On the Road: Going Back to the Basics in Burlington

Talk about a change of pace.

I spent Saturday evening within the High Definition confines of Durham Bulls Athletic Park, but an hour’s drive northwest the following day brought me here.

Welcome to Burlington Athletic Park, located in Burlington, NC and home of the Appalachian League’s Burlington Royals. (makes sense, right?) This is not to be confused with Burlington, IA’s Community Field, the home of the Midwest League’s Burlington Bees (both are no-frills baseball destinations, hence my recycling of a post title).

I had a chance to explore downtown Burlington the following afternoon (more on that in an upcoming post), but suffice to say that this stadium is NOT located in a downtown location.

But any deficiencies in the overall ambiance are made up for by the stadium’s affordability and intimacy.

This is the sort of place where 1000 people constitutes a good crowd, and on a rainy Sunday evening that number is bound to be far less.

Note the rooftop press box, made of corrugated tin

Strong winds and an overcast sky created a foreboding atmosphere, and the game was delayed approximately half an hour as everyone waited for a thunderstorm that (mercifully) never quite materialized.

Seeking refuge in the visitor’s clubhouse:

Some fans passed the time at the bar located down the third base line, including “Casual Fan” Tug Haines (in black) and Biz Blog reader/heckler/logo aficionado/Durham Bulls season ticket holder Scott Jennings (in blue). Tug’s spending the season traveling from ballpark to ballpark, and this was the second time this season we’ve crossed paths. Scott forwent the Bulls game and instead made the trek to Burlington because Tug and I were both there — a rare confluence of Minor League Baseball travelers.

The players, meanwhile, amused themselves with impromptu juggling and baseball hacky sack routines….

as well as by socializing in front of the home clubhouse.

This is the home clubhouse — a standalone building constructed in 1993 (the previous home clubhouse now hosts the visitors, and the previous visitors clubhouse is now used by the umpires). The marble columns give it an aura of Gilded Age opulence.

Once the tarp was removed, it became time to ascend (what I assume is) the steepest ramp in all of Minor League Baseball and find a seat.

My first vantage point was the bleacher seating behind the plate.

I sat there in order to best observe the choreographed chants of a loose affiliation of Burlington Boosters/opposing team hecklers (of which Jennings was a member).

I went into detail about the various routines in my MiLB.com piece, which includes a bounty of facts and observations from my two-day Appy League sojourn.  I’d like to reiterate, however, that THIS was the funniest routine (great work by the aforementioned Tug Haines in getting it on video).

As entertaining as this heckling conglomerate was, I soon departed in order to do what I seem to do best: wandering.

The B-Royals All-Time Team has some pretty big names:

The biggest of which are also immortalized in urinal form:

But if you’re a blogger such as myself, urinal lot of trouble if you don’t provide in-game pictures from multiple vantage points. So here you go:

Concession options were quite limited (hot dogs, pizza, pretzels, popcorn, etc). I went for the nachos, but that’s not the reason I’m posting this picture.

That sparkling carbonated beverage on the right is Cheerwine, a cultishly-adored cherry-flavored soda that is proudly brewed and bottled in North Carolina. I’ll have more on that particular beverage in future posts.

It was a pretty slow evening for the B-Royals, not surprising given that it was a rainy Sunday night. Business at the team store was minimal…

But a mini-stampede did form at the concession stand in the eighth inning, after a slew of $1 specials was announced over the PA.

But while the meteorological conditions were detrimental to business, it turned out to be a good evening for the B-Royals. Justin Trapp’s one-out single in the ninth inning scored Derek Hamblen, giving the home team a 4-3 walk-off win over the E-Twins.

Walking Off After the Walk-Off

The post-game “Run the Bases” was really funny,  consisting as it did of assistant general manager Ben Abzug and a whopping two kids. My pictures didn’t come out, but here’s the aftermath.

After the game I climbed up a ladder and onto the roof, in order to check out the view from the press box.

After the visiting Elizabethton Twins cleared out of the park, announcer Nick DeSanctis gave Tug and I a tour of the stadium’s insides.

