WINSTON-SALEM — The best seats in the house for a Winston-Salem Dash game at Truist Stadium aren’t actually seats.
They’re on a grassy berm just beyond the outfield wall.
At least, that’s the opinion of about a dozen members of the Two Cities Church life group attending a game against the Greenville (S.C.) Drive last week. Seeing them spread out on blankets, socializing as much as they were watching the action on the field, it’s hard to disagree with them.
“This is the first time I’ve been on the lawn. I’m usually in the seats, but I kind of like this because it’s a little more relaxed,” said Amanda Cooksey.
“And those seats (in the stands) aren’t very comfortable,” Mary Dunlop added.
Although most traditional baseball fans prefer sitting in those seats, 5,500 of them in all, the heart of the action at Truist Stadium is literally out in left field beyond the sign that keeps track of how many home runs the Dash have hit this season.
There’s a beer deck, a merry-go-round for the young children and cornhole boards for the older ones. It’s a popular place for Thirsty Thursday night games and on weekends.
But Jason Lemley and his 7-year-old son Lawson prefer to come to weeknight games when it’s less crowded.
“I like bringing him out on nights when he’s got free rein and he can move as much as he wants to move,” said Jason, a middle school assistant principal from nearby Lexington.
In addition to Winston-Salem, the Class A South Atlantic League affiliate of the Chicago White Sox, the Lemleys regularly attend minor league games in Kannapolis and Greensboro.
But Lawson Lemley prefers going to Dash games.
And it’s easy to see why.
On this night, he’s holding a baseball in each hand, thrown to him by each team’s left fielders — former NC State star Terrell Tatum of the Dash and Greenville’s Nick Decker.
As much fun as the fans on the berm were having, Omar Hamdi had to disagree with them about where best to watch the action.
“I think it’s here,” he said as he sat with friends at a table in the Flow Club. “You’re not going to get a better view of the game.”
The sightlines aren’t the only plus. Located in the upper deck directly behind home plate, club patrons also have access to an all-you-can-eat buffet and other amenities as they watch in a much more luxurious, though equally relaxed, surrounding.
So which area is the best?
First-year Dash president and general manager Brian DeAngelis isn’t taking sides in the debate.
“Everybody has their own opinion,” he said. “If you want to come early, put down your blanket, have a couple of beers and just hang out like that group out there, that’s your best ticket. If you like having wait service and access to the club with the (air conditioning), then this is the way to go.”
Besides the difference in atmosphere, there’s also a difference in cost. General admission tickets for the grassy berm are $8 compared to $20 for the club. Regular reserved seats in the grandstand run $11.
Filling those seats has been a challenge for all 10 of the affiliated minor league franchises in North Carolina over the past few years because of the COVID pandemic that canceled play completely in 2020 and shortened the 2021 season.
But it’s been especially tough for the Dash. New management has been brought in to try and generate some new excitement in the franchise. While many of the planned changes are still in their early stages, DeAngelis said he likes the direction in which the team is headed.
“I’ve only been here 4-5 months and we’re operating a little differently now,” said the Pennsylvania native who came to Winston-Salem from the Triple-A Lehigh Valley IronPigs. “I come from a team that won the Larry MacPhail Award as the best promotional team in the business, so you’re going to see a lot more wacky promotions and things on the field.
“It’s not just a matter of making one promotion good, but how do you string a whole season together and how do you get fans to come back because they saw something one time then were surprised by what they saw the next time they’re here. Some of our promotions are going well, but next year we have about five or six already that I know are going to blow the minds of this town.”
While there’s plenty of new surrounding the Dash, at least some of the old traditions remain.
The most popular are those involving the team’s mascot, Bolt. A rotund red creature with a Mohawk and lightning bolts protruding from both ears, he interacts with fans and members of the opposing team while participating in numerous between innings activities.
Among the most anticipated of his bits happens during the seventh inning stretch when he dances on top of the dugout with a pair of assistants and a fan or two to the song “Ice Cream and Cake” by the Buckwheat Boyz.
“Lowe’s is a great partner, so we’ll keep that going for sure,” DeAngelis said. “I don’t know what it is about Bolt, but my kids love him … and they’ve been terrified of the mascots of every club I’ve been with.”
In addition to a loveable mascot and a cozy ballpark with a variety of seating options, another thing the Dash have going for them is the abundance of recognizable players who have played for the team in recent years.
It’s a list that includes former NC State pitcher Carlos Rodón, Wake Forest slugger Gavin Sheets and now Tatum, a star of the Wolfpack’s run to the College World Series last summer.
Tatum drove in the winning run in the 10th inning of a recent 12-11 victory, a night in which his former college teammate Tyler McDonough picked up three hits for the Drive.
“The majority of our tickets are sold before our rosters are announced, but from a walk-up standpoint, it’s never going to hurt,” DeAngelis said of the draw of having local players on both the home and visiting teams. “If they want to load us with ACC guys, believe me, we’ll take them.”
Not surprisingly, Tatum is one of the most popular players on the Dash’s current roster, but not always because of where he went to school. Behind him on the grassy berm in left field, he’s young Lawson Lemley’s favorite player for a different reason.
“I like him,” Lawson said. “He threw me a ball.”
Read NSJ’s 2022 MiLB Across NC features: Carolina Mudcats • Down East Wood Ducks • Kannapolis Cannon Ballers • Greensboro Grasshoppers • Fayetteville Woodpeckers • Charlotte Knights • Durham Bulls • Hickory Crawdads • Asheville Tourists