Our Greensboro Grasshoppers Baseball Experience
The sky was overcast, but no chance of rain loomed over the Newbridge Bank Park in Greensboro, North Carolina on this Thursday evening of July 12, 2012. The temperature was perfect: no more heat and humidity like the week before and not even a little chilly when the sun went down. The crowd at the stadium was surprisingly good for a weekday night (5,153 attendees), but perhaps the Thirsty Thursday cheap beer was a factor. In any case, it was a great night for minor league Low A baseball. As the Grasshoppers play magazine describes it: It’s Hoppin’ Fun Fever – Catch the Bug!
My husband Phil and I parked across the street as there is no stadium parking per se, just various lots around it. Still, it was close and of course, the usual $5 fee. We picked out our seat tickets at the box office (only $8 each) and entered. Our first stop was the team store because I always try to get a pin souvenir and picked one out. Our seats in Row J were just the right height up for a good all over view and I do believe they were more ample in width than at BB&T Ballpark in Winston-Salem which was actually modeled somewhat after this park. Newbridge does have more rows and has a larger seating capacity which seems strange considering they are a lower ranked team.
I was very impressed with it overall: two lawn areas, nice Jumbotron, view of downtown buildings, beer area off to the left side if you want it, plenty of food choices and clean bathrooms. (I didn’t see a kids’ fun place, but maybe I just missed it.)
I was surprised their announcer gave out all the starting team names very early (before 6:30), but then he announced the Grasshopper players as they ran onto the field going through a large McDonalds “M”. During the national anthem, a few fireworks went off as the lady sang about the bombs bursting: a nice touch!
I had heard about the black lab that the owner of the Hoppers has trained, so I was looking forward to seeing this. At the beginning of one of the early innings, the dog (one of two actually) came out with a bucket of baseballs in her mouth and took them to the umpire! Very cute. That was only the beginning.
During two of the innings when the Hoppers were at bat and got a hit, the dog, Miss Babe Ruth, waiting patiently at the side of the dugout with the owner, would race out onto the field and retrieve the player’s bat that he had flung down on his way to first base (or more). She was rewarded with a treat when she brought the bat back to the owner. What a sight! And tonight was a good hit night so we saw this repeated a number of times.
Also, during a time between innings, Yogi, another black lab, would chase a baseball thrown far out into centerfield and brought it back. They had some kids lined up and whoever the dog gave the ball to got some sort of prize. This was so entertaining and different that it is definitely a big plus for this venue.
Of course, like all the teams nowadays, they have a mascot: Guilford the Grasshopper, a large, green grasshopper in a baseball shirt and funky shoes. He looks eerily similar in size and shape as Bolt, the mascot for the Dash. On the website www.aminorleagueseason.com there is a story about the factory that actually makes these mascot costumes. Check it out sometime.
So, Guilford (named after the county in which Greensboro lies) goes around mugging for the fans and also dances on the dugout at times. I was able to get my photo taken with him. He doesn’t speak (like Bolt) and one of their guys follows him around and helps with photos and such. Kids of all ages just love him!
They do have something else though that was different: Spaz, Number 24-7. Who is Spaz? He’s this local guy in a baseball shirt and court jester hat whose job title (as he put it) is the “Crowd Motivator” which sounded better than what I thought he was: “Audience Warmer Upper”. He worked the crowd all night, working them up into noisy frenzies to spur on the players, sang Happy Birthday to a fan, danced on the Dugout, helped with the games and did an all-around bang up job.
I spoke with Spaz for a few minutes and found out he has been doing this type of thing for quite a while including at Greensboro College where he went. Talking to him was a good friend who was a basketball player and I spoke more with him and found out that he used to live very close to where I did in Kernersville. It’s a small world!
Let’s talk about the food, always a favorite topic. The names of the food vendors were creative and paid homage to Greensboro’s history. There was one called “Cornwallis’ Last Stand”, another “O’Henry’s Corner” and “General Greene’s Grille”. Of course, the hot dog place was “The Dog Pound”. We had BBQ which was a nice change from hamburgers or hot dogs. Unfortunately, the fries came in a cup swimming with ketchup which I didn’t much like, but I ate them anyway. I also saw someone with a full-sized helmet full of popcorn! Wow. There were also other vendors with ice cream and other goodies so no one will starve while there, but as with all venues of this type, your wallet will shrink considerably.
Be warned also: they actually checked my bag upon entering and I was chastised for having bottles of water I had brought, but the man let me go with a warning. I was surprised they went that far to ensure you didn’t bring any food or drink inside and not particularly happy about the personal invasion.
I noticed that at the end of each inning, the ushers (in their neon orange shirts-you can’t miss’em) would come forward and stand near the playing field and then return upstairs when play began. I asked our guy, Robert, what that was all about it. They do it for a variety of reasons, but mainly safety: to keep fans from getting on the field or the dugouts, keep the aisles clear and to hopefully be a presence to deter fans from throwing items down from the upstairs seats or smoking which is not allowed. This seems like a good practice.
Now to the game and what a game it was! It had it all that night. There were 6 total errors, flubs and good plays by both teams. The Hagerstown Suns got an early 2 run lead, but the Hoppers tied it up in the 7th Inning which is where they were going into the 9th. No one scored so it went into an extra inning where the Suns got a one-run lead so we went to the bottom of the 10th with the Hoppers behind. Not good!
One man got on first due to a Sun error, 1 of 5 for the game. Two outs and up to bat came Ryan Rieger. The count was no balls, two strikes (a great pitcher’s count) but then the pitcher let the count run up full to 3 balls and 2 strikes. At this point, Phil said that pitcher had just messed up and was going to make a big mistake. On the next pitch which right down the middle of the strike zone, we all heard the THWACK of leather meeting wood and we knew it was gone, gone gone! Up high and deep over the fence for a walk-off home run and a much needed win for the Grasshoppers. The crowd, including us, went wild with cheering! A few fireworks went off to commemorate the win. While the Hoppers were all out on the field congratulating Ryan, the owner let loose Miss Babe Ruth and Yogi who chased balls thrown into the outfield. One dog retrieved the balls while the other pooped on the grass (twice). No doubt the grounds crew here have a pooper scooper in their arsenal of tools.
It was an enjoyable and memorable night. I give it Five Stars.
Phil did remark that they didn’t have “honeys” cavorting and dancing like the Dash Pack. Typical guy. Personally, I think the dogs out-trumped dancing girls.