April 21 - At The Ballpark: L.P. Frans Stadium, Hickory, NC
L.P. Frans Stadium opened its doors to Hickory, North Carolina's baseball fans 15 years ago in 1993,
and it has since hosted the South Atlantic League affiliates of the Chicago White Sox and Pittsburgh
Pirates. Sluggers such as Carlos Lee and Magglio Ordonez have called this ballpark home during its
An interesting note about this ballpark is that the city in which it sits is split among three counties
(Catawba, Burke and Caldwell). The Catawba/Burke line is just up the street from the ballpark. Do
the three counties in the area triple the baseball fun? Let's find out.
A number of factors all converged to produce this grade. Where do we start? Considering that this
stadium seats over 5000 people, having only two concession stands is probably not the best idea.
Making the two stands even worse is the fact that neither of them have a clear view of the game
action. The stands face away from the field.
The food selection is tremendously limited – if you don't like burgers, dogs, peanuts, chips, nachos or
popcorn, you're probably out of luck. There is pizza, but there's a problem with that, too. The sign on
the pizza stand offers pizza by the slice, but when a customer tried to order it that way, they were told
that it wasn't selling that well, so only whole pizzas were available. Do not advertise things you cannot
or will not deliver.
Speaking of concession problems, a number of people ordered hot dogs from the four active
windows on the third base side. The only problem was that there were no hot dogs ready at the time,
so the customers had to wait. Instead of serving the other customers, who were not waiting for hot
dogs or something else, the worker manning my line just stood there for several minutes waiting. I
missed over an inning of the game due to this wait. This is unacceptable.
If you plan on eating at the ballpark, bring a lot of money. The “jumbo” popcorn I got (which was
laughable, as much bigger bags are available at Wal-Mart and most places for considerably cheaper)
was $3, and a bottled soda was also $3. Burgers range between $3-5, and a burger and a soda can
cost more than you pay for your ticket. Small portions, high prices and questionable selection will
probably encourage you to eat somewhere outside the ballpark.
(Ed. note: This is a new category as of the final review of 2007 This replaces "Between-Innings
Entertainment" and "Promotions".)
One of the most beneficial things about going to a ballpark in a city with which you are not entirely
familiar is to listen to the public address announcer mention the names of the players. This is nearly
impossible to do, however, unless sitting in the seating bowl right behind the plate. The PA volume is
really low, and having to strain to hear the (frankly, pretty funny) public address announcer takes away
from the enjoyment of the atmosphere of the game.
The between-innings activities contained a lot of the usual “favorites”, such as the dizzy bat race.
Where this park differs from most, however, is that it had a few non-standard promotions, including
the egg toss, the tire race, and one of the funnier ones I have ever seen in a park, the Build Your Own
Burger contest. The way this works is one partner of the two on the “team” (both are dressed as
buns) poses as the bottom bun on the ground, while the other partner piles various burger toppings
on them, then jumps on top to “complete” the burger. I normally groan at a lot of between-innings
events, but this one actually got a laugh from me. Good job.
This stadium also mirrors most in the south, as the people in and around the ballpark were
tremendously nice. Many of the team and stadium employees went out of their way to say hello to
me, not even knowing who I was. I even got to speak with one of the two team mascots, Conrad the
Crawdad. Conrad (male) and Candy (female) Crawdad wander the park playing with kids, and the
kids seem to love them both.
Sight lines: C-
The ballpark itself is in a bowl area in a city park, and there are not a lot of things to impede one's
view outside. This is a different story inside, however. One of the appealing parts of walking into a
ballpark is the so-called “money shot”, as the entire stadium is visible within one's vision from the
concourse. This does not exist in L.P. Frans Stadium, as the entrance is behind the plate, and one
gets a great view of brick – and lots of it – straight ahead upon entering the park. The game action is
only visible if you walk down one of the lines to get around the brick walls, or peek through one of the
narrow tunnels leading to the seating bowls. There is also the aforementioned problem with vision
from the concession areas.
Once arriving at your seat, another problem presents itself. The protective net that normally
surrounds the home plate area in most parks surrounds virtually the entire seating bowl at L.P. Frans
Stadium. This inhibits the view of the field from almost any seat in the house, and the only real
respite comes on the top of the concourse or sitting in one of the couple of seats near the
photographers' cutouts at the bottom sections of the net. The net did not appear to even help much
with the foul ball problem, as plenty of balls still reached the seating bowls.
This park combines one of my most favorite and one of my least favorite occurrences. My most
favorite – parking within a very close proximity of the stadium – is very much in play here, as every spot
is within a very short walk of the stadium. No shuttle is required, and you will not be gasping for air as
you arrive at your seat.
The least favorite? Paying for parking. This is particularly egregious here, as all of the parking is on
the property. There is not a city-run parking garage, a parking company charging “event parking” fees
for their limited spots, just charging for the privilege to park on their property. Sure, $2 is a small
enough fee, but in a town the size of Hickory, charging for parking is horrible.
Quality of baseball: B-
A doubleheader was played on this day (doubleheaders in the low Class A South Atlantic League are
seven inning games), and both games resulted in 1-0 Hickory victories. Neither game lasted two
hours. Both games ended in walk-off fashion, with one being on a base hit and the other on a wild
pitch. The double that set up the victory in the first game was apparently lost in the sun. The pitching
was far ahead of the hitting in both games, which is expected coming out of spring training. Pirate
prospect Marcus Davis appeared for Hickory, and did not particularly impress. This should change
as the weather warms and the hitters catch up. The defense was crisp at times and steady at most
others, with a couple of gaffes here and there.
Overall grade: C
I was asked my first reaction when speaking to my father after leaving the ballpark, and all I could
muster was “eh”. The park is pretty, and has some very interesting characteristics (the quadruple-
decker wall in right, for instance) and some not-so-good characteristics (the virtual entirety of the
seating bowl is uncovered, making games miserable in rainy or extremely hot conditions). There is
very little atmosphere around the park, save for the city park surrounding the stadium. There is a
large Pepsi plant beyond the outfield fence, but not much else. The people are really nice, and the
baseball was decent, but the overall feeling of the stadium is very average. I expected a bit more from
this park, especially with the other nice facilities in the South Atlantic League.
How to get there:
Take Interstate 40 from the east or west of Hickory to exit 123 A/B (US Highway 321 North). Once on
321 North, turn left at the fifth stop light (Clement Boulevard). The park will be ahead on the right.
You may also want to see:
--Asheville. Asheville is approximately 80 miles west of Hickory, and this beautiful mountainous area
contains a number of attractions such as the Biltmore Estate with easy access to the Blue Ridge
Parkway. This reasonably-sized city has something for just about anyone.
--Charlotte. Charlotte is 75 miles or so to the south via US 321 and Interstate 85, and is one of the
business and entertainment meccas of both North Carolina and the south. Charlotte contains art
museums, history centers, professional sports and music venues to provide the kind of eclectic mix
expected from a market of its size.