The Pittsburgh Pirates have a relatively long history of fielding their full-season A class affiliate in the South Atlantic League. In fact, the West Virginia Power, whose home ballpark was located in Charleston, West Virginia, represented the Pirates since 2009. However, during the 2018 offseason, they relocated that team to Greensboro, NC as the Greensboro Grasshoppers. Therefore, 2019 is the inaugural season for Pittsburgh’s Grasshoppers team playing at First National Bank Field.
Greensboro, which is located in north-central North Carolina, is the third largest city in the state. It has a rich historical past and is named after Revolutionary War hero Nathaniel Greene. Today, Greensboro is a thriving urban and cultural center. Moreover, it has been the host city of South Atlantic League baseball each season since 1980 and is a very attractive destination to visit.
The table in Figure 1 lists the seven baseball clubs in the Pittsburgh Pirates Minor League system. Note that the Greensboro Grasshoppers are their only Minor League affiliate that is located in North Carolina. The Grasshoppers’ ballpark, New Bridge Bank Field, is located approximately 428 miles from the Pirates home stadium, PNC Park, in downtown Pittsburgh.
On the other hand, two of the Pirates other Minor League clubs travel to destinations in North Carolina to play away games. They are Pittsburgh’s rookie class team in the Appalachian League, the Bristol Pirates, and triple-A team in the International League—the Indianapolis Indians. During the regular season, they visit Burlington, NC and Durham, NC, to play the Burlington Royals and Durham Bulls, respectively. Both of those North Carolina cities are conveniently located to Greensboro; have a long and rich association with Minor League baseball; and are interesting destinations to visit.
The theme of this three part post “Pittsburgh Pirates Fans—Greensboro Grasshoppers MiLB Road Trip” is a Pittsburgh Pirates North Carolina Minor League baseball road trip. That is, a trip to attend home games of their single-A team in the South Atlantic League—the Greensboro Grasshoppers. Figure 2 shows the main entrance to the Grasshoppers’ baseball stadium New Bridge Bank Field, which is located adjacent to downtown Greensboro, NC.
The primary goals of the road trip are:
- To attend home games of the Greensboro Grasshoppers at New Bridge Bank Field.
- See a number of the Pittsburgh Pirates MLB Top 30 Prospects that are members of the Grasshoppers 2019 roster and their team offense and pitching leaders in action on the field.
- Explore and experience some of the attractions of this attractive and historic North Carolina city.
The state of North Carolina has a long, rich, and very successful history related to the support of Minor League baseball. In fact, it is the home of some of the classic teams and top ranked stadiums of Minor League baseball. As mentioned earlier, the ballparks of the Burlington Royals (Kansas City Royals) and Durham Bulls (Tampa Bay Rays) are within close proximity of Greensboro.
The city of Durham, NC is the home of the well publicized Durham Bulls baseball team and a popular Minor League baseball destination. A team named the Durham Bulls has played in the city during 92 of the last 120 years. Moreover, today, the Bulls play their home games in one of the top ranked Minor League baseball stadiums. In fact, in a 2017 Baseball America article by Josh Norris titled “Top 10 Minor League Ballparks” Durham Bulls Athletic Park, which is shown in Figure 3(a), was ranked the #6 baseball stadium in all of Minor League baseball.
On the other hand, the Burlington Royals home ballpark, Burlington Athletic Stadium, is an example of a classic old-time baseball stadium. That stadium, which is a traditional grandstand style ballpark, opened in 1960 and is celebrating its 60th year in 2019. The grandstand seating sections behind the infield diamond are up close to the field and offer a great view of the action in the game.
Finally, the cities of Greensboro, Durham, and Burlington all have historic downtown districts and are interesting North Carolina travel destinations. For those reasons, I am suggesting that a secondary goal of the Pittsburgh Pirates Fans—Greensboro Grasshoppers MiLB Road Trip could be to attend a game at the ballparks of the Durham Bulls and/or Burlington Royals, enjoy the baseball experience in their stadiums, and spend a little time exploring those host cities.
Even better would be for Pirates fans to arrange travel plans for their visit to Greensboro to attend home games of the Grasshoppers to align with a period in which either the Bristol Pirates or Indianapolis Indians are playing away games in Burlington or Durham, respectively. This results in two other potential goals for a Pirates fan’s North Carolina road trip.
Attend a Bristol Pirates away game at Burlington Athletic Stadium to possibly see some additional Pittsburgh Pirates MLB Top 30 Prospects as well as the players that are leading Bristol’s offense and pitching staff.
Attend an Indianapolis Indians away game at Durham Bulls Athletic Park to see more of the Pittsburgh Pirates MLB Top 30 Prospects as well as the players that are leading the Indians’ offense and pitching staff.
As I have suggested, the proximity of those three ballparks to each other offers an interesting opportunity for fans of the Pittsburgh Pirates. That is, the ability to enrich their Greensboro Grasshoppers baseball travel experience with games at the stadiums of those other two clubs. The table of Figure 4 is a travel matrix that lists the name and address of the Greensboro Grasshoppers, Burlington Royals, and Durham Bulls stadiums and one-way travel distance/time between them.
