University City

Charlotte 49ers’ baseball stadium lauded in magazine survey


Robert and Mariam Hayes Stadium, home to the Charlotte 49ers baseball team, has a lot to offer.

For alumnus Kevin Harward, the stadium’s construction in 2007 was an incentive to buy season tickets and reconnect with the university.

Charlotte coach Loren Hibbs said he believes its sleek appearance is a wonderful recruiting tool.

Darin Spease, senior associate athletic director for business, is happy a significant bump in attendance in the past six years has added revenue to the athletic department.

Writer Brian Wilmer agrees Hayes Stadium is one of the best college baseball facilities in the country, despite his displeasure with the lack of nearby parking. He says so in his review of the stadium in a recent issue of Stadium Journey, an industry magazine that reports on athletics facilities in numerous sports and at various levels of play.

In its article “2013 College Baseball Ballpark Rankings,” Stadium Journey lists Hayes Stadium as the 14th-best NCAA Division I facility in the U.S. It is the top-ranked stadium in North Carolina.

UNC Chapel Hill’s Boshamer Stadium was rated 20th nationally.

“It’s unpretentious first-class,” said season ticketholder Jay Halprin of UNCC’s venue. “It’s comfortable. There’s an air that makes you feel like you’re a part of the team.

“There was always closeness to the stadium, but it was like buying someone a new suit when they put up the fence and dugouts and press box. It was like making the big time.”

The article makes it clear the rankings were based on correspondents’ visits to 143 of the country’s stadiums over the last two years. The magazine plans to review the other 153 Division I stadiums next year.

Rankings were determined by a variety of factors, including concessions, overall atmosphere, the neighborhood, fans, access, return on investment and a category named “extras” to consider each stadium’s unique qualities. Each category was ranked on a scale of one to five stars.

Hayes Stadium, which seats 3,000 people, earned five stars for its concessions, return on investment, extras (including its souvenir stand and table of giveaways) and fans, giving a nod to Paul Buchanan, otherwise known as “The Uh-Huh Guy.”

Blemishes bestowed on the ballpark were its “access” (two stars), for fans having to walk long distances from parking lots, and three stars for “neighborhood,” because of the lack of proximity to what it called “nightlife.”

Hayes Stadium represents the old and new of Charlotte’s baseball program. The name “Hayes Stadium” refers to the seating, press box, concessions area and restrooms that were constructed six years ago. It surrounds Tom and Lib Phillips Field, where the 49ers have played since 1984. Charlotte 49ers coaches and players constructed the field’s original dugouts and fencing.

Before the construction in 2007, Phillips Field sported aluminum bleachers as its only seating; a small, modular press box; and no restrooms. When nature called, spectators had to leave the ballpark and walk to the facilities at Wells Fargo Fieldhouse, which is closer to the university’s softball field.

“The first year, we saw a tremendous uptick” in attendance, said Spease. “No one had baseball season tickets before then. We have people that come to a baseball game today that would have never come to sit on a grassy hill. We’re probably up seven or eight times with revenue, compared to before the stadium.”

One of Hayes Stadium’s jewels is the Eric Walker Suite, which includes a hospitality room and sun deck that can be rented out for small groups. It has special meaning to Cass Ferguson, UNC Charlotte’s director of athletic facilities and event operations.

Ferguson and Walker were friends when they were UNCC students near the turn of this century. Walker was a relief pitcher for the 49ers, and Ferguson was one of the team’s biggest fans.

Walker died in a boating accident in 2006.

“Everyone is proud of the stadium,” said Ferguson. “Knowing where we came from and knowing where we are now. … We get a lot of compliments on the stadium from home fans and visiting fans. The customer service is great. It’s one piece to the campus, but it fits in nicely to the whole campus.”