On the Road: Going Back to the Basics in Burlington
Talk about a change of pace.
I spent Saturday evening within the High Definition confines of Durham Bulls Athletic Park, but an hour’s drive northwest the following day brought me here.
Welcome to Burlington Athletic Park, located in Burlington, NC and home of the Appalachian League’s Burlington Royals. (makes sense, right?) This is not to be confused with Burlington, IA’s Community Field, the home of the Midwest League’s Burlington Bees (both are no-frills baseball destinations, hence my recycling of a post title).
I had a chance to explore downtown Burlington the following afternoon (more on that in an upcoming post), but suffice to say that this stadium is NOT located in a downtown location.
But any deficiencies in the overall ambiance are made up for by the stadium’s affordability and intimacy.
This is the sort of place where 1000 people constitutes a good crowd, and on a rainy Sunday evening that number is bound to be far less.
Strong winds and an overcast sky created a foreboding atmosphere, and the game was delayed approximately half an hour as everyone waited for a thunderstorm that (mercifully) never quite materialized.
Seeking refuge in the visitor’s clubhouse:
Some fans passed the time at the bar located down the third base line, including “Casual Fan” Tug Haines (in black) and Biz Blog reader/heckler/logo aficionado/Durham Bulls season ticket holder Scott Jennings (in blue). Tug’s spending the season traveling from ballpark to ballpark, and this was the second time this season we’ve crossed paths. Scott forwent the Bulls game and instead made the trek to Burlington because Tug and I were both there — a rare confluence of Minor League Baseball travelers.
The players, meanwhile, amused themselves with impromptu juggling and baseball hacky sack routines….
as well as by socializing in front of the home clubhouse.
This is the home clubhouse — a standalone building constructed in 1993 (the previous home clubhouse now hosts the visitors, and the previous visitors clubhouse is now used by the umpires). The marble columns give it an aura of Gilded Age opulence.
Once the tarp was removed, it became time to ascend (what I assume is) the steepest ramp in all of Minor League Baseball and find a seat.
My first vantage point was the bleacher seating behind the plate.
I sat there in order to best observe the choreographed chants of a loose affiliation of Burlington Boosters/opposing team hecklers (of which Jennings was a member).
I went into detail about the various routines in my MiLB.com piece, which includes a bounty of facts and observations from my two-day Appy League sojourn. I’d like to reiterate, however, that THIS was the funniest routine (great work by the aforementioned Tug Haines in getting it on video).
As entertaining as this heckling conglomerate was, I soon departed in order to do what I seem to do best: wandering.
The B-Royals All-Time Team has some pretty big names:
The biggest of which are also immortalized in urinal form:
But if you’re a blogger such as myself, urinal lot of trouble if you don’t provide in-game pictures from multiple vantage points. So here you go:
Concession options were quite limited (hot dogs, pizza, pretzels, popcorn, etc). I went for the nachos, but that’s not the reason I’m posting this picture.
That sparkling carbonated beverage on the right is Cheerwine, a cultishly-adored cherry-flavored soda that is proudly brewed and bottled in North Carolina. I’ll have more on that particular beverage in future posts.
It was a pretty slow evening for the B-Royals, not surprising given that it was a rainy Sunday night. Business at the team store was minimal…
But a mini-stampede did form at the concession stand in the eighth inning, after a slew of $1 specials was announced over the PA.
But while the meteorological conditions were detrimental to business, it turned out to be a good evening for the B-Royals. Justin Trapp’s one-out single in the ninth inning scored Derek Hamblen, giving the home team a 4-3 walk-off win over the E-Twins.
The post-game “Run the Bases” was really funny, consisting as it did of assistant general manager Ben Abzug and a whopping two kids. My pictures didn’t come out, but here’s the aftermath.
After the game I climbed up a ladder and onto the roof, in order to check out the view from the press box.
After the visiting Elizabethton Twins cleared out of the park, announcer Nick DeSanctis gave Tug and I a tour of the stadium’s insides.
To quote the title of my favorite AC/DC song – - “It’s A Long Way to the Top If You Want to Rock N Roll.”
These less-than luxurious pictures are simply the reality of playing Rookie ball in a 50-year-old city-owned facility. All the Appy League players that I spoke with seemed to possess a “happy to be here” mentality, and I imagine they’ll look back on these days with a certain fondness — still in (or barely out of) their teens, away from home, and playing baseball for a living.
The home locker room is pretty swanky, at least by comparison.
Tug got a candid shot of me eying the post-game spread (hamburger steak, potatoes, macaroni and cheese).
Note the sign in the background: DO NOT ASSAULT UMPIRES. Good to know!
Hanging off the exercise bike was this “Princess Dreams” backpack.
The backpack is filled with essential items (gum, seeds, etc) prior to each game, and carried out to the bullpen by the last relief pitcher to have allowed a home run.
As of this photo, Tyler Graham had been the last pitcher to surrender a homer — a 380-foot shot against the Danville Braves.
And that was all she wrote for this particular evening — nothing left to to do but go back to the hotel and get a good night’s sleep. My room was pretty nice, but it couldn’t compare to this: