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A Biased Stadium Review - SRP Park

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Augusta has a beautiful new stadium to go with some of the best prospects in the system.  But does the stadium live up to its billing?

SRP Park, the new home of the Augusta GreenJackets
Kevin J. Cunningham

Maybe I arrived too soon.

The Augusta GreenJackets opened their new stadium, SRP Park, this April and it’s a beautiful new gem on the Savannah River, moving less than a mile and yet to another state from the Lake Olmstead Stadium. But how does the new jewel of North Augusta in South Carolina fare in my rankings?

Unfortunately, the ballpark is open, but much is not. The hotel and restaurants meant to be part of the ballpark village are under construction. The apartment building towering over right field is unfinished. The clubhouses for the players are supposed to be in that building, so yup…not finished. The teams have their temporary clubhouses in trailers across the street, and have to walk up into the stands to get there.

The unfinished nature of the stadium has certainly colored my view of things, but there’s a lot of hope.

EXTERIOR:

A confession: I’m getting tired of bricks. Ever since the 1990’s, red brick has become a staple of baseball stadiums in the retro trend. Don’t get me wrong, I love AT&T Park, but now the whole brick thing is everywhere.

But when it comes to Augusta, bricks would make sense. From Augusta’s most impressive historic buildings to the very nearby North Augusta Municipal Building, bricks would fit in perfectly with the area. The stadium is even next to a local pond called Brick Pond! So what did the GreenJackets build?

A sleek, bright, futuristic ballpark!

SRP Park’s aesthetics are beautiful, from the rounded exterior concourse to the smooth, white brick store and other buildings, SRP’s design is ideal for a new brand of stadium, particularly in the minors. And even in an old city, nestled in river land wilderness, adjacent to a perfectly utilitarian bridge, this beautiful ballpark is a sight to be seen. GRADE: 70

INTERIOR:

Just as the exterior is sleek, the interior is smooth and sleek and ideal for a Single-A ballpark. The white painted walls mesh with the exposed concrete, and it all works well.

These concourses can certainly hold even bigger crowds than this.
Kevin J. Cunningham

The concourses are wide and easy to walk through, even when the park is mostly crowded. The signage is clean and simple within the ballpark. It’s easy to get around and find your way to your seats. This isn’t a ballpark that exactly needs a map to navigate, but everything meshes along well.

TaxSlayer Terrace, with green-painted steel that would almost look appropriate at AT&T Park.
Kevin J. Cunningham

In right field, a rather spartan two-deck structure dominates the view. From the bowl, fans can see the sky through it (and the metal fence in front of it is in play), and other than the advertising signage on the Taxslayer Terrace, it almost looks like an unfinished building. But the minimal facing on it makes it more appealing, blending into the open sky behind it rather than blocking it.

The lights at SRP Park. This is the view from the stands, not from the back.
Kevin J. Cunningham

The main lighting for the park are LED lights, but specifically directional to minimize light leaks to the surrounding neighborhood, or the homes across the river. The highly directional light focuses the light on the field, and away from almost anything not part of the field, including the stands. The team’s ability to turn on and off these lights leads to a fun home run celebration that doesn’t need fireworks or fountains.

One of the nicest features are the multi-colored LED lights along the roof above the second deck. The lights usually stay green, but light up and animate, giving the park the extra oomph to go from nice to really cool.

There’s more green in these lights than there are on most of the uniforms of the GreenJackets. But they do other colors, too.
Kevin J. Cunningham

The advertising within the park is a mixed bag. For the most part, the outfield advertising is clean and simple. Other than four electronic boards along the walls, the outfield wall’s ads are simple grey words on the green fence, so the fences have a clean look. There are billboard-style ads limited to the side of the building in left field, and they have an organized feel.

The advertising in left field, as clean as advertising gets.
Kevin J. Cunningham

In contrast to this are the ads along the front of the second deck. In something I don’t remember seeing elsewhere, they look like the small ads in the last few pages of a community newspaper: Small, crowded, busy, with tiny fonts trying to say too much. There are a lot of hungry graphic designers in the world; the companies advertising here should pay them for their services.

Those ads on the second deck are...noisy. And just about unreadable.
Kevin J. Cunningham

GRADE: 65

FIELD:

SRP Park definitely has those unique quirks that make a ballpark.

The left field wall is simple, and it fits, one long straight line from the foul line to the corner on the center side of left-center. There’s a flat line for center field that ends up slightly shorter than most center fields at 395. But that’s all pretty standard. Right field gets wild.