The table shows that they are all located less than a 1 hr drive from each other and within what I consider an easy day-tripping travel distance and drive time. Note that the one-way travel distance/time from First National Bank Field in Greensboro to Durham Bulls Athletic Park in Durham is approximately a 54.2 mile, 55 minute drive. On the other hand, the trip from the Grasshoppers ballpark to Burlington Athletic Park in Burlington is just a 32.7 mile/39 minute drive.
The table in Figure 5 summarizes the home game schedules of the Greensboro Grasshoppers, Burlington Royals, and Durham Bulls during the 2019 summer vacation months of July and August. Check the color key below the table that is used to identify the team’s home games. This information will help you in choosing dates and the sequence of games for the Pittsburgh Pirates Fans—Greensboro Grasshoppers MiLB Road Trip.
Looking at the schedule table, you find a few periods during which the Grasshoppers, Royals, and Bulls are playing overlapping home games, for instance, July 23rd through July 25th and August 8th through August 10th. However, there are a number of other periods were the teams may be seen on consecutive days even though they are not all home over the complete sequence of day. The period of dates from July 11th though July 16th exhibits that characteristic. Note that over that six day stretch each team plays 4 games at home.
On the other hand, the table identifies that the Bristol Pirates and Indianapolis Indians each only make one visits to the region during the months of July and August. Note that Bristol plays a 3 game set (highlighted in green) against the Burlington Royals from July 23rd through July 25th. Moreover, the table shows that the Durham Bulls are playing at home during that period, but against another member of the International League circuit—the Pawtucket Red Sox (BOS), not the Indians.
A closer look at the schedule table shows that during those months the Indianapolis Indians also only travel to Durham for a single three game series. That takes place from August 9th through August 11th (highlighted in blue). During that stretch, the Burlington Royals play a few home games, but not against Bristol. Their opponent is the Danville Braves (ATL).
Therefore, it is not possible for Pirates fans that live in the vicinity of Pittsburgh, an area near one of the host cities of their other Minor League affiliates, or possibly another location in the country to catch all three of the Pittsburgh Minor League teams I have highlighted as part of their Greensboro Grasshoppers, North Carolina baseball trip. But they might still choose to attend a game at the third ballpark to enjoy that baseball experience and explore the host city.
On the other hand, fans of the Greensboro Grasshoppers and Pittsburgh Pirates located in or close to North Carolina could make independent day-trips to Burlington and Durham during the July and August periods to see all three of those Pittsburgh Minor League affiliates play home or away games in North Carolina.
If you are a Pirates fans that is traveling a long distance and making a multiday overnight stay in or near Greensboro, it is important to keep your travel plans a little flexible. That will enable you, if necessary, to make some easy, quick adjustments to your game schedule. Seeing home games of the Grasshoppers is the number 1 item on the agenda. Therefore, my first recommendation is to allow a minimum of two days for attending games in Greensboro. That should add some protection against the possibility of a rainout. Second, try to attend Grasshoppers games in the earlier part of their home stand. That will assure that there are more games to be played in case your game schedule needs to be pushed out due to bad weather.
As part of the planning process, check the 2019 schedule on the official websites of the Grasshoppers, Royals, and Bulls for the specific game times. Most of the games are in the evening start at around 6:30PM or 7PM, but on Sunday Grasshoppers and Bulls games are at 4PM and 505PM, respectively. Finally, Greensboro and Burlington do have a few Wednesday day games in July. In fact, on Wednesday July 24th the Bristol Pirates play the Burlington Royals at 11:00AM and on that same day the Grasshoppers play a day game that starts at 12 noon. That day, a Pirates fan could attend a day game in either Greensboro or Burlington and then travel on to Durham to see that Bulls play an evening game. A bit of running around, but that would enable one to see four games in the three day July 23rd through July 25th period—two Grasshoppers home games, one Bristol Pirates away game, and the Durham Bulls playing the Pawtucket Red Sox.
Also, recheck the travel matrix in Figure 4 of this post for an estimate of the travel distance and time for your day-trip to attend a game of the Durham Bulls or Burlington Royals. Moreover, allow some extra daylight time for the trip to both of their cities to give you the opportunity to explore local attractions and the ballpark.
In Parts 2 and 3 of this post, I will provide background information about each of the three teams, their ballpark, and the travel destination that will be helpful in developing one’s plans to attend a home game in each of the three cities. I will start with the Greensboro Grasshoppers and New Bridge Bank Field in Part 2 and then provide information on both the Burlington Royals/Burlington Athletic Park and Durham Bulls/Durham Bulls Athletic Park in Part 3. In those parts, I will briefly look at the history of the team, their stadium, and introduce a few visitor attractions and places to eat in the host city. Moreover, I will highlight the Pittsburgh Pirates MLB Top 30 Prospects on the Indianapolis Indians current rosters.
Walter Triebel spent 15 years as an adjunct faculty member at Fairleigh Dickinson University. He has had an extensive career in business and as a textbook and reference book author. Triebel’s “Road-Tripping the South Atlantic League: A Guide to the Teams, Ballparks and Cities“ was published by McFarland in 2016. It’s available for purchase on their website as well as Amazon.