Some ballparks have longer gestational periods than others, which is maybe why the opening of BB&T Ballpark, the new home of the Winston-Salem Dash, is a little anticlimactic for many in the baseball world. Indeed, the roots of this part can be traced back a decade ago under previous team ownership; more recently, work on this project was delayed a year after the city of Winston-Salem bailed out the project.
It was so worth the wait.
Year Opened: 2010
Capacity: 5,500 seats, room for 1,000 more in suites and berm seating
Cost: $48.7 million
Dimensions: 315L, 399C, 323R
Architect: 360 Architecture
Ticket Prices (2010): Home Plate, $13; First Base/Third Base Sides, $9-$13; Home Run Porch, $9; Lawn Seating, $7
Box-Office Number: 336/714-BATS (2287)
League: Carolina League (High Class A)
Parent: Chicago White Sox
Surface: Bermuda Grass
Parking: There are small lots next to the ballpark going for $5. There are also more than 1,800 spots within four blocks of the ballpark.
Address/Directions: 951 Ballpark Way, Winston-Salem, NC 27101. (If your GPS chokes on that address, use 951 Watkins St. SW.) The ballpark sits next to U.S. Hwy. 421. From the West: Merge onto I-40 E/US 421 S via Exit 188 toward Winston-Salem. Take Broad Street exit. Turn right onto Broad Street and then make a quick left into ballpark entrance. From the East: Merge onto I-40 W toward US-421 N/Winston-Salem. Merge onto U.S. 421 North. Merge onto I-40W/U.S.-421 North via exit 206 toward Kernersville/Winston-Salem Downtown. Take Peters Creek Parkway exit, Exit 5A. Turn right onto Peters Creek Parkway. Turn right onto Brookstown Avenue, then take an immediate right onto Green St. From the North: Merge onto US-52 S. Merge onto I-40W via exit 109B. Take Peters Creek Parkway exit, Exit 5A. Turn right onto Peters Creek Parkway. Turn right onto Brookstown Ave., then take an immediate right onto Green St. From the South: Merge onto US-52 N. Merge onto I-40W via exit 109B. Take Peters Creek Parkway exit, Exit 5A. Turn right onto Peters Creek Parkway. Turn right onto Brookstown Ave., then take an immediate right onto Green Street.
BB&T Ballpark is a surprisingly pleasant place to watch a ballgame, a mostly understated venue where, despite the many bells and whistles, the emphasis is on the game. The disadvantages of the small site were turned into advantages by 360 Architecture, and the result is a fine addition to the ballparks of the historic Carolina League.
This is a downtown ballpark, but it doesn’t feel like an urban ballpark, sitting in an area envisioned by many as ripe for development. (Some of that development will take place this summer; more on that later.) The ballpark connects downtown and adjoining residential. Look past the outfield wall and you’ll feel like you’re in downtown Winston-Salem, with the Winston Tower and other highlights of the skyline in view. Walk to the back of the concourse and look out the fence: you’ll see a perfectly respectable neighborhood across the street. This mix of urban and residential is appealing. And it certainly has a primo location: right next to the I-40 E/US 421 interchange, and we’re sure more than a few of the folks driving through downtown Winston-Salem will impulsively decide to head off the Broad Street exit and take in a game.
It is a very understated ballpark. If there’s a signature element, it’s the bridge connecting the grandstand and the outfield concourse; reminiscent of the famous elevated walkway in San Francisco’s AT&T Park, the bridge was crammed opening night and will probably end up being one of the most desirable spots in the ballpark. With plenty of points of sale on the walkway, fans don’t need to wander far for sustenance. The only thing missing: bar rails. The only bar rails in the ballpark are in the club, and there are many spots – like the club – where bar rails would be nice. The bridge could mightily benefit from a place or two to stow a beer.
The site certainly presented many issues. When you first walk up to the ballpark — either from the outfield side or the grandstand side — you’d assume 360 Architecture did a pretty good job of placing the ballpark into a gently rolling site. But there was much more landscaping at the site than you’d think. The infield is far below grade, but the original site was far deeper; therefore, the playing field sits on fill. But the grandstand area and outfield parking lots were graded down. The result is a ballpark that looks like it was thrown onto a natural ballpark site — which it is not.
The ballpark site, we suspect, also led to the decision to build a taller-than-normal grandstand, with seats on the first and second decks more pitched than normal. (The same goes for the berm in left field.) BB&T Ballpark is an incredibly vertical ballpark; the canopy over the ballpark is a long, long ways over the first rows of seating.
