Thursday, August 13, 2015

Kannapolis Intimidators 3 at Hickory Crawdads 1 (South Atlantic League) - August 12, 2015

The second day of my first week in the Carolinas saw me head south to North Carolina, specifically the town of Hickory. Located just northwest of Charlotte, Hickory is home to the Crawdads, the Class A affiliate of the Texas Rangers.

The Crawdads play out of L.P. Frans Stadium, a decent ballpark that lies a couple of miles west of the  city, right next to the small regional airport. Built in 1993, it underwent significant renovations in 2013 and looks brand new. Parking is $3, an unavoidable charge as there is nowhere else to park and walking from a nearby hotel is not advised. Out front you will see statues of kids playing baseball, very fitting as this place is extremely kid-friendly, especially on Wednesdays when children under 12 eat for free.

All reserved seats are $9, though as often is the case, there are no ushers so just sit where you want. The one problem here is that netting stretches from dugout to dugout and there is no seat where you can get a clear view of the field. There are $14 VIP seats but those are more of a gimmick, lying well down the line and coming with waitress service.

The upper rows are covered by a small roof, which might prove useful for an afternoon game.

As I wandered around, I didn't find much here that was unique. They have a SAL Hall of Fame with several famous names like Hank Aaron and Don Mattingly, as well as a Crawdads HOF that seems to have started last year, with Jose Bautista one of the first three inductees.

There is a kids area with a carousel down in the left field corner. The team has a mascot named Conrad, and one of the promotions is the Conrad Catch, where kids line up behind third base and chase Conrad all the way across the field to first base, behind the dirt. Kids also run the bases after the game. Like I said, very kid-friendly.

I wasn't so sure it was adult-friendly though. There are two concession stands that offered nothing more than the unappetizing basics and I resigned myself to a hungry night, when I happened upon the Crawdad Cafe down the right field line (above).

There are several tables and a small bar with TVs, much like a mini sports bar. This is a perfect place to sit before the game, in the shade and enjoying a $5 pint of craft beer while watching any sports that might be on. The menu here is more complete, with burgers, sandwiches, and chicken tenders among the options. You can also take your meal to the picnic tables along the first base line (above). This little find made my evening as I was able to grab a decent meal and take another beer to my seat to watch the game.

There are other little touches that I chuckled at, such as the restrooms (located on the back concourse behind the seating bowl) labelled for Crawdudes and Crawdettes.

There is also the CLAWlossal Challenge at the cafe: you must eat 1 foot-long hot dog, one order of pub chips or fries, 1 hamburger, 1 BBQ sandwich, 1 corn dog, 5 onion rings, and 4 mozzarella sticks in one inning (6 outs). If you succeed, you don't have to pay the $25 cost of the food, but you do have to pay for the ambulance that takes you to the hospital. This might be doable if you had some bad pitchers on the mound, but that was not the case tonight, when both teams started top prospects.

Overall, I found L.P. Frans Stadium to be a lot of fun. I found the fans that were there really enjoyed themselves, again because the focus is on the kids. For the grownups, the Crawdad Cafe is the place to go in the hour before first pitch. They have some interesting promotions coming up, including a playoff game to coincide with a beer festival that I wish I could come back for. If only they could reduce the netting!

The Game

A good pitching matchup on tap as visiting Kannapolis sent Spencer Adams (2nd round, 2014 and the White Sox 4th-ranked prospect, above) while Ariel Jurado (Texas' #19 prospect, below) took the hill for the Crawdads with an 11-0 record and an ERA that would lead the league if he had enough innings to qualify. Both are just 19 and the youngest players on their respective teams. Based on what I saw, they won't be at this level for long.

Jurado gave up only a single in five frames, with five strikeouts before being removed having chucked 51 pitches. The Rangers are either babying him or his arm was tired as he had pitched 3 innings or less in his last seven starts. Adams, on the other hand, lasted a full 7 frames (85 pitches) scattering 4 singles while striking out 4. Two of those hits were off the bat of Juremi Profar (below, brother of Jurickson,  and who coincidentally shares the same birthdate as Jurado).

Fortunately for Adams, Michael Suiter (24th, 2014, below) singled home a run in the 6th off Hickory reliever John Werner (32nd, 2015), thus setting a franchise record with a hit in 21 consecutive games. Mason Robbins (25th, 2014) doubled home another in the 7th, allowing Adams to leave with a 2-0 lead, and Robbins added another RBI in the 9th for some insurane.

Jose Brito notched his third saved with two innings in relief of Adams (now 9-5 and my Player to Watch), giving up an unearned run before getting Jose Trevino (6th, 2014, #28 prospect for Texas) to ground into a double play to send everybody home.

This was very similar to last night's game in Salem. At least the home team scored a run this time.


Between Salem and Hickory lies Hillsville, Virginia, home of the Hillsville Diner. Opened in 1946, this little place closes at 2 pm, so you need to get there early. The menu has burgers, sandwiches, and full meals, with nothing over $6. A bacon cheeseburger, piece of pie, and a soda runs $6.10. It is always worth getting off the interstates to remember that small town America is still alive.

Next Up

I'm heading to Charleston to see the RiverDogs take on Lexington. As usual, check back tomorrow to see how that went.



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