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Running Blog: Stadium Tripping in North Carolina

Posted by Sean Rowland on May 6, 2018

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Friday
Travel day. We started in the rain, but it wasn’t too bad and it was over by the time we reached Maryland. Hoping that’s the last of the wet stuff that we see all week. Our rough halfway point was Hagerstown, a city I’ve seen before on a visit to Municipal Stadium. Today, we took the little one to Discovery Station for some running around followed by a bagged lunch. After more driving, the end of the road was Wytheville, VA.
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Saturday
What a beautiful day. 75 and sunny with conditions perfect for our final drive through the mountains to Asheville. We actually went a good distance past the city to visit Chimney Rock, about 40 minutes to the east after traversing the curvy Rt 74-A. The slightly nauseous ride was worth it once got to the tiny charming town and the Rock that towers above it. There’s a lot to do here with several great trails, but the main one was time-consuming and energy-sapping enough for us. 499 steps brought us to the top of the famed granite outcropping with a view that was worth every step. Our 3-year old Shayla amazingly climbed probably 75% of it as her extra weight only needed to be carried down the stairs. She gave a “wow”, a few times, mostly at some of the neat side attractions on our way up.
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After a little break, our baseball game had an earlier 6 PM start and we headed over to McCormick Field at about 5:15 PM. That still was not enough time to find a parking spot in the tight surrounding area and we were forced to drive around side streets, looking for a place to park and accepting a long walk. I’ve been to 55 minor league ballparks and this is the worst parking situation I can remember. Once that debacle was over and our tired legs climbed up another hill to the entrance, I was able to enjoy a quirky ballpark with a lot of character that I really enjoyed. The elevation sets the frame for a unique concourse and inside, it gives a great view beyond the outfield. The seating bowl has the grandstand that I always appreciate. A nice crowd was on hand and they were treated to one of the best baseball games I’ve seen in awhile which included: five home runs, benches clearing after high heat and a home team comeback. Chad Spanberger’s three-run homer in the 7th put the Tourists up for good as the crowd went crazy. Asheville won 10-8 in a great showcase for McCormick Field.
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Sunday
This day was all about exploring Asheville and the perfect means for that is the Hop-On Hop-Off Trolley Tour. With entertaining storytellers giving us insight to this remarkably historic city, we rode along while getting off at some sites. Grove Park Inn is remarkable and the Biltmore Village is a great little spot as well. Downtown, we checked out a lot of the main sights and the preserved architecture is awesome for nerds like me who enjoy that stuff. Austin is the capital of “Weird”, but I feel like that saying should be “Keep Asheville Weird” as it fits better here. There is such a collection of unique folks that make this city a quirky and fun place. A hipster’s paradise. For food, we enjoyed meals at Tupelo Honey and Luella’s, where my BBQ is a little backwards. They have an Eastern-style and I’ll wait til Wilmington (in the East) for the pork taste usually reserved for the Mountains.
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Monday
We’ve been very fortunate with weather and it was a gorgeous day as we spent it at the Biltmore Estate. Yes, this place is so big that it was a day-long affair. My wife, Cheryl, has always wanted to visit, so I took Shayla for a few hours in the morning to the Antler Hill section and let her play in the playground and barn while Cheryl got some needed alone time in the house. This is the closest I’ve felt to Downton Abbey and the whole place is incredible. Some stats from this French Renaissance Chateau built by the Vanderbilt’s in the late 1800s: 249 rooms, 43 bathrooms and nearly 180,000 square feet. The inside is as extravagant as you could imagine and the outside offers sweeping views of the rolling hills and Blue Ridge Mountains.
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Tuesday
The drive down from the Mountains to the Piedmont took a little over three hours and we arrived in Chapel Hill around lunchtime. The defining place to eat is Top of the Hill (Topo) and we went with that. Food wasn’t actually that great (I had a very plain chicken sandwich), but the upper deck view is cool and the inside bar seems like a great hangout. Afterwards, we walked Franklin Street a bit and then went on campus, which had a cool vibe as students were enjoying a long-awaited warm and sunny day. Wish I got to the Visitors Center first, which had a walking tour guide and a better description of the buildings than my name notes of what I wanted to see. Still got to look at Old East, Old Well, Morehead Planetarium, Wilson Library and the Bell Tower. 