That’s really not an issue when you’re sitting in the ballpark; the second level isn’t overwhelming, and it adds a feeling of unexpected massiveness to the structure, especially with the liberal use of brickwork throughout. The second level features 16 suites, two party areas (one on each end), a sponsored club, and second-level seating. Because of the massiveness of the second deck there are a lot of supports in the main concourse; the effect isn’t unlike an old-fashioned ballpark like Tiger Stadium or Comiskey Park, and it allowed for an incredible spacious grandstand. You won’t be claustrophobic as you wait in line for your Dash Dog and Natty Greene microbrew.
Signage at the ballpark is surprisingly minimal, at least surrounding the playing field, with only three spots on the right-field wall and a single LED screen in left field. Of course, it’s some sign: at six feet high and 185 feet long, it’s an LED board of Major League proportions. As is the 26-foot by 40-foot videoboard in right field.
This is most definitely a high-tech park in terms of graphics. An ingame broadcast is presented on thin-screen TVs scattered through the concourse, club and suites. Cameras focus closely on the between-innings activities. Everything is controlled by a production suite of Major League proportions. About 80 miles of wire makes this all possible.
As of Opening Day 2010, BB&T Ballpark is not completed. There are some large expanses of bare concrete on the outfield wall, and an odd open area in right field that looks to be better suited as bullpens. Still to come: a five-story building beyond the right-field wall, slated to contain team offices, the visitors’ clubhouses, a large team store, office space for owner Billy Prim’s other business ventures, and office space for lease. Until that building is completed, the team story is temporarily set up in what was designed to be the press box, right on the concourse level behind home plate.
BB&T Ballpark doesn’t break any ground on ballpark design, nor is it the flashiest ballpark to come down the pike in recent years. But it’s a great place to bring the family, it’s built for the long haul, and it was well worth the wait.
WHERE TO SIT
There are basically six types of seating at the ballpark unless you have the bucks to rent a suite: traditional grandstand seating, a left-field berm, a small section of right-field reserved seating that juts onto the playing field, standing room on either side of the batters’ eye, and a right-field picnic area.
If you’re with the family, we’d recommend the left-field berm. It’s an extremely pitched berm (in other words, don’t let the baby crawl off on their own; chances are pretty good they’ll roll out of control down the berm). But that steep angle makes it good for watching the game; you’re high enough over the outfield fence that you won’t miss much action. And you won’t be battling the sun at all during evening games.
The right-field bridge will end up being one of the busiest spots in the ballpark on a night when there was a full house. We suspect it will get more popular over time, although the Dash could do a lot to increase its popularity by installing some drink rails there.
- The last time a Winston-Salem pro team opened a new ballpark was 54 years ago, when the Winston-Salem Twins opened Ernie Shore Field, now Wake Forest Baseball Park.
- Over 26,000 bricks were used in the construction of the ballpark.
- These are high-tech times: about 80 miles of wire runs through the ballpark.
- The carousel in the outfield kids’ area was originally installed at Ernie Shore Field.
FOR THE KIDS
What kid wouldn’t love a 12,000-square-foot play area? It’s located to the back of the center-field concourse and features various play areas, jumping houses and a carousel moved over from Ernie Shore Field (and cleaned up in the process, it looks like). Combine that with a huge left-field berm, plenty of Muppets videos shown during game breaks (you cannot go wrong with the Muppets on the big screen!) and you’ve got a ballpark built for families.
The place to start is a Natty Greene’s microbrew, on tap for only $5. A full assortment of the locally produced microbrew (we noted Guilford Golden Ale, Southern Pale Ale and Buckshot Amber Ale) can be found at three concession stands on the main concourse and many of the additional 20 points of sale ringing the concourse. In fact, any beer is $5, whether it be a tap or a Bud/Bud Light tallboy. Otherwise, the concessions are fairly standard: Dash Dogs ($3), burgers, Domino’s Pizza, popcorn and more. A broader selection of food, including carved sandwiches, can be found at the second-level club.
BEFORE/AFTER THE GAME
If you didn’t get enough Natty Greene microbrews at the ballpark, head over to Foothills Brewing, a short drive away. (Foothills Brewing, 638 W. 4th St., Winston-Salem, NC 27101-2730; 336/777-3348.)