There’s not a day that goes by when we don’t wake up being thankful for being a sports fan in North Carolina. This November, the SportsChannel8 team and a panel of peers from NC media will be counting down to Thanksgiving with the top 25 things we have to be thankful for in this great state.
Today’s ‘Thankful’ piece is a guest post from John Tobben (@JTobben) who says he’s a doctor and we’re taking him at his word. He wrote about NC minor league baseball through the lens of the Winston-Salem Dash. The scene will be familiar for fans in Greensboro, Zebulon, Asheville, and many more….
BB&T Ballpark in Winston-Salem
At the minor league level, baseball exists as nothing more than a pretext. People go to minor league games to sip beer outside on a warm summer night. Parents go because it’s one of the few activities that allows them and their young children to have an enjoyable evening. Couples go because minor league baseball is a sneaky great date idea — the fact a baseball game is going on in the background works perfectly to diffuse any potentially awkward gaps in conversation. Hell, people sit through entire minor league games to watch the fireworks afterwards.
A great minor league baseball experience is ultimately built on one simple concept — baseball is the least important part.
North Carolina boasts a number of teams who have perfected the minor league baseball experience by embracing this concept. The Durham Bulls and Charlotte Knights sit together atop the precipice of minor league ball in the Carolinas. When Baseball America ranked the top minor league ballparks in the country, Durham Bulls Athletic Park checked in at #7 and the newly built BB&T Ballpark which opens up to Charlotte’s gorgeous skyline a sat atop the list.
But the quintessential minor league baseball experience lies roughly an hour and a half from both Charlotte and Durham — in Winston-Salem, home of the Dash, who play in the Single-A Carolina League.
You see minor league baseball is like college — the fewer “A”s, the greater the emphasis on fun. So while the Knights and Bulls offer first class ballparks and a wonderful assortment of local craft beers, they also are just a stone’s throw away from the majors — nearly everyone on the roster is playing with hopes of being called up to the big leagues.
But in the dregs of single-A ball the majority of the roster is spending time between seasons tending bar. There may be a young gem on the field that only Baseball America readers could point out, or occasionally a rookie or rehabbing big leaguer stopping through, but for the most part there is no presumption that you’re watching future pros when you go to a single A game. Consequently, all the goofy idiosyncrasies of minor league ball come to the forefront.
BB&T Ballpark in Winston-Salem (yes it has the same name as Charlotte’s park and a frustratingly similar name as the Wake Forest Football Stadium) offers the perfect setting to take in a minor league baseball game. Its beautiful brick exterior opens up to Winston’s modest-yet-charming skyline, coalescing into a setting that, in all honesty, is way too nice for Single-A ball. In fact, BB&T was named “ballpark of the year” by BaseballParks.com when it opened in 2010.
Seats are incredibly cheap — even less if you decide to sit in the lawn. Concessions are easily accessible, with a picnic terrace along the first base line. But the real crown jewel of BB&T park is Foothills Brew Pen which offers a selection of excellent beers on draft from one of the state’s oldest (and best) craft breweries.
Honestly, the availability of great craft beer at an inflated-but-reasonable price shouldn’t be undersold. When I went to Busch Stadium in St Louis this past summer for a Cardinals game, Budweiser products were pretty much the only option. While that may fly in the big leagues, having a local craft beer connection goes a long way to enroot the minor league team to the community in which it plays. Not to mention that a Hoppyum or Torch Pilsner beats a Bud Light every single day of the week.
Dash games also offer all the standard shenanigans of minor league baseball — dance cams, absurd walk-up music, ambiguous mascots, and inter-inning fan races/relays. The beautiful thing is that you can spend a summer evening partaking in the silliness, debating with friend what song you would walk out to (I spent way too much time doing this in my four years attending Dash games), sipping a delicious beer in between conversation, chatting with a date, or even intently watching the action occurring on the diamond.
Just kidding. No one really watches minor league baseball. And I couldn’t be more thankful for a place to casually ignore a baseball game than I am for BB&T Ballpark in Winston-Salem.