The Holly Springs Salamanders Add a Twist to the Summertime Baseball Experience
By Kurt Dusterberg
Photos courtesy of the Holly Springs Salamanders
Minor league baseball is part of the summertime landscape in cities across America. And in a few smaller towns like Holly Springs, a similar version of America’s pastime makes baseball even more of a community event.
The Holly Springs Salamanders play in the Coastal Plain League, a collegiate summer league. Ten of the 15 franchises play in North Carolina, and the teams play a unique role in their communities. For starters, the players live with host families during a season that runs from late May through early August.
“We’ve had host families that insist on taking two or three players,” Salamanders general manager Tommy Atkinson said. “The families have stayed in touch with the players and even gone to their college games during their season.”
The Salamanders play at the Holly Springs Ballpark at the North Main Athletic Complex. The 1,695-seat stadium is designed with fan-friendly features. There is a large concourse with picnic tables down the third-base line, as well as a beer and wine garden that overlooks right field.
For fans who like to wander and take in different views of the field, there are drink rails behind each seating section, where fans can gather and chat without blocking views from the seats.
The quality of play is top-notch. Atkinson, a former coach at Milbrook High School and Louisburg College, stays in touch with college coaches who supply him with players each season.
“You might have a kid from North Carolina State on the mound facing a kid from Catawba College,” Atkinson said. “One is Division I, one is Division II. They’re both very good players, but they don’t get to play each other during the school season. In this league they do, so it’s neat to see that.”
And the fans seem to enjoy the atmosphere. The Salamanders sell more than 1,000 tickets per night for the 28-game home schedule.
During its third season, Holly Springs will host the CPL all-star game, an event that will likely feature some future stars. The league boasts 94 alums who have played in Major League Baseball, including 2011 American League Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander.
With summertime baseball teams dotting the map statewide, the Holly Springs franchise has made a Salamanders outing as attractive as possible. A new promotion for 2017 includes a five-game, all-you-can-eat ticket for $75, with a bonus ticket to the all-star game.
And soggy summer nights aren’t much of a worry. With a Sports Turf field, fans can wait out a passing shower in the beer garden.
“It can rain three inches of rain in 30 minutes and it will all be gone in 20 minutes,” Atkinson said. “That’s why we haven’t had any rain-outs.”
The Coastal Plain League has its own summertime niche. While some teams have quirky nicknames and logos – the Savannah Bananas, the Fayetteville Swampdogs – others tap into local history. The High Point-Thomasville HiToms and the Wilson Tobs harken back to minor league teams of yesteryear. Most teams play in former minor league parks or new state-of-the-art facilities.
“A lot of people want to play here in Holly Springs,” Atkinson said. “They want to come play in our stadium. The best thing we can tell them is we have really good host families, we feed the players good after games and we put them on a good bus to travel all summer. The players really appreciate that.”
Schedules and other info can be found at salamandersbaseball.com