For the stadium visit, it was a UNC baseball game at Boshamer Stadium. Getting there was a mini-adventure thanks to mis-direction for parking on the website and then a lack if signage to the ballpark after walking out of the parking garage. Once we reached the stadium, we encountered a traditional modern brick facility with an open concourse above the green seating bowl. I did love the elevated bowl that began with seats about 10 feet higher than the field. UNC also did an awesome job with displays including a spectacular trophy room. The crowd was expectedly sparse for this mid-week non-conference game and it was a snappy start with 0’s on the board for the first four innings. Then Asheville scored two in the 5th before the Tar Heels put their foot down with a 10 spot in the bottom half. Bad news, the inning took 1 hour. Ugh. The game took 3:30 as UNC-Chapel Hill won 11-5.
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Wednesday
The second stadium in less than 24 hours comes at a cost: Education Day. I definitely am lucky to have an understanding wife put up with that and a side trip on a family vacation to Kinston, NC. It was really sad to drive down Queen Street and see nearly the entire center of town quiet and boarded up. But there are signs of a little hope and development as a luxury boutique hotel recently opened up and minor-league baseball is back. The Wood Ducks debuted in Historic Grainger Stadium last year and even won the Carolina League title. This park was built in 1949 and it is so wonderful. It’s everything my nostalgic self loves: completely covering roof (with ceiling fans!), water tower in the background, occasional train horn. Pure bliss, except for the deafening school kids. This was another lengthy game as it lasted over three hours as well. Home teams move to 3-0 on this trip as we saw Down East defeat Buies Creek 15-3. After the game, I stopped at Kings Restaurant to pick up a bottle of their BBQ sauce and will use that on my Chicken and Pork this summer. It was then on to Carolina Beach, where we took a stroll on the beach and boardwalk before dinner and bed.
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Thursday
Beach Day. We got a hotel right on the ocean, which is great for spending time in the sand and surf. I’m not a big beach person, but Cheryl and Shayla are and they enjoyed the morning and midday with beautiful weather continuing. It’s still kinda offseason here, so many of the boardwalk shops weren’t open. For the afternoon, we went to the North Carolina Aquarium, which is in the Fort Fisher area. After dinner, it was a boardwalk stroll with some ice cream.
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Friday

We saw two cities today as we began in the Port City of Wilmington. It’s a great little place along the Cape Fear River, we just didn’t have things go our way today. The exception was where we started at the Cape Fear Museum. We walked into a great little program that was free for Ages 2-5 as Miss Pepper led the kids through a Crafts Program. That also gave us access to the museum, which I really wanted to see more of, but Shayla was obsessed with the Classic Toys room. That means we were stuck there longer when we wanted. After a solid lunch at Chops Deli, we walked the historic downtown. This is a mini Hollywood and I pointed out a few Dawson Creek sights for my wife, who was the exact genre that show targeted in its heyday. However, the spots (found on a TripAdvisor Forum) were barely recognizable from 20 years ago. There’s also plenty of tours and we picked the wrong one. Cape Fear Riverboats was the dullest waste of $12. I usually can find interest in something, but our guide was so dry and then when we spent 30 minutes travelling along the industrialized and undeveloped parts of the river, I wanted to fall asleep. Too bad the benches were breaking my back and the wind slapping me in the face. Can’t win them all.
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We then made the 2+ hour drive to Durham, which took a little longer because of rush hour traffic. The Bulls game coincided with “May the Fourth” and Fireworks, so that meant a packed house. Durham Bulls Athletic Park is one of the best minor-league parks I’ve been to and the whole place has a very “major” feel to it. Nice design, complimented by excellent displays including their famous “Hit Bull, Win Steak” in left-field. Tremendous local beer options here as well. The game was a good one too and Durham scored in the 7th to take a 5-4 lead and hang on the rest of the way. Home teams finish 4-0 on this trip! I’ll start working on detailed stadium reviews a few days after settling back home.
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Saturday
Our last day here in North Carolina and we stayed in Bull City. I’ve fallen in love with Durham and think that it is a fantastic place to live. Probably because I’m most impressed with all of the redeveloped tobacco warehouses that have turned into mixed-use spaces. First, we started at Sarah P. Duke Gardens, on the campus of Duke University. It is one of the top Gardens in the country and I can’t argue that. So much natural beauty to see and it is all free. What a great space to spend a morning or bring a picnic for lunch. It also gave us a chance to see Duke and the Gothic architecture on campus is impressive. I may not be a fan of their basketball, but the grounds are beautiful (better than UNC, sorry Chapel Hill). We went inside the Duke Chapel, a mighty impressive structure.

During the afternoon, we split off as Cheryl and Shayla went to the Museum of Life and Science while I went to Durham Athetic Park, the former home of the Bulls and scene of Bull Durham. The ballpark still hosts baseball as North Carolina Central uses it and they had a game against Florida A&M. Capacity may be too small for an official review, but it was well worth a visit for historical purposes. Watching a game here took me back in time and the comments from the peanut gallery in the back row made it all the more entertaining. Even better, I walked to 70 year old King’s Sandwich Shop to bring in my hot dog, fries and coke while watching the game. I’ve definitely had some great baseball experiences on this trip. 

I didn’t stay the whole time as I wanted to explore the city on foot more and I checked out Main Street, the Bull Statue, the Durham Museum and Brightleaf Square before heading back to pick up the ladies. Dinner was at Bullock’s and this was a taste of a true local BBQ place. Families were laughing and enjoying a great meal and I savored some succulent pork, ENC-style. And with that our trip was complete as a full driving day followed to reach home. Check back for updated reviews of each stadium on the right side of the page.
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