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  • Brian Wilmer

Sparrow Stadium – Florence Red Wolves

Photo Courtesy of Todd Floyd

Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 4.00

Cormell Field at Sparrow Stadium S Evander Dr. Florence, SC 29506

Year Opened: 2012

Capacity: 2,300


Magic City Memories

To those unfamiliar with the area, Florence is a nice place to stop for a stretch of the legs on South Carolina’s stretch of I-95, or the eastern terminus of I-20. Situated in the Pee Dee region of the state, Florence is flanked at reasonable distances by Savannah to the south, Columbia to the west and Fayetteville to the north. The city is also just over an hour from Myrtle Beach, which also draws a lot of traffic to the Magic City.

Florence is a lot more than just a rest stop, though, as this former rail town has a pretty impressive story of its own. Sports in Florence hold a pretty impressive chapter in the city’s book, with Darlington Raceway just off US 52 and SC 151 a few miles west of the city. The yearly NASCAR race (now dubbed the Southern 500) has been responsible for some of the most exciting finishes in NASCAR’s storied history. The race dates back to 1957, seven years after the track opened.

Darlington is also home to former MLB second baseman Orlando Hudson — as a sign will tell you as you enter the town — with former outfielder Reggie Sanders calling Florence his birthplace. Baseball in Florence dates back almost a century, with the Florence Blue Jays of the South Atlantic League calling American Legion Stadium in east Florence home from 1981-1986. Those Blue Jays teams featured talent such as Jimmy Key, Cecil Fielder and Fred McGriff. The club relocated to Coastal Carolina University near Myrtle Beach, with the Coastal Plain League’s Florence RedWolves coming to town in 1998. The RedWolves also left American Legion Stadium in 2012, but their trip was not as far, heading four miles away on US 76 to the then-virtually new Cormell Field at Sparrow Stadium on the campus of Francis Marion University.

Food & Beverage 4

For a park this size (Francis Marion baseball competes at the Division II level, and the RedWolves are in the summer collegiate wood-bat Coastal Plain League), there is a lot of choice. The team offers hot dogs ($2.75, $4 for the “Big Daddy Dog”), hamburgers and cheeseburgers ($3.75), regional favorite boiled peanuts ($4), Philly cheese steaks ($6), the “Wolfburger” ($6.50) and the “Diablo dog” ($3.75). Corn dogs ($2), French fries ($2.50, $3.50 with chili and cheese), pretzels ($3), nachos ($4), pizza slices ($2), pizza slabs ($3) and Chick-fil-A sandwiches and nuggets ($4) round out the hot selections.

The club also offers more of the “classic” ballpark snacks, such as chips ($1), Cracker Jacks ($1), sunflower seeds ($1), roasted peanuts ($2.50) and popcorn ($1.50). “Add-ons” are available for purchase on hot items for a quarter each, including chili, cheese, salsa, pickles, peppers and onions, chopped onions and jalapenos.

Sparrow Stadium serves Coke products, with nine different bottled soda, water and tea options for $2.25 each. Four flavors of Powerade are also available for $2.25, which is a tremendous help on the extremely hot summer nights in the Pee Dee. If beer is more your speed, there is a separate side window in the main concession area from which beer and other drinks can be purchased, along with a stand on the concourse and the beer garden. 12-ounce cans of Bud products and bottles of such products as Shock Top and Fat Tire are $3. Five different wine selections are also available for $3 apiece.

Atmosphere 4

Creating a unique atmosphere is quite difficult in a “shared” ballpark. Florence’s staff is very effective at “RedWolvesizing” the stadium, as they call it, however. The seats are all very close to the field, creating a rather intimate environment. There is also very limited netting to provide obstruction, as the netting only stretches between the dugouts.

The backdrop is also quite serene all the way around the park. The stadium is part of Francis Marion’s Griffin Athletic Complex, which offers a small man-made lake near the home plate entrance. A bridge extends into the lake, allowing fans to walk out and listen to the fountains before the game. There is a cluster of trees that forms the batter’s eye, helping eliminate the noise of US Highways 76 and 301 just yards away.

Most of the between-innings events are similar to what you will see in other parks, with the dizzy bat race and several other standards being featured. The Chicken Dance is also done, but with a bit of a twist. The interns, Homer (the team’s mascot, if he’s in attendance) and a group of hearty fans perform the dance. If someone dropped you in a seat without telling you otherwise, you would swear you were watching affiliated baseball, and not a summer collegiate league.

The baseball-forward atmosphere carries over to the entire experience. There is a standard scoreboard beyond the wall in left-center, with an easily-read combination of red numbers and letters on a blue and black backdrop, along with a small collection of ads lining the wall. There are very few intrusive sound effects to disrupt the game, save for the occasional standard glass breaking during foul balls.

