On the Road: Checking Out the Purple Pros in Winston-Salem

The seventh and final stop on my most recent road trip was the hyphenated community of Winston-Salem, home of the hyphen-referencing “Dash.” The club is in its second season in the western downtown environs of BB&T Ballpark, after previously competing as the “Warthogs” in the far more rustic Ernie Shore Ballpark.

When it comes to stadium footprints, BB&T Ballpark is the Godzilla of the Carolina League. Featuring a stately (and somewhat imposing) brick exterior, 360-degree concourse, downtown views, and location right off of bustling business route 40, this is a stadium that makes its presence known.

Neighborhood Entrepreneurs

Following standard operating procedure, I began my time at the stadium by conducting a couple of player interviews. This time around it was Garrett Johnson and Austin Yount. Despite being a 6’10” left-hander, Garrett is not related to Randy Johnson. Austin, meanwhile, is Robin Yount’s nephew.

While waiting for the players to finish their pre-game warm-ups, I got a few shots of the on-field scene.

The only purple shoelaces in Minor League Baseball?

That’s Yount seen above — but I did not need special media access to take that particular photo. I was actually in the Dugout Suite seating area at the time, where a railing is all that separates the players and the fans.

A few more shots taken from that section:

Bolt!

But here I am getting ahead of myself already.

My time in the Dugout Suites was part of an extensive ballpark tour, provided by Dash “Creative Services Manager” Caleb Pardick (who does a great job with the team’s Twitter feed — a lot of teams could learn from it). I met with Pardick in his control room lair, populated by a technically-inclided array of button pushers, announcement makers, and volume modulators.

Mr. Kaze is blocking the soundboard operator in the above picture, but next to him is the P.A. announcer, line score operator (in charge of updating runs, hits, errors), scoreboard graphic operator, and stats updater (these may not be the offical job titles). To the far right is the director, coordinating it all.

The control room is like the press box, in that it is located on the concourse and fully visible to fans. In fact, the press box also includes a group seating area fittingly called the “Press Box Suite.” I’d never seen such a thing.

Another private (but far more expansive) group seating area is the Blue Rhino Backyard, which provides intimate field access as well as a separate concession area.

Pitching coach Bobby Thigpen signs an autograph

As for concessions — I ended up forgoing them at this particular game. My routine got thrown off that day, and I had a very late lunch (at the excellent Bib’s BBQ, more on that in a future post). Several of the stands offered three points of sale as a way to ease concourse overcrowding.

Out past right-center field is the team store, a stopgap structure that will eventually be replaced by the six-story “One Ballpark Center” (which will also house the team’s front offices, among other entities).

The current state of One Ballpark Center

Moving toward center, there’s a kid’s area featuring a carousel brought over from Ernie Shore Field.

In left, there’s an outfield bar area open to all fans.

Talk about a Blanke stare!

The left field scoreboard seen above is truly impressive, a nice complement to the main attraction.

That’s not a poorly-framed photo of Mr. Ciolli. The player introductions featured video accompaniment, and he was just about to move into the center of the screen and initiate determined eye contact with the assembled masses. (The introduction music was AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck”, with the words “Winston (pause) Salem” in place of the original’s dramatic repetition of “Thunder.”)

Said masses were soon told to rise and remove their hats.

With the game underway, Pardick and I visited the bustling “Womble Carlyle Club” (named after a local law firm). It was pretty nice up here, with an all-you-can-eat buffet and nice views of the field via a multi-tiered outdoor seating area.

The high-quality scoreboard made it easy to document between-inning promotions, no matter where in the stadium I happened to be.

Eating Contest!

The best part of the above “robot cam” was the PA announcer’s robot-voiced improvisations. Over the above shot he intoned “Not bad for a human supervising children.”

The ballpark tour was followed by an inning or two in which I sat with team president Geoff Lassiter, and some of that conversation is chronicled HERE. After that I did a final lap around the facility as the sun slowly set on Winston-Salem.


The steepest berm in Minor League Baseball?

My final task was to find loyal blog reader Matt Campbell (Possum187 in the comments), who had informed me that he and his family would be in attendance at the game. After failing to locate him in my wanderings, I asked the PA announcer to please page “Matt ‘The Possum’ Campbell. He did so enthusiastically.

And that did the trick. Matt soon appeared at the guest services booth, as instructed, and I spent the final two innings with him and his lovely family.

And from that vantage point, I saw the home team emerge victorious.

Followed by a post-game launch-a-ball — including outfield targets!

Afterwards Bolt signed autographs…

until he collapsed from exhaustion.

I’m fairly close to exhaustion myself these days, but let the blogging continue! The next day my flight back to NYC wasn’t until 5, and the Dash happened to be playing a noon game. So out into the blazing heat I went, this time in “fan mode” (I even paid for parking).

Sweet tea and boiled peanuts — the breakfast of champions!

The best player fact I have ever seen on a scoreboard:

I watched this game with Rex and Coco Doane,  NYC residents and veteran Minor League travelers deep into their own Carolinas-based road trip.

I say it constantly, but I very much enjoy corresponding with and meeting readers. This can be a lonely job, and often it’s easy to assume that “no one is reading”, but going on the road serves as proof positive that this is indeed not the case. It’s a tremendously gratifying feeling.

It was also gratifying that this particular ballgame moved along at a fairly rapid clip, as I was sweating profusely in our prime dugout seats.

And with dugout seats comes dugout dancing.

One member of this promo crew, “The Shelbinator,” was inundated with autograph requests from the largely school-age crowd.

As the Shelbinator basked in her celebrity, the Dash disposed of the visiting Kinston Indians. And not even the scorching heat could keep them from getting quite intimate during the post-game high-fives.

Personal space is overrated.

After the game I was exhausted — it had been a LONG eight days on the road.

