is located downtown and features numerous shops, galleries, and places to eat. Downtown Wilmington also boasts the Cape Fear Museum of History and Science, which has various events and exhibits for fans of all ages to enjoy. Young and old alike will also enjoy Jungle Rapids, featuring a water park, go-karts, and an arcade, but the most famous attraction in Wilmington is the U.S.S. North Carolina, a decommissioned WWII battleship that is well worth a visit.
There are a lot of places to stay in or around downtown Wilmington but they tend to be expensive, especially in the summer. However, there are a couple of hotels near Legion Stadium that are cheaper than the others and closer to the ballpark; although you won’t get the immediate downtown experience you are not far away.
The Wilmington Sharks have a fairly strong fan base, but such a small ballpark that even when drawing close to capacity, will still only have a small number of fans, as opposed to a lot of bigger ballparks in the CPL. The Sharks averaged 1,001 fans last season, which is the middle of the pack in the league, so it is clear that more work needs to be done to improve Legion Stadium. Upgrades to improve seating and the amenities and add a video board have all been pitched, but so far nothing has become official.
The crowd may not be large in terms of raw numbers but they do get very engaged in the game, putting their hands above their hands during at-bats to indicate the Fins Up Sign. The fans are knowledgeable and know their baseball and will cheer not just on hits, but on strong plays by the pitcher. A better ballpark with more seats will only build on the fan experience, and the building blocks are already in place to make that happen.
Buck Hardee Field is very accessible from all points in Wilmington – the stadium is located on Carolina Beach Road, which is one of the main roads in Wilmington and connects to other major streets in the Port City, so getting to Legion Stadium is a breeze.
The Wave Transit offers local bus service around Wilmington, and the 201 bus will take you from downtown Wilmington to the stadium in just eight minutes flat for a one-way fare of $2 per adult, with anyone under eighteen riding for $1.
The bus runs from downtown every hour on the hour, so plan, and be at the station early or you may be waiting awhile. The problem will be getting back, however, as the last bus from the stadium leaves at 8:45 pm, which won’t matter for an afternoon game but for a 7 pm first pitch, you may only have time to take in half of the game, unless you plan to drive or use a rideshare back.
Legion Stadium offers a large parking lot with free parking, and with such a small ballpark, parking is easy to find and close to the venue, so you won’t have too far of a walk to take in a Sharks game. Traffic is difficult in Wilmington in general, however, especially in the summer with the high influx of tourists and the constant construction, but as you get near the ballpark traffic is not too bad.
There is one main entry gate where you can buy tickets and enter with very little hassle, handicap seating is offered, and moving around the stadium is easy. The bathrooms are behind the seating areas in what is likely a converted shed, but they are clean and well-kept. There is also an ATM next to the entrance, which is important for the $10 minimum on card usage at the concession stands.
Return on Investment 4
Attending a Sharks game is an affordable and great way to spend a night taking in top-level collegiate baseball talent in Wilmington. Parking is free, concessions are reasonable, and tickets are at a fair price. The prices of general admission or reserved seat tickets are $9-$11.
One point goes to receive a free hot dog for any fan who retrieves a foul ball and brings it to the concessions stand. Another point to the Sharks team performing the popular “Baby Shark” dance with the fans during the game, and the general amount of interesting promotions that go on during the game.
An additional point goes to the free and ample parking at the complex, which takes the headache out of arriving at the ballpark. A fourth point to the Shark-themed bouncy house located on a small lawn behind the seating area is for the young ones who want a break from all the action. Finally, a point for the incredibly friendly and engaging staff both at the concession stands and throughout the concourse – they make a real contribution to the fantastic game experience.
The Wilmington Sharks are a Collegiate League team that deserves the chance to be an affiliated minor league team. The fan support is there and the city is large enough, although there is work to do to bring Buck Hardee Park at Legion Stadium up to standards.
The largest city in Coastal North Carolina is at a crossroads – there are rumors of the Sharks potentially leaving town if they don’t get stadium upgrades. With the renewed thirst for minor league baseball in the Port City, the city needs to invest in the team and the stadium, as it would be a real shame for Wilmington to be without America’s pastime during the summer.