Visit Hickory's L.P. Frans Stadium
Welcome to L.P. Frans Stadium, where Crawdudes and Crawdettes root for the Crawdads. Walk from county to county on the concourse while keeping an eye out for Conrad and his crustacean clan.
Hickory Crawdads (Affiliate of the Texas Rangers since 2009)
Established: 1993, in the Class A South Atlantic League
Ballpark: L.P. Frans Stadium (opened in 1993)
League: High-A East (South Division)
Notable Alumni: Andrew McCutchen, Joey Gallo, Aaron Rowand, Chris Young
Hickory, a small city in west-central North Carolina, was intermittently home to a Minor League team named the Rebels from 1936 through 1960. Professional baseball made its return in 1993 via the Hickory Crawdads, so-named because of the prevalence of these small crustaceans in local waterways. L.P. Frans Stadium opened in conjunction with the Crawdads' inaugural 1993 campaign; it is the only home the team has ever known. The Crawdads, originally members of the Class A South Atlantic League, moved up a level in 2021 as part of a larger Minor League Baseball realignment. The team was a Pittsburgh Pirates affiliate from 1993 through 1998, and this was followed by 10 seasons with the Chicago White Sox. The current affiliation with the Texas Rangers began in 2009.
L.P. Frans Stadium
2500 Clement Boulevard NW
Hickory, North Carolina 28601
Capacity: Approximately 5,000 (4,000 seats)
Dimensions: left field, 330; center field, 401; right field, 330
L.P. Frans Stadium is owned by the city of Hickory and named after local soft drink bottler Lee Polk Frans, whose his daughters helped fund its construction. It has both an upper and lower concourse, with the latter bisecting the seating bowl. The upper concourse, running from foul pole to foul pole, is home to suites, the press box, concession areas, a playground, merry-go-round, the team store and restrooms (marked "Crawdudes" and "Crawdettes"). The ballpark has a brick exterior, with fans entering beneath archways that lead to the upper concourse. Brick columns support the sloping green roof that provides shade to fans sitting behind home plate.
The walk from one end of the concourse to the other involves crossing a county line. Roughly speaking, the left-field side of the ballpark is in Berk County and the right-field side is in Catawba County. Berk County was a dry county at the time that the ballpark was built, and the team had to obtain a special permit in order to sell alcohol on that side of the ballpark. A third county, Caldwell, begins just several hundred yards beyond the outfield. Madison Bumgarner, a native of Caldwell County, went on to pitch at L.P. Frans Stadium as a member of the opposing Augusta GreenJackets.
Overall, a bucolic small town environment prevails. L.P. Frans Stadium is part of 37-acre Winkler Park, which includes a playground and walking trails. Tall trees ring the facility, leading to a sense of separation from the heavily populated surrounding area (as well as I-40, located approximately three miles to the south).
There are two main concession areas at L.P. Frans Stadium, and they stick to the basics. A concession stand on the third base side features ballpark staples such as burgers, hot dogs, chicken tenders, pretzels, popcorn and nachos. The Crawdads Café, located far down the first base-line, has indoor and outdoor seating and a slightly more diverse menu. (Think specialty burgers and meat-topped nachos.)
The Crawdads' most famous concession item is the CLAWlossal, discontinued in recent years (but rumored to make a return). This modest creation consisted of a foot-long chili-cheese dog, pub chips, a half-pound burger, a pulled pork sandwich, a corn dog, five onion rings, two jalapeño poppers and two pickle spears.
L.P. Frans Stadium is home to a nuclear crustacean family. Conrad the Crawdad and his wife, Candy, are the proud parents of the self-evidently named Baby Conrad. At least one member of this Crawdad Clan can be found roaming the ballpark during games, and they are often out and about in the community as well. Just don't pull their tails.
In 2021 the Crawdads debuted an alternate identity: the Couch Potatoes. The "couch" portion of this moniker was inspired by the Hickory region's history of furniture making and its "Furniture Capital of the World" nickname. The four-level Hickory Furniture Mart, featuring dozens of vendors under one roof, bills itself as a "true furniture destination that attracts visitors from every U.S. state."
In addition to hosting the Crawdads, Hickory is home to the Hickory Motor Speedway. This 70-year-old racing institution is known as "The Birthplace of the NASCAR Stars." If you'd rather fly than drive, visit the Hickory Aviation Museum. It's located at the Hickory Regional Airport, just minutes away from the ballpark.
Food and Drink
Olde Hickory Station, in scenic boutique-centric downtown Hickory, is located in what used to be the town's train station. It features a market, sprawling menus and beer from local Olde Hickory Brewery. And speaking of "olde," Vintage House serves upscale American cuisine out of, yes, a vintage house. Another higher-end option is Duke's Restaurant and Wine Bar, which emphasizes regional cuisine and local ingredients.
Bed and Breakfasts can be found throughout downtown Hickory and the surrounding area, offering homey and historic environments. There are plenty of hotel options in close proximity to the ballpark, clustered around I-40 to the south and U.S. Highway 321 to the east.
When it comes to ballpark road trips, there's no better state than North Carolina. The potential itineraries are endless. Moving west to east, the Crawdads would be the second team in a 10-team jaunt encompassing every North Carolina Minor League team. That itinerary would begin with the Asheville Tourists and then include the Crawdads, Charlotte Knights, Kannapolis Cannon Ballers, Winston-Salem Dash, Greensboro Grasshoppers, Durham Bulls, Fayetteville Woodpeckers, Carolina Mudcats and, finally, the Down East Wood Ducks (who, like the Crawdads, are a Rangers affiliate).
Of course one could also include the Crawdads as part of a trip that incorporates Minor League teams in Tennessee, Georgia, South Carolina and Virginia. And the region has plenty of ballpark options outside of the Minor League Baseball realm, including summer-collegiate Appalachian League entities such as the Burlington Sock Puppets.
The Road to Arlington
The Rangers' system starts in North Carolina, with players going from the Kinston-based Down East Wood Ducks to the Crawdads. From there it's all Texas, via the Double-A Frisco Rough Riders, Triple-A Round Rock Express and, finally, the Rangers themselves.
Low-A: Down East Wood Ducks (Kinston, North Carolina)
High-A: Hickory Crawdads (Hickory, North Carolina)
Double-A: Frisco RoughRiders (Frisco, Texas)
Triple-A: Round Rock Express (Round Rock, Texas)