With crowded concourses, limited parking and some odd sightlines, War Memorial Stadium in Greensboro did not provide the best atmosphere for baseball. But it was a classic ballpark from a different era, and that for that reason alone its departure from professional baseball next season will leave a hole for those who love old ballparks: up to its final season in 2004 War Memorial Stadium was one of the oldest minor-league ballparks still in use.
Year Opened: 1926
Dimensions: 327L, 401C, 307R
When we visited War Memorial Stadium in 2004 it was the home of the Greensboro Bats (Low Class A; Sally League). Since then the Bats have become the Grasshoppers and moved to a new downtown ballpark. Meanwhile, War Memorial Stadium still stands and is home to college and high-school games.
War Memorial did not begin life as a baseball ballpark: apropos of the era and the region, it originally was built as a football stadium. (You can see the bottom of the U shape when you enter the ballpark to what used to be the end zone.) Over the years it was altered to become more baseball-friendly; though the original curve of the football U can still be clearly seen, other parts of the original football structure (like the original football press box) are gone.
Over the years the ballpark served as the home for the Greensboro Patriots (1930-1934) of the Piedmont League, the Greensboro Red Sox (1941-1942) of the Piedmont League), the Greensboro Patriots of the Carolina League (1945-1957, 1968), the Greensboro Yankees (1958-1967) of the Carolina League, the Greensboro Hornets (1979) of the Western Carolinas League, the Greensboro Hornets of the South Atlantic League (1980-1993), and the Greensboro Bats (1994-2004) of the South Atlantic League.
Baseball was always an awkward afterthought at War Memorial. Earlier professional teams were not thrilled with the ballpark configuration, especially immediately after the ballpark was constructed. The team’s original baseball tenant, the Greensboro Patriots, refused to play in a park with a right-field fence that was 248 feet from home plate (the team hosted some 1929 exhibition games at War Memorial), so a reconfiguration of the ballpark in 1930 moved the diamond closer to the left-field stands, but the right-field fence was still too close for many pitchers — but because of a creek that ran outside the fence (a creek that’s still there), the right-field fence could not be moved any farther out. That same year saw the installation of lights at War Memorial.
Though the ballpark clearly was not designed for baseball, over the years the city and the Bats made several enhancements to the ballpark. The most notable was the construction of a party and deck area down the left-field line hooking behind the left-field fence. The bar area was a great place to meet friends and pound back a few beers (and the Bats had an excellent draught beer selection, including some from local brewery Red Oak), while the picnic box seats were geared toward smaller groups.
Still, this wasn’t the most comfortable ballpark for patrons: a good chunk of the seats was backless metal bleachers that faced center field. There were no luxury boxes, and the team facilities (locker rooms, weight room) were minimal. In a day and age when major-league teams are looking for facilities that can better help develop their ballplayers via indoor batting/pitching cages and weight rooms, War Memorial Stadium was clearly not going to fit the bill too much longer.
If you read this site regularly, you’ll know that we are frequently advocates for renovating old ballparks, not abandoning them. In the case of War Memorial Stadium, renovation really wasn’t a financially prudent option, though both the team and the city looked long and hard (even to the point of drawing up plans) at renovation before deciding that a new ballpark was the only feasible option. Also, to the delight of preservationists, the city decided not to tear down or sell War Memorial Stadium after the Bats move into a new downtown ballpark: it will continue to be used by college and local teams.