Photo by Marc Viquez, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.29
Burlington Athletic Stadium 1450 Graham St Burlington, NC 27217
Year Opened: 1948/1960 Capacity: 3,500
The Show Goes on in Sockville
Minor League and Independent Baseball have transformed thanks in large part to COVID. Burlington, North Carolina was one of forty-two cities and towns across the country to recently be cut out of affiliated Minor League Baseball.
There was however a silver lining for baseball fans in Alamance County – competitive baseball would not entirely vanish from Burlington Athletic Stadium, and 2021 would lead to a resurrection for both the team and the league they played in.
The team originally known as the Burlington Indians played in the Carolina League from 1958-1964; for the first two seasons of that stint, the team played in nearby Graham before opening their Burlington venue in 1960, which was moved from its old home 40 miles north in Danville, Virginia, and reassembled in Burlington.
Burlington Athletic Stadium was originally called Fairchild Park and made a cameo in the film “Bull Durham.” The stadium sat empty for twenty-two years, but in 1986 the rookie-level Appalachian League brought baseball back to Burlington – for the next two decades they were known once again as the Burlington Indians, but in 2007 with the affiliation switch from the Cleveland Indians to the Kansas City Royals, the team took on the parent club’s identity and up until 2020 were known as the Burlington Royals.
Then 2021 saw Burlington and the nine other Appy League teams moved from affiliated minor league baseball to the summer collegiate league, giving the team and the city a chance to start over; on February 1, 2021, the team changed its name to the Burlington Sock Puppets, joining other league rivals who also adopted funny and original identities.
And while there is some controversy among some baseball purists that the new names don’t adequately reflect the imposing names that many are used to in baseball and throughout sports, there can be no doubt that things are “sockingly” fun and different in Burlington.
Food & Beverage 4
It is often hard to know what to expect when eating out at a baseball game at this level, but Burlington Athletic Stadium does not disappoint. The stadium has one main food stand but offers a variety of options for reasonable prices – you can get your basic hot dog, hamburger, or cheeseburger for three, four, or five dollars respectively (or four dollars more each for a combo with chips and a drink) or a slice of Domino’s pizza, a BBQ sandwich from local joint Tickle My Ribs, or a Chick-fil-A chicken sandwich will only run you three, five, or six dollars respectively.
You can also get some unique items such as pulled pork nachos, a hot dog topped with mac and cheese, or the stadium's special “laundry basket,” which is loaded nachos with mac and cheese, pulled pork, and jalapenos, which will only set you back eight bucks. The stadium also offers your typical snacks including popcorn, candy, peanuts, and pretzels, and offers two places to grab dessert, with Pelican’s Sno-Balls and Dippin’ Dots offered.
NC-based Pepsi is the soft drink of choice, with a bottle only costing three dollars. Alcohol costs between three and six bucks depending on size and selection, and nearby Durham-based Tobacco Road Brewing Company partnered with the team to produce a Sock Puppets-themed beer, with a team design on the can, but not the flavor of socks.
Burlington Athletic Stadium seats 3,500, with the vast majority being bleacher seats. There are a few reserved chair-back seats behind home plate. Most of the seats are also covered, but there are bleacher seats on the first and third base side that are not protected from the elements.
Sightlines are great no matter where you sit, which is often an advantage at an intimate park. The PA Announcer is very energetic, as is the band that greets fans with energetic jams before the first pitch. They also have mascot night for certain games, so alongside the long-tenured mascot Bingo the team kept along for the rebranding ride, and the new mascot Socksquatch, you can see the Demon Deacon from Wake Forest University or Homer from the in-state Charlotte Knights, joining in on the fun to entertain fans young and old.
Unlike their counterparts in affiliated baseball, a lot of summer league baseball stadiums are not located right in the heart of their respective cities or towns, and Burlington Athletic Stadium is no different. But while the venue is not within walking distance and doesn’t offer any public transit to the center of town, a six-minute drive will get you to all that downtown Burlington has to offer.
A town of about 50,000 separating the state’s Triangle and Triad regions, and halfway between North Carolina’s famous beaches and mountains, Burlington offers a variety of restaurants including Burlington Beer Works, a local brewery that offers delicious small plates, brunch, dinner, and a large selection of local craft beer. Not far from BBW is Zach’s Hot Dogs, a near-century-old establishment serving up delicious dogs, burgers, and breakfast.
Finally, if you’re looking for authentic NC-style BBQ, then look no further than Hursey’s. Just five minutes from the stadium in the opposite direction from downtown, Hursey’s has arguably some of the best BBQ in the state and serves it Piedmont style, which is a blend between Eastern NC’s vinegar-based and Lexington (Western) NC’s tomato-based sauce; Hursey’s is also home to some of the best hush puppies you’ll find anywhere.
Downtown Burlington has a lot of local shops including Persnickety Books and Wayne’s Attic, an antique store, as well as Burlington City Park, which is a great place to take young ones before a night game or after a matinee – the park includes a playground, train, carousel, and boats.
There is also more shopping ten minutes west at Alamance Crossing, a giant shopping center including Barnes and Noble, Dick’s Sporting Goods, and Kohl’s (among many others) plus numerous chain restaurants. There aren’t any hotels near the stadium, but there are several chain options less than ten minutes away on I-40, including Microtel, Hampton, and Quality Inn.
The Sock Puppets are in the first year of a new, original identity, and that is no doubt going to help with attendance. Despite the threat of thunderstorms and some rain, there were still a solid number of fans during my most recent visit. Those who were in attendance seemed engaged and cheered on their team; it will be interesting to see how the team ranks in attendance in the rebranded league’s inaugural year – according to the team there was a 30% increase in attendance this year as compared to 2019.
Getting to the stadium is easy and traffic is not an issue; there is a sizable parking lot outside the stadium which leads to the main entrance and the separate VIP entrance. There is no public transit to the stadium, and Ubers are very hit-and-miss in a town of Burlington’s size. The concourses are wide enough and don’t usually get congested, which makes walking around the stadium not a real issue.
Return on Investment 4
A Sock Puppets game is a great way to watch some top college prospects at a very affordable price with free parking, concession prices averaging under ten dollars for a meal, and tickets starting at just six bucks, so you can catch a game at Burlington Athletic Stadium for less than twenty dollars.
One point for the variety of inflatables set up beyond the first baseline is that give kids a great place to get their energy out during the game. A second point for the team store selling various Sock Puppets merchandise, and a third point to the sock puppet station where fans young and old can create their very own sock puppet to take home. A fourth point for the person throwing out the first sock instead of the first pitch at the start of the game, and finally a point for one of the most unique team names in all of the sports, as well as the signage declaring Burlington “Sockville”.
The Sock Puppets are in their inaugural year of Summer Collegiate Baseball and have already taken baseball by storm with one of the most compelling and controversial names in baseball. But for better or worse the team has run with it and doesn’t need shoes to attract baseball fans in North Carolina to the city of Burlington to see what all the hype is about.