War Memorial Stadium – Peninsula Pilots
Photos by Gregory Koch, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 4.00
War Memorial Stadium 1889 W Pembroke Ave Hampton, VA 23661
Year Opened: 1948
Baseball on Virginia's Peninsula
Baseball has been played at War Memorial Stadium in Hampton, Virginia since 1948. Originally home to the Newport News Dodgers, the stadium played home to several affiliated minor league teams until 1992 when the Peninsula Pilots, then a Seattle Mariners affiliate, moved away for good. However, baseball would return to the ballpark in 2000, when a new franchise, also called the Peninsula Pilots, moved in. This incarnation of the Pilots plays in the Coastal Plain League, a summer collegiate league with teams throughout Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia.
Since joining the CPL, the Pilots have been one of the most successful teams, winning eight division titles and two league championships. Notable alumni include legendary Washington National Ryan Zimmerman, who graduated from high school just across Hampton Roads in Virginia Beach.
The "Peninsula" in the team's name refers to Hampton's location on the tip of the Virginia Peninsula, sometimes known as the "Lower Peninsula" to distinguish it from the two to the north but most often referred to simply as "The Peninsula".
Food & Beverage 5
Despite being an old ballpark, there are numerous food options at War Memorial Stadium. A seafood stand sells flounder, shrimp, crab, and clam strips as well as a basket containing all four. A barbecue stand sells pulled pork, tenderloin, and pork chops on sandwiches with several homemade sauces to top it off with. The main stand sells more conventional options like burgers, hot dogs, and chicken tenders, as well as funnel cake fries for dessert. Alcohol is available for fans of age at several locations, including a tiki bar.
Prices are affordable as well. One of the sandwiches at the barbecue stand costs $6, or $8 if you want chips and a drink as well. The most expensive option at the main stand is $8. So you will not pay too much for food here.
War Memorial Stadium is an old stadium, and while there are some modern amenities, it is still showing its age in places. The Pilots recently built several new party areas for groups to watch the game, but if you are not going with a large number of other people, you will have to sit in the old, wooden bleachers. There are a few box seats, but they are reserved for season ticket holders who purchased them in advance, usually as a group. While the bleachers are not the most comfortable, they do offer an excellent view of the game.
The team makes a great effort to keep fans engaged. A mascot named Slyder, who is a Pelican/seagull hybrid, roams the stands and interacts with fans throughout the game. There are numerous contests on the field between innings.
The fans in the stands contribute to the atmosphere here as well, making sure the stadium stays loud throughout the game. The roof over most of the seating area helps keep sounds in, but the fans create their atmosphere to some extent. During the seventh-inning stretch, Pilot's superfan Wayne Gianettino leads the crowd in "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" while standing at his usual seat at the front of the wooden bleachers. Gianettino follows in the footsteps of legendary superfan Charles "Chuck" Williams before him.
Williams attended all but about 20 games in 58 years (the exact number varies by source) before passing away in 2010, and is even honored with a plaque at his former seat. While our rankings treat fans and atmosphere as two separate things, it is impossible to speak of the latter here without referring to how the energy from the former contributes to it.
As mentioned above, Hampton is located at the edge of the Virginia Peninsula in the Hampton Roads area of southeastern Virginia. Norfolk and Virginia Beach are located on the other side of the harbor, which is also called Hampton Roads, and divide the region in two. How long it will take you to get there will depend on how backed up the bridge tunnels (not a typo, the two main crossings contain both bridge and tunnel portions). On a good day, the Virginia Beach oceanfront is 40 minutes away. On a bad day, it can be two or three times that.
If you want to stay in Hampton, options include Smitty's Better Burgers, St. George Brewing Company, and Park Lane Tavern. Williamsburg is about a 25-minute drive away and offers many more options, including Busch Gardens and Colonial Williamsburg. Unlike with Norfolk and Virginia Beach, getting to Williamsburg does not require crossing the harbor so traffic will probably be less of an issue.
As mentioned above, the fans at Peninsula Pilots games are a large part of why the atmosphere here is so great. They come decked in orange, pack the ballpark to near capacity, and bring major energy throughout the game. After big hits or key defensive plays by the Pilots, it can get extremely loud between the cheering fans and the roof over the seating area that traps the noise in. Many longtime fans have been going to games for years, but also many families with young kids are in awe of their first baseball game.
The Pilots have a long tradition of superfans attending almost every game. Wayne Gianettino, like Chuck Williams before him, attends almost every game and pays tribute to him by shouting "Three up, three down" to urge the Pilots to record a 1-2-3 inning, something Williams was famous for doing. However, even the fans who aren't quite as super as Wayne (which is pretty much everybody) still are deeply passionate about Pilots baseball and bring the energy for nine innings every night. These are some of the best fans in the Coastal Plain League if not all of collegiate summer ball.
War Memorial Stadium is located just off I-264, I-64, and I-664. Ample parking is available in a large lot surrounding the stadium, with more nearby if it gets full. As noted above, if coming from the other side of the harbor, be sure to allow extra time for traffic at the crossings. Even if coming from this side, you may still hit beach traffic although there are more ways around it if you use a GPS app such as Waze.
The concourse behind the bleachers is more than wide enough for the crowd, but once you walk up the ramp to the seating area, the inner concourse is much more narrow. The steps to the seating area can be steep in places, and while this improves your view from them, it also makes getting up them a challenge. There are several sets of restrooms on the concourse which are of a sufficient size for the fans in attendance.
A clear bag policy is in effect, which is disappointing but unfortunately becoming more and more common.
Return on Investment 5
Single-game tickets for Pilots games are $8, with children under 12 getting in for just $5. Parking is free and concessions are affordable, with even more added value for certain deals. When you consider what a great atmosphere a game here is, that makes a Pilots game of outstanding value.
There is a Kids Zone and wiffleball field down the right field line. The ticket windows at the entrance to the ballpark are shaped like lighthouses, a reference to Hampton's location on a major harbor. Look for the banners on the concourse honoring all the great players who have played here.
There is no doubt that War Memorial Stadium is an old ballpark. While it doesn't have all the bells and whistles of more modern facilities in the CPL and elsewhere in the area, the energy at Peninsula Pilots game is top-notch. The team and the fans both contribute to the excellent experience here. Baseball fans who find themselves in the Hampton Roads area on a summer night would do well to check out a Pilots game.