From 10 feet to 25 feet in right field.
Kevin J. Cunningham

The park has a standard 10-foot tall padded green fence around the park, but with right field being shorter, the yellow home run line jumps up to 25 feet tall. There’s a steel fence to serve as the wall there following the terrace, and people walking along the concourse can watch through it. As the wall heads towards center, it has a sudden jut towards second base, giving the park quite a power alley in right field. The jut is modeled similar to AT&T Park in San Francisco, although the wall heights are not close to a match and neither are the dimensions a perfect match.

The right center corner. A tantalizing target for power hitters.
Kevin J. Cunningham

But that’s not all for the quirks. Down the right field line, there’s a part of the cement boundary wall that juts out perpendicular to the foul line about 15 feet from the outfield wall, before turning running alongside the line. That description may not do it justice, but what it means is that a ball that was just fair down the first base line and rolls foul has a difficult to read difference between rolling all the way to the wall or hitting that wall in foul ground.

It’s easy to see the tricky jut of the wall in foul ground that could catch some ground balls down the line.
Kevin J. Cunningham

Between the normal padded wall, the electronic board embedded in the wall, the metal fence, the wall jutting out in right center and the wall jutting out in foul ground, right fielders will have their hands full at SRP Park.

The Visitor’s Bullpen, literally on the doorstep of the dugout.
Kevin J. Cunningham

An onfield addition at SRP Park are the bullpens, which will upset some people just by being on the field. But they are as close to the infield as I’ve ever seen, with the home plates within the radius of the infield dirt. Outfielders may not need to worry about them, but infielders will.

While I was there, there was no wind at all, which was a surprise, being along the river. But on windless nights that were pretty warm but not crazy hot, this was a park that played small. Very small. The building in right field was very much in play, with three home runs hitting it in just the span of two days. This park could be the polar opposite of Augusta’s former home, Lake Olmstead Park, which always played big. GRADE: 65

VIEWS:

Augusta is not a city known for tall buildings. North Augusta, where the ballpark actually is, has even fewer. So the view was never going to include a skyline with historic buildings. So North Augusta is building its own outfield defining building…one that isn’t ready yet. The apartment building that towers over left field is still being built. The scoreboard sits just in front of the building in left, along with the major advertising panels.

The Panorama view of SRP Park. The building in left is not Green in honor of the team, it’s just not done.
Kevin J. Cunningham

Those boards have a net protecting them from home run balls. The nets may need to be extended higher to protect the building though.

The landing spots of home runs by Heliot Ramos and Jacob Gonzalez in the same inning. Don’t drool too much.
Kevin J. Cunningham

Outside the right field wall is the Savannah River, which runs along the state border, and the shoreline of Georgia beyond. As far as riverviews go, it’s not the most impressive view. The bridge that crosses the river, right behind the ballpark, is as utilitarian as a bridge can be.

The Georgia Avenue Bridge just beyond center field. This was the bridge that some people wanted to replace the Eastern span of the Bay Bridge.
Kevin J. Cunningham

However from the terrace in right field, the perspective is much nicer and the good-looking buildings along the other side of the river aren’t nothing.

The Savannah River. It’s not exactly McCovey Cove, but it’s beautiful
Kevin J. Cunningham

GRADE: 60

SEATING AREAS:

For such a small stadium with a seating capacity of 4,822, there are many seating and viewing areas around the stadium.

Most notable is the section directly behind home plate. The yellow-colored seats in the bottom half stand out from the green seats that make up the rest of the seating bowl. In the upper half of the section are box seats with table ledges for drinks and food. While making the priority section even more cushy, it also gives the stadium a unique look behind the plate.

In the right field corner, there are two picnic spots; one is in the seating bowl itself, and the other is along the concourse in front of the terrace. In the left field corner is a unique type of grass berm. Rather than a smooth hillside, the berm is tiered. The result is an area that’s an even more comfortable way to sit on grass rather than the usual steep hillsides. Although it also makes a nice running area for kids.

Upstairs is exclusive luxury suite and club seating. The seats are as close as any upper level seats in the minor leagues, and are a prime target for foul balls as well as some beautiful views of the yard.

The concourse, which wraps around the entire field, features drink rails along nearly the entire outfield wall and the two levels of the TaxSlayer Terrace, which extends into foul ground to the unfinished restaurant. The result is easy viewing everywhere around the park. GRADE: 60

CONCESSIONS:

Here’s where the unfinished nature of the stadium starts to hit things. A number of the concessions in the stadium have not opened up yet, leaving the park with two problems: A lot of spots of the concourse are empty, and the concession stands that are open are worked pretty hard.

