The official title of the home of the Danville Braves is "American Legion Post 325 Field at Dan Daniel Memorial Park". That's quite a mouthful, reminiscent of "Oriole Park at Camden Yards". But the situation here at Dan Daniel is quite different from Camden Yards, which is essentially just a baseball stadium (albeit a fantastic one in it's own right, that will likely be getting a feature in this series). The rookie league Braves affiliate's field is literally....in the middle of a park.
The park is tiny, seating only 2,588. This is actually the second highest capacity in the entire Appalachian League. I came here last August on my way to Atlanta. I wanted to stop for a night to check out some of the newly-drafted young Braves, and figured it would be worth a stop. I didn't know what I was getting into. The park feels more like a little league environment than a professional sports event, and I don't mean that in a bad way. The clientele at the game I was at (between the Braves and the Elizabethton Twins) wasn't like anything I'd ever seen before.
It seemed like all of the attendees at the game new each other, like they were all regulars. In the section I was sitting in (underneath the roof, three rows up, between home plate and the Braves dugout), all of the fans bantered with each other and talked about their families, local events, and most importantly, the game being played and the team. I sat down, not really knowing what to expect. An older woman and her friends sat next to me, and we got to talking. I got a chuckle when her first words to me were, "boy, you're a yankee, aren't you?" It felt like I was really in the south. But even despite me not being a local, the fans weren't hostile towards me. When I explained where I was from, why I was there, and what I did, the fans listened intently, and asked questions. It wasn't like anything I'd ever seen at a park before.
Now, the stadium itself. Legion Field is a tiny place. The stands only go about halfway down the lines, with no seating in the outfield. There really isn't much of an opportunity for seats in the outfield either, with various foliage dispersed throughout the outfield and a giant...hill type thing in center field. My seat, which cost a whopping $7, was ridiculously close to the action. I barely needed to use my camera's zoom to get good shots of the players in action.
Something I had only seen in luxury seats was also in effect at Danville's park: waitresses. There were a couple of team employees assigned to each section that were essentially in charge of serving the fans. They would take food and drink orders for a few people at a time, collect the money, and disappear for a few minutes to the concession stands before returning with each fan's order. It was pretty unique for a minor league stadium.
One tradition I noticed at Danville was that during the seventh inning stretch, the PA system played "Sweet Caroline", a song that has taken root in Fenway Park with the Boston Red Sox. Well here in Danville, the *entire* stadium sang along with the song. The crowd singing the song's chorus was probably the loudest they got all night. It was quite a moment.
After the game, which the Braves lost 4-0, the fans said their goodbyes to each other and me, and all went home. Danville is a very small, sleepy town, but they love their team. This was my first rookie league game, but I don't think it will be the last. There wasn't a lot to do in Danville aside from the Braves, but I'd stop in the town again for a night, just to watch the team at this old-school park again.
Photos courtesy of Joe Lucia. Check out the rest of my photos from Danville here.
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