Neighborhood 2

Sparrow Stadium is located on Francis Marion’s pastoral campus. The university is about all that is going on in the area, however. FMU is located just off US 76/301 in Florence, and aside from a Dunkin’ Donuts, a Wendy’s and a Pizza Hut, there is very little in close proximity to the university.

Florence is a reasonably small town, so if the game ends late, there are few choices available to satisfy whatever hunger pangs did not get addressed with the ballpark concessions. Southern chain Fatz Cafe is two exits down I-95 on US 52, and is a recommended stop. There are a number of local establishments and chain restaurants within the city limits, but all are at least a few miles from the stadium.

Fans 3

The listed physical seating capacity for the facility is 800, with additional berm seating for many more. The fans that turn out for RedWolves games, though, clearly love their team. The RedWolves’ fan base is involved and intelligent, though there are nights five-plus seasons into the team’s residence in the stadium where seats are still available. This was especially the case on the night we visited, as a heavy series of storms blew through just prior to the first pitch and caused a nearly three-hour delay.

The seemingly recent epidemic of children chasing foul balls is also on display in Florence, and they have plenty of room to roam without needing to worry about traffic or needing to leave the park and re-enter. The easily accessible dugouts can create a bit of an issue, though, as memorabilia-seeking children can easily lean into the dugouts and ask players for broken bats or baseballs. It might be good to station an intern or other staffer near each end of the dugout to keep this from happening. A sign may even work.

Access 5

The benefits of Sparrow Stadium essentially being in a park are readily on display. The restrooms are mere steps from any seat in the facility, as well as the concession area. Though the concession area and restrooms are outside of the seating bowl, this is really a minor drawback. The concourse and seating rows are as wide as possible, considering the seating arrangement.

The parking at Sparrow Stadium is free and plentiful. The majority of the parking is beyond the outfield wall, which allows you to easily access the ticket windows at the entry to the complex. The club also offers online ticketing (with payment through PayPal), so if you have purchased your seats ahead of time, there is a will call tent set up just inside the gates.

There is very little problem with exiting the parking areas, as officers will help guide you on really busy nights. The stadium is literally feet from US 76/301, so you can be on your way to I-95, I-20 or any other part of Florence in a matter of minutes after the last pitch is thrown.

Return on Investment 5

One of the reasons to love the Coastal Plain League is the value you receive. Seeing the next minor and major leaguers just steps from you each summer is a really cool thing, and the RedWolves make it really easy on your wallet to do so. Box seats are just $7, and are no further than five rows from the field. Be careful, however, as these seats cannot be purchased online. General admission seats also can only be purchased before 4:00 on the day of the game.

Speaking of general admission, the general admission seating is bleacher seats with backs, but this should not dissuade you from this option. These seats are also quite close to the action, and are a mere $6. Seniors and kids pay just $5, and military members with ID pay $4. Combine the ticket prices with the concessions and free parking, and this is an ideal place to take your entire family for an evening – or a season.

Extras 5

The aesthetics of the complex are truly breathtaking, and there are fountains and a lake surrounding the baseball facility. The waterfront also contains a few plaques honoring those who have played a key role in Francis Marion’s history. This is a relaxing addition to the athletic complex.

There is a wall board in the breezeway between the seats and concession stand that contains the night’s lineups and the current league standings. This is a good central location for information, especially considering the fact that the scoreboard does not have room to accommodate the data.

Florence offers many promotions and one of them honors the “sweethearts” in attendance. Team employees bring flowers around to certain selected female fans, while the beach music classic “Carolina Girls” plays over the public address system. This is a nice touch to both call on the team’s southern hospitality and thank the female fans for coming to see the team.

As with many Coastal Plain League cities, the RedWolves take time out at each game to honor active duty and retired military personnel in attendance. Since the seats are so close to the field throughout the park, players can be seen removing their caps and applauding those who served, and can be heard thanking them. This is a truly heartwarming touch, and fitting of the city in which the club resides.

There are also several unique seating choices at Sparrow Stadium, including the berm areas down each line and the party decks atop the general admission seating on both sides of the park. The decks allow for the highest and most expansive views in the park, making them worth a visit on your next trip to a RedWolves game.

Final Thoughts

The summer heat and sunshine bring a lot of visitors to South Carolina’s Pee Dee and Grand Strand regions, as they actively seek tans, swimming pools, walks on the beach and coastal cuisine. Many of these travelers head right past this ballpark, and may not even realize they are doing so.

Florence combines great people, a great product, and a jewel of a ballpark. If your summer travels lead you to Myrtle Beach or anywhere else in the region, you truly owe it to yourself to pay the RedWolves a visit. Their home is a true hidden gem, just like the league in which they play.

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