In need of a shower, shave, and haircut…bloated and sunburnt…wearing a t-shirt given to me by a team (Charleston RiverDogs’ Big Lebowski-themed “The Dog Abides”)….clearly it was time to go home.

I then proceeded to get in the car and drive out out of the parking lot, and it wasn’t until turning onto Route 40 that I realized that the driver’s side rear door was open. This was my dumbest road trip driving error since Lakewood, and a clear reminder that it was time for me to get back to NYC. You can’t make a dumb driving error if you don’t have a car.

There’ll be more “supplementary content” to come from the Carolinas, when time allows. Consider it the dessert to the main course which is now, mercifully, complete. Thanks for reading, and stay tuned…

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

20 Comments

Ben-

Been loving the blog. Hopefully one day you can make it down to the Florida State League!

Dave D

Thanks, Dave. I haven’t made an FSL trip yet — hopefully I can do that next year in tandem with a visit to the new SL team in Pensacola.

Disclaimer: This North Carolinian in no way endorses teams wearing purple or mascots that aren’t a specific creature (I’m looking at your big dumb green head, Phanatic).

Despite that, Winston is a great place to see a game, and Bolt is a fun mascot. It was great meeting you in person finally, even if it was in sauna conditions. The picture of you at the end of the day game is pretty much what we all look like down here on a daily basis this time of year…my wife says at least you aren’t 7 months pregnant though. :) I’m glad you finally got down this way, hopefully we can do it again either up there or in a different part of the south. You put Asheville on your agenda & I’ll definitely be there…that’s one not to miss that the kids need to see soon (nevermind the microbreweries there). Thanks as always for the great columns, Ben.

Matt
possum

Great to meet you (and the family) as well, Matt. And thanks, as always, for reading. NC is such a great state for baseball, and so much I missed this time around. And, yeah, I’m really glad that I’m not seven months pregnant. Or any kind of pregnant. That heat was bad enough as it is…

Ben-
That shirt is amazing. I think the Ashville Tourists have a similar stadium set up to the Dash. I know the game I am headed to this Sunday I had the option of press box seats, and decided to do dugout seats instead (the Tourists version includes a Bojangles meal) . Also at Asheville they have a “dream seat” that includes the chance to field during batting practice and get some closer time with the players before the game starts. There are 4 of those seats per game.

Bruce H. Voge III

Bruce,
Asheville is more like Winston’s old ballpark, Ernie Shore. It’s been rebuilt in brick, but it’s pretty much the same as when Babe Ruth played there in the 20s or 30s. It’s a great ball park, Asheville is one of my favorite cities, but the park is not nearly as shiny and fancy as Winston. The entire grandstand and bleachers except a few down the lines are behind the backstop net, which is my only negative about the park. I think you’ll find the press box and “dream seats” to be perfectly up to date parts of the park, but don’t expect what you see in the pictures above. Enjoy, that’s a great place to see a game.

Bojangles and baseball seems like a pretty good combo — if there’s one team that should consider that, it’s the Biscuits. I hope you enjoy your time in the dugout suites. Of course feel free to send along some pictures.

Possum,
Thanks for the tips, so to put it in my frame of reference it’s a bit like the Potomac Nationals stadium. They just put in a million dollar scoreboard, but nearly every seat is behind the net. A strange thing in Potomac, every 4 seats there is a metal bar, like the homeless might sleep there, it makes the seats a bit uncomfy if any of the 4 people with you is overweight since there is not room for anyone to move over. I went with the Dugout Seats in Asheville so I hope I am not disappointed.

Bruce

Bruce,
You should be able to slide down a section, as the dugouts are behind the nets. I’m all for fan safety, but I hate the net, even the standard backstop variety. In a strange minor league circle, several years ago I sat front row behind home at Ernie Shore Park in Winston & the vertigo got me so bad by the end of the game that I got sick before we even got out of the city. That’s the last time I’ve been behind the net at any height off the field. Oddly enough, I’ve had season tickets to the hockey team in Charlotte for 10 years and have been behind the net ever since they made them mandatory. The white ice as background makes it easier than dirt and grass I guess. As far as being disappointed in Asheville, I can’t think of a scenario where that would happen. Great park. If you’re a beer drinker, don’t miss the Highland Brewery selections on tap at the game. I recommend the Gaelic Ale.

Possum,
Not much of a drinker (but I still might check out the Ale), but they have my second favorite logo in the minors (the top being the Montgomery Biscuits). So you are a Charlotte Checkers fan? I am in Hershey Bears territory, and was at a game where your Goalie was ejected. Question Possum, do you find it hard to get really good info on minor league teams? I am thinking of putting together a site for minor league fans that would do things like warn them about the parking in Asheville, or the fact that if you go to an Aberdeen Ironbirds game you can get stuck with a “fashonably late” ticket that does not give you a seat. Do you know anything about the Tennessee Smokies, I will be there Thursday.

I’m sending you a FB message now, I know of all those things. :D

Congrats to you and your followers here for No. 12 position on MLB.com/blogs Latest Leaders for July! http://mlblogs.mlblogs.com | Let’s see how many fans start a WordPress blog at http://mlb.com/blogs with MLB theme and try to join you on the monthly rankings.

Ben,
I thoroughly enjoy reading your blog! We live in NH and for the past 7 years, we have done some kind of trip across country taking in major and more often minor league games. We traveled to NC/SC in April and hit Charleston, Myrtle Beach, Kinston, & Charlotte so it was fun to read your thoughts.
We just completed a 7 day 7 game trip to MD/PA and it is the highlight of my summer!
Thanks for your wonderful writing and I look forward to more great blogs ahead!
Terry D
Moultonborough, NH

The press box suite is a great idea I would love to sit there.Very Nice stadium i hope to visit someday!

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