Too many concession stands have vacancies. If this were SF, they’d be converted into high end condos by now.
Kevin J. Cunningham

This also limits what could be a wide range of food. Right now, for the most part, you’ve got only the standard fare of food you’d expect in a ballpark.

Because of this, I’m giving the stadium a pass…or more appropriately an incomplete. Once things open, this can be re-evaluated. GRADE: Incomplete

GAMEDAY EXPERIENCE:

And…here’s where things really fall apart.

As I said, perhaps I visited SRP Park a little too early. Everyone is getting used to the new park, and it would be no surprise that the gameday staff and front office is as well.

One of my first impressions of the ballpark were the sprinklers going off in the outfield minutes into the first game I attended. Now, that’s not the first time I’ve seen sprinklers go off at a minor league game, but they went on for more than five minutes. That’s far too long for the team to get that turned off, but a new stadium will do that.

The main scoreboard had a lot of the flaws that affected the gameday experience. It all starts with being legible, and the current scoreboard font is too small to read from the grandstand. The scoreboard does show pitch velocity, but it doesn’t stay on the board for long at all, so even if a fan takes his eyes off the fly ball when it’s at its highest, they won’t see the speed on the board. When displaying lineups, the scoreboard doesn’t show either positions or uniform numbers. Plus, at various times, the scoreboard would show the wrong lineup, or have names displayed wrong.

Keep in mind, this is 10x zoom on an iPhone to see the scoreboard.
Kevin J. Cunningham

Similarly, musical cues were often missed. Music would often play over the in-game host, or songs would start, stop, then start again. At one inning break, the P.A. announcer asked if the fans wanted to do the YMCA, and the song started…but then was stopped before even getting to the chorus, leaving fans doing the YMCA motions to the background sounds of a stadium.

The park does have a kids area along the right field concourse past the terrace. It has a lot of the usual kids options including pitch speed booth and a place for kids to swing at plastic baseballs on a tee with a plastic bat. GRADE:25

TRADITION/LOCAL FLAVOR:

Augusta is an old town with a lot of history, and an obvious tie to a major sporting event. And that’s why it’s surprising that SRP Park is really lacking in local ties.

Once you’re in SRP Park, there isn’t much of a callout to the local area or its culture. Perhaps when the Southbound Smokehouse location opens, the local eatery will help. But the area is not echoed much in the stadium or the activities within it.

Even golf, the source for the team’s name, is barely mentioned. The team plaid socks are a callout, but the new logo has removed golf clubs, leaving the only golf callout to a cap. The mascot was once dressed and presented as a caddie with a distinctive green jacket, now he’s a musclebound green bug with plaid pants. Even the team’s uniform has removed the word “Green”, which separates the team’s ties from the Green Jacket awarded at the Masters. None of the in-game activities even include a golf-related theme. All that could be found is one food booth called McGavin’s, named after the villain in the Adam Sandler golf movie Happy Gilmore. GRADE: 30

PARKING/TRANSIT:

The team is trying to make the best of a weird parking situation. There is only one constructed garage in the ballpark village near SRP park, and thus the team is relying on parking in other parts of the city.

The primary parking lot and garage are just up Center Street, next to the North Augusta Municipal Stadium, about a half mile from the stadium. The walk is a nice downhill stroll past Brick Pond Park, although that makes it an uphill trek on the way back. Luckily, the park runs small electric shuttles from the front of the park to the garage and lot, a ride that takes all of two minutes. Getting to the main garage near the Municipal Building requires circling around the back side, which can be quite confusing if you don’t know the area.

There are two other lots deeper in the city of North Augusta, served by a city shuttle. However, the city shuttles will only run from Thursday through Sunday, leaving fans to determine other ways to make it if they don’t make the main lots in the mid-week games.

There are no mass transit options other than the aforementioned city shuttles, and none from Augusta proper. GRADE: 30

BONUS: 50

The final marks.

TOTAL SCORE: 51

Right now, this is a park of extremes. It is absolutely beautiful, with beautiful views inside and out. The architecture both stands out and displays wonderful subtlety, with small touches that a lot of stadiums could learn from. And yet, it is an imperfect park that has a lot of lessons to learn about putting together a good experience.

The good news is that many of the park’s shortcomings are the kinds of things can be changed with experience (or updated scoreboard software). It is inevitable that the organization will improve on its gameday experiences.

I’m going to try to go back to SRP Park in the next year or two, when a lot of the construction is done and hopefully things improve on the gameday. And, I don’t know, put a kids putt-putt course on some of the lawn in right field, to get more of that local connection to the park.