L.P. Frans Stadium – Hickory Crawdads
Photos by Jay Wagner and Michael Rusignuolo, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.43
L.P. Frans Stadium 2500 Clement Blvd NW Hickory, NC 28601
Year Opened: 1993 Capacity: 5,092
Hickory’s Hardball Experience a Good One
L.P. Frans Stadium – or “The Frans” as it’s known to the locals – is the home ballpark of the Hickory Crawdads; the Texas Rangers’ Single-A affiliate. The 5,000-seat park is named after the Pepsi-Cola bottler who donated generously to the newly-relocated team to aid construction. The Crawdads have called The Frans home since their inception in 1993. In 2017, the Rangers purchased the team and promptly allocated resources to the remodeling of the ballpark. The upgrades included a new scoreboard, a new playing surface and new outfield fence. A tornado whipped through Hickory in early 2018, and oddly enough actually assisted the demolition crew with the removal of the old fence they had just begun to tear down.
Food & Beverage 4
At L.P. Frans Stadium, the standard concession stands are about what you’d expect. Line wait times are nothing to worry about, as minor league fans tend to come and go throughout the game as opposed to all at once. The staff is very friendly, which seems to be a definite trend in minor league baseball. All major payment options are accepted at the cash registers.
As far as pricing, a hot dog is listed at $4, fries are $2, and a Pepsi-provided beverage is either $3 or $5 depending on whether you get the 24-ounce or 32-ounce variety. An under $10 total for a hot dog, fries and drink is a solid value, even for minor league baseball. Well-known beer such as Budweiser is served throughout the venue. What sets the ballpark food and beverage offering above average is the club-area restaurant down the right field line known as Crawdads Cafe. Open to the general public throughout the game, the bar offers many beers as well as all the delicious mainstream bar food options. The bright-lit club features multiple large televisions that are viewable from the comfortable seating against the back wall. Complete with Rangers memorabilia on the walls, the Crawdads Café in right field offers a big-league feel at a low-A ballpark.
If you didn’t know The Frans was built in the early 1990’s, you might guess it was a new ballpark, simply because of the way the Crawdads continue to modernize it throughout the years. The brand-new scoreboard is massive and modern by single-A standards. It is high-definition, colorful and displays information prominently and clearly. The grandstand is mostly covered by an overhang, and every seat is relatively new and comfortable. The ballpark follows the dominant baseball trend of the northeast orientation of home plate. As great as that is for the pitcher and batter, the folks down the first base line will have to squint throughout the beginning of the game. Go ahead and get tickets down the third base line for a 7 o’clock game in the summer.
There is also seating down the lines – in deep right field, there is a covered picnic area almost at field level. At concourse level is a row of high-bar stools complete with a table strip in front of them for drinks and food. There are also a few picnic areas down the left field line for groups. In the same general area, the concourse features a kids’ playground and carousel for youngsters that become unable to sit quietly through nine innings. The parents will appreciate the setup that allows them to watch the hardball action while supervising their children. Overall, the diversity of in-game entertainment options throughout L.P. Frans Stadium help make it one of the most fun ballparks in the minors.
If you’re looking for an elaborate entertainment district across from the stadium, you will not find it in Hickory. The immediate neighborhood consists of a parking lot, but that’s not totally a negative to most diehard baseball fans. It doesn’t get much easier than $3 parking a stone’s throw from the gates! Although not in a populated area, safety will not be a problem, especially entering and exiting with the rest of the crowd. Although nothing is within immediate walking distance, going a mile or two back toward Route 321 – the main route that services Hickory, NC – will unveil some shopping centers with well-known food chains. Lodging is the same story; several well-known brands have locations in the small town.
As for attractions, Hickory’s greatest entertainment does not feature the high-tech bells and whistles that you see in major cities. Instead, finding Hickory’s natural beauty should be the focus if planning an extended trip. Lake Hickory will be a gold mine if you’re an avid fisherman. Natural parks and rivers are abundant in the town right on the border between the piedmont and mountain regions of The Old North State. Also, the Catawba Science Center is a museum, aquarium and planetarium located within city limits that ensures fun for the whole family.
From the very first pitch of the game until the last out, it will quickly become apparent that Hickory is home to some of the most dedicated fans in the entire minor leagues. These fans show up in respectable numbers nightly throughout the regular season. The fans are loud and engaged throughout the game. Crawdads fans love their cowbells – many fans bring their own red cowbells and proceed to ring them throughout the entire game. Every positive moment for the Crawdads – even a first pitch strike early in the game – is deserving of a few strong rings from diehard spectators. It’s certainly a unique tradition that the Crawdads seem to identify with, somewhat like Mississippi State’s “More Cowbell” motto.
Access to the ballpark is painfully easy. Interstate 40 takes you all the way to Hickory if you’re arriving from the east or west. You turn right into the ballpark driveway, park for $3 and instantly walk in. The Frans may have an unfair advantage for it being so easy to get into. It helps when you play in an isolated part of a 40,000-person town. No matter what, it’s great to know before leaving for the game that entering and exiting will be a breeze.
The main gate everyone uses is located directly behind home plate. The brick structure features the stadium name in lettering that illuminates after dark as well as round baseball decorations sticking out from the wall. Ticket offices are located just to the right of the gate. Within the ballpark, traffic flow in the concourse is no more congested than the outside parking lot. The wide concourse allows for plenty of room for fans, even during a rain delay when everyone in attendance gathers under the grandstand. Concession stand lines also have a roof over top of them, ensuring no fan will have to stand in the rain for ballpark food. There are both men’s and women’s bathrooms on each side of home plate. There’s no reason to expect any headache or stress throughout your experience at L.P. Frans Stadium.
Return on Investment 4
In true-to-form fashion of the South Atlantic League, the Crawdads provide a great experience that’s worth every dollar. One reason it’s worth every dollar is because the entire experience doesn’t cost very much at all. Tickets are $9 for adults in advance but increase to $10 for the day of the game, which is customary in minor league baseball. “VIP Seats” behind home plate go for $15, while Military veterans get in for free. This means an adult can go to the game for a minimum of $12, while buying a hot dog and drink will bring the game day experience up to about $20. If there’s a better minor league experience per dollar spent, I haven’t found it.
L.P. Frans Stadium does not reinvent the wheel, but there are a few unique features that deserve recognition. The “Claw of Fame” on the concourse honors former Crawdads who went on to have baseball careers of significance. There are other minor league parks with boards that feature current players that came up through the system, but the play on words is creative enough to register a point on the “extras” board. Also, a Sweet Frog stand is up and running behind home plate. For those that are unfamiliar, Sweet Frog is a delicious frozen yogurt store that allows you to make and customize your own bowl with endless toppings and flavors. Don’t do yourself a disservice by skipping Sweet Frog during your trip to the Crawdads game.
The Hickory Crawdads were bought by the Texas Rangers back in 2017. The Rangers have been generous in their allocation of resources for the upkeep of L.P. Frans Stadium, and it shows. This is a new pattern we’re seeing more and more of- major league teams buying their minor league affiliates and assisting in the development of coaching staffs and facilities. While in today’s landscape many teams feel the need to tear down and start over, the Crawdads and Rangers have successfully joined forces to ensure L.P. Frans Stadium ages in place.