To quote the title of my favorite AC/DC song – – “It’s A Long Way to the Top If You Want to Rock N Roll.”

Visitor's Locker Room

These less-than luxurious pictures are simply the reality of playing Rookie ball in a 50-year-old city-owned facility. All the Appy League players that I spoke with seemed to possess a “happy to be here” mentality, and I imagine they’ll look back on these days with a certain fondness — still in (or barely out of) their teens, away from home, and playing baseball for a living.

The home locker room is pretty swanky, at least by comparison.

Tug got a candid shot of me eying the post-game spread (hamburger steak, potatoes, macaroni and cheese).

Note the sign in the background: DO NOT ASSAULT UMPIRES. Good to know!

Hanging off the exercise bike was this “Princess Dreams” backpack.

The backpack is filled with essential items (gum, seeds, etc) prior to each game, and carried out to the bullpen by the last relief pitcher to have allowed a home run.

As of this photo, Tyler Graham had been the last pitcher to surrender a homer — a 380-foot shot against the Danville Braves.

And that was all she wrote for this particular evening — nothing left to to do but go back to the hotel and get a good night’s sleep. My room was pretty nice, but it couldn’t compare to this:




  1. possum187

    “an aura of Gilded Age opulence”

    Every single person in attendance that night just did the double-blink-of-cartoon-incomprehension simultaneously. You have a knack for this, sir, niche markety as it may be. That picture of the men’s room took me back to the first time I walked in & saw the oddly-placed locker stalls. The shot of the “concourse” looking around the blue wall falls into that same category. I love the simplicity of this park. Hope the travel back north was easy for you, looking forward to the WS piece.

  2. possum187

    I like to post twice. To anyone going to a BRoyals game, bring cash. And stop at the ATM before you get to Burlington. Also, what the what is in that visitor’s clubhouse sink?

  3. Brian

    I love the BAP….it’s one of those true old-time ballparks that just seems to be a throwback to a simpler time. Can’t wait to go back there next month for my MiLB roadtrip!

  4. BensBiz

    Good call on making sure to hit an ATM before an Appy League ballgame — you’re foreshadowing a problem I had the next night in Danville…

  5. Tug Haines

    After spending two weeks in the Appy League I finally had to pay for parking at the Delmarva Shorebirds game. Didn’t want to. Anyhow, it was really good to cap off that leg of the trip with a couple other wanderers. Until next time.

  6. txag08

    Heckling’s where it’s at! I love smaller environments like this where the heckling is encouraged. Tried it at a Springfield Cardinals game earlier this year and… uh… nobody joined in. Shame. With the opposing pitcher named Will Smith, the opportunities were endless.

  7. Brian

    BAP is a prime location for heckling. Last year, I was sitting behind home plate and just kept heckling the opposing Bristol White Sox from start to finish. Nothing derogatory, of course. Just stuff like “hey, this ain’t college (or high school) anymore” or “you actually get paid to play baseball? (in the deepest Southern accent I can muster)” Appy league’s a good league to bust chops. Everyone around me seemed to enjoy it – in fact, someone asked me if I could come back for the rest of the season. Alas, I had to return to Rhode Island the following weekend.

    • BensBiz

      Not sure how it would work economically, but I really like the idea of a “professional heckler.” Perhaps it’s something that you could look into…

    • Sean Travis

      Brian, they were just being polite. Nobody down here likes it when somebody from up north fakes a southern accent. We take it as an insult.

  8. Pingback: Ballpark Visit ALERT: Burlington Athletic Stadium (Burlington, NC) |
  9. Michael David

    There’s nothing wrong with a ‘no frills’ ballpark. They’re usually the best places to watch the game, because of no distractions. You also can’t beat the ticket prices.
    ‘Minoring In Baseball’

  10. Pingback: Return to the Road, Part 3: Local Landmarks and Regional Delicacies « Ben's Biz Blog
  11. Pingback: Return to the Road Part 4: Looking to the Future, Wrapping Up the Past « Ben's Biz Blog
  12. Pingback: Finding the raw people of Burlington | NEIGHBORISTA! | Creative communities everywhere

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