On the Road: Mastering the Ballpark Experience in Augusta
The Augusta GreenJackets were named after, yes, the green jackets that are awarded to the winner of the Masters Golf tournament held at Augusta National. But you don’t need a country club membership to see the team, which competes in the far more democratic environment of Lake Olmstead Stadium. (The facility came about its name honestly, as it is located on the grounds of Lake Olmstead Park.)
The stadium signage located out in front of Lake Olmstead Park might need a touch-up, but it gets the point across.
To get to the stadium one must walk or drive through Lake Olmstead Park, and you know what? It’s a really nice park.
There is easy access to its titular lake…
and overlooking the lake is this beautiful gazebo.
Perhaps best of all, there is a disc golf course that is as inclusive as Augusta’s more well-known golf entity is exclusive.
Speaking of Augusta National, I went there earlier in the day and let’s just say that — VINE ALERT — it didn’t go well. I’ll have more on all that in a future “Return to the Road” blog post (remember those?), but for now let’s keep the action situated here at Lake Olmstead Park. It’s a very relaxing place to be!
This photo was one of hundreds taken for a proposed “Sexiest Minor League Baseball Bloggers” calendar. I sat there posing for the better part of an hour, in various states of undress, enduring the catcalls of construction workers and disc golfers alike. But eventually I got up off of the dock and made my way from Olmstead the lake to Olmstead the stadium.
The front offices are, as their name would imply, located in front of the ballpark.
Prior to the ballpark’s construction this parking area was used by the DMV to conduct drivers tests, and I was later told that every year a few wayward souls inevitably show up at the ballpark looking to have their driving skills validated.
Lake Olmstead Park which opened in 1995, is in a bit of an awkward situation as it’s far too new to be old and far too old to be new. While still in good shape, structurally, its already an anomaly in that it lacks the amenities — open concourse, HD videoboard, suites, etc — that are increasingly the standard in Minor League Baseball. And while the ballpark’s location is certainly idyllic, it is isolated from downtown and therefore incapable of playing any sort of role in revitalizing/recontextualizing the area at large. The team’s desire for a new stadium is no secret, and the new ownership group (led by Jeff Eiseman, who used to be a VP of former ownership group Ripken Baseball) is currently working toward this goal.
But to return to more immediate concerns — on the day I was in Augusta it was that weekly celebration of unbridled gluttony that is Feed Your Face Monday! The first pitch was more than half an hour away, and already the concession stands were hopping.
Or buzzing, as it were.
I wrote all about “Feed Your Face Monday” for MiLB.com, and I really think you should read it. To briefly recap: a general admission ticket costs $11, which includes unlimited concessions from the time the gates open through the end of the sixth inning. The offerings were a bit unorthodox:
Outside of the popcorn, these offerings were off-limits to a celiac-afflicted individual such as myself. This means that it’s time for the introduction of the Designated Eater: Mr. Chad Walters.
(As you probably know by now, the Designated Eater is an individual recruited at each ballpark to consume the gluten-laced delicacies that I cannot.)
Walters, seen above brandishing a stray light fixture, has appeared on this blog before. At the 2011 Winter Meetings he was a participant at the first, and thus far only, Dipquest (the other Dipquest participant was one Steven Gold, who I also saw during this road trip as he is now a sales and marketing assistant with the Nashville Sounds. Small world).
Walters lives in Augusta and really went above and beyond, as in addition to assuming the role of Designated Eater he also gave me a short tour of the city prior to the game (again, more on that in a future post). He currently runs the consulting firm Lean Blitz, focusing on sports teams and small businesses — check it out.
Feed Your Face Monday is anything but a Lean Blitz, however. Here’s Chad after his first visit to the concession stands.
At the time Chad got this handful of food I was engaged with various other writerly duties, and missed out on documenting his Face Feeding experience. Fortunately, he was game for another round.
Corn Dog Nuggets!
“It could use ketchup, but I didn’t have any place to put it,” said Walters. “I detect notes of french fry grease.”
Realizing we were missing out on South Atlantic League action, we took the remaining items to the first base bleachers.
This is a strawberry churro.
Walters was nonplussed, saying that this creation was “undersweetened” and, ultimately, just “okay.” And then, as a final blow to his dignity, there was the pizza stick.
“Tasty and unusual,” said Walters, of the cheese and sauce-filled dough stick. “Tasty and unusual.”
And with that, the day’s Designated Eating duties were complete. Thanks to Chad Walters, Designated Eater #6 of the 2013 season.
And with that out of the way, let’s return to the stadium itself. The concourse is located along the exterior, with the team’s green and orange color scheme rather pronounced throughout.
As you can see from the above picture, Tim Wakefield is among Augusta’s distinguished alumni. But — fun fact! — when he played for Augusta in 1989 he was a struggling infielder. Realizing that he didn’t have a future as a hitter, he converted to the knuckleball later that season and made his Major League debut on the mound three years later.
This all brings up an issue for another day, which is the inherent absurdity of Minor League Hall of Fames/Wall of Champions/what have you. In this case the GreenJackets have chosen to immortalize Wakefield’s 11-game career with the Augusta Pirates, during which he batted .235 over 35 at-bats (striking out 14 times against one walk). But I can understand why they’d do that over, say, immortalizing a player who did great in Augusta but stalled out in Double-A.
But anyway, pictures:
While the souvenir store was mostly empty, the lone concession stand in operation was at maximum capacity and then some.
There was considerably more room to move out here in the seating area. Augusta GreenJackets vs. the Rome Braves on a cool spring night.
It is “.366” to left center field, in honor of Ty Cobb’s lifetime batting average.
A teenage Cobb began his career as a member of the South Atlantic League’s Augusta Tourists, who sold him to the Detroit Tigers near the end of the 1905 season. He ended up living in Augusta for 30 years, and for much of that time the city served as the Tigers’ Spring Training site as well.
From 1922-29, Augusta’s South Atlantic League entity was even known as the “Tygers.” As you can see, second-place did not interest them in 1924.
As the ballgame moved into its middle stages, the stadium atmosphere was sedate.
With this being the case, I returned to the now-manageable concession stand and plunked down $4.25 for a delicacy you can’t often find here in NYC.
Like cilantro or death metal, boiled peanuts tend to have a polarizing effect. People either love ’em for the spicy/salty kick and unique texture, or hate ’em because of, well, the unique texture. (They’re soft and kinda slimy).
I fall into the former camp. Boiled peanuts are great!
These bullpen denizens were a bunch of jokers, at one point expertly mimicking the “Mine! Mine! Mine!” Finding Nemo audio clip that is played when a foul ball is hit into the stands.
I wish I had made a Vine featuring the bullpen crew, but Vindsight is 20/20. Instead you’ll have to settle for this cultural observation, which my idiot youngest brother (who is far closer in age to the average Minor Leaguer) certainly disagrees with.
In the middle of the eighth inning, I witnessed what had to be the most bare bones between-inning game of all time. This young girl was the contestant, and her job was to catch a tennis ball thrown in the air. And, that’s it.
Who needs inflatable ponies, sumo suits, or hot dog costumes? A tennis ball will do!
I also liked this bit of colloquial signage.
With the game winding down I meandered down behind home plate, sitting in actual ballpark seats for the first time. Spacious and comfy!
The GreenJackets’ 11-2 lead entering the ninth inning was also spacious and comfy.
The Rome Braves scored six runs in the inning, however, at one point collecting seven straight hits!
Felix Marte came to the plate representing the winning run, but grounded out to finally, mercifully end the ballgame.
Goodnight from Lake Olmstead!
Pretty cool picture, right? I think one more will really allow this post to close on a crescentdo.