War Memorial Stadium – Peninsula Pilots
Photos by Marc Viquez, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.57
War Memorial Stadium 1889 W Pembroke Ave Hampton, VA 23661
Year Opened: 1948
A Hampton Tradition Since 1948
War Memorial Stadium in Hampton, Virginia held its first game on June 6, 1948, between the Newport News Dodgers and the Norfolk Tars before an oversized crowd of 4,500 people. The Brooklyn Dodgers GM Branch Rickey helped design the stadium and the Baby Dodgers responded with three Piedmont League championships in 1946, 1948, and 1955.
Minor league baseball would be played under various names on and off until 1992 when the Peninsula Pilots of the Class A Carolina League relocated to a new stadium in Wilmington, Delaware. At the time, War Memorial was considered aging and decrepit; the Pilots also had to play in the shadow of the Triple-A Tidewater Tides in Norfolk. Crowds ranged from 150-500 spectators per game. It was the end of an era for minor league baseball in Hampton-or was it?
Yes, minor league baseball was finished at the War Memorial, but in 2000 the Coastal Plain League Peninsula Pilots returned summer baseball to the facility. The college wood bat league team was an ideal tenant for the venerable ballpark and have responded with back-to-back championships in 2013 and 2014. The 3,750-capacity stadium found new life and new fans in what was once an aging stadium.
The City of Hampton recently unveiled a $51.5 million capital improvement plan budget that will allocate $3 million improvements to the War Memorial. The upgrades will include bringing the stadium into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, improving walkways, and replacing restrooms. An earlier study conducted by an engineering consulting firm suggested $9.5 million in improvements including improving parking lot conditions outside and replacing drainage system.
Food & Beverage 4
The most enjoyable part of attending an older stadium in a college wood bat league is the numerous vendors and food possibilities that could be found inside the ballpark. Parker’s Pork and Crazy Kernel are two local proprietors who bring a little something special to the ballpark.
Glen Parker smokes his pork and serves it up on a bun with chips and drink for $7.50; his pork is chopped (not stringy) and has strong pork flavor that seems to be seasoned by only salt and pepper. It does not need any sauce, but his homemade vinegar based BBQ sauce is available. Parker states that some people come to the games just for his pork loin or pulled pork sandwiches.
Crazy Kernel sells for $3 and are whole ears of corn that customers can design their own toppings, including garlic and sriracha butter, Cajun, Old Bay, and taco seasoning. It may take time to design the perfect butter and seasoning combination, but it is definitely a tasty way to experiment.
Cold beer is served next door where bottles of domestic and local varieties sell between $3-$4. The main concession building is called Bird Food, and it is located just next door featuring gator sausage ($5) and crab cakes ($6), along with the usual ballpark food of hot dogs, hamburgers, nachos, and peanuts. The booth also offers chili cheese fries, funnel cakes, and chicken fingers.
There is something magical about a small, covered grandstand baseball stadium that seems like it has not changed since the day it was built. War Memorial Stadium is such a place that offers both the positive and negative aspects of an older facility.
The wooden seats are somewhat uncomfortable and do not offer back support unless you are seated in the very last row at the top of the stadium. The box seats do feature a combination of lawn chairs and fold down seats that also include wait service. There are various other plastic bucket seats in certain locations of the stadium, but the majority are wooden bleachers without back support. There are large fans that hang from the wooden ceiling offering a perfect summer breeze during the hot Virginia summers while providing needed shade from the sun during the day.
You will find staff selling 50/50 raffle tickets, game day programs for $2 with a lucky ticket number, and the team’s official mascot Slyder, who does an amazing job interacting with the audience and entertaining the children that follow him around the ballpark. The bird definitely has some moves. There is a kid play area featuring a miniature baseball field, blow up skee-ball, and jungle gym. On the opposite side is a picnic area where adults enjoy drinks and conversations.
The team flies two flags and features two billboard signs acknowledging their two championship titles, but unfortunately, there is no signage about the rich history of baseball at the stadium between the years of 1948 and 1992.
Everyone appears to know one another and are able to walk around the facility to meet up with friends and neighbors. Others enjoy a few drinks and beer while engaging with the game that takes place on the field. After the game, both players and Slyder sign autographs for the small fans eager to meet their local diamond heroes.
The stadium is located directly off of the I-664 in a large gravel parking lot. Depending on tunnel traffic, downtown Norfolk is a good 30-minute drive. The stadium is in an industrial part of town. The Peninsula Town Center offers well-known chain restaurants and shops. If you are looking for something more local try The Point at Phoebus, Smitty’s Better Burgers, Park Lane Tavern, or Venture Kitchen & Bar. St. George Brewing Company offers tastings throughout the week and you are not too far away from major attractions in Williamsburg and Virginia Beach.
There is a strong presence of fans at the War Memorial and many decked out in the team’s orange colors. However, most seem to talk to friends and family members more than watch baseball, but isn’t that what many fans are like these days throughout the country at minor league ballparks? During our visit on a Tuesday night, there were 1,821 fans in attendance – a little over the average for a home game. You will find a few signs geared towards favorite ball players and season ticket holders who have no problem saying what is on their mind during the game out loud.
War Memorial Stadium is off of I-664 near I-64 in Hampton. You will easily spot it once you exit the interstate. The only problem is what part of the area you are coming from since traffic can be heavy leaving Norfolk during rush hour before evening games. The parking lot can hold 600 cars and can become overcrowded at times for special nights–the parking condition has been a subject of debate in town–but it is free of charge and spots can be found on most game nights.
Return on Investment 5
The prices do not get much better than the $5 a person price tag offered by the Peninsula Pilots. Kids under 12 years of age and seniors get in for $3 and military with ID are free of charge. A single person can purchase a ticket, order an ear of corn, two beers, and a gator sausage for under $20. It’s a great bargain at any ballpark, and slightly lower than other clubs in similar venues in the league.
One extra point for the local concession stands of Crazy Kernel and Parker’s Pork – there is something about home cooking at a ballpark that really adds to the experience. Another extra point for the collection of colorful and great looking merchandise. The team at times wear fauxback jerseys and have a collection of logos that are very popular with the fan base. One final extra point for the kids diamond and play area down the third base line. It’s a great concept for the kids to run off some energy during the game, while allowing the parents to relax.
I am a sucker for the covered grandstand ballparks; the ones that were once common among towns across the United States. There are many still in use in the summer collegiate leagues, and thankfully games still continue to be played in these facilities. These ballparks still have a story to tell and offer perfect shade from the sun during the hot summer months. In comparison to other stadiums in the league, War Memorial Stadium ranks as one of the top experiences in a ballpark-rich league.