Riley Park Club gives a new perspective on our favorite pastime 

A Whole New Ball Game

click to enlarge Indigo Road manages Riley Park Club's menu which means gameday food evolves daily

Sam Spence

Indigo Road manages Riley Park Club's menu which means gameday food evolves daily

I'll cut to the chase: Once you watch a Charleston RiverDogs game from the team's new Riley Park Club, you won't want to go back to the bleachers.

If you've ever been to a game at The Joe, you've probably seen team owner Mike Veeck's motto emblazoned on the wall somewhere in the park: "Fun is good." That's why the team goes to such lengths to add a bit of amusement to games. The front office knows they're selling tickets to minor league games meant to develop reliable players, not show off superstars. Themed games which include Silly String fights and Cinco de Mayo(nnaise) celebrations, are just plain entertaining, but at their most basic level, they help sell baseball tickets. And just like Star Wars night and cotton candy burgers, the new Riley Park Club is another selling point to get people out to the Joe.

Club level ticket holders will quickly realize that this is a vastly different gameday experience, a far cry from the peanuts and popcorn most of us are used to. Built overlooking the first baseline and the Ashley River marsh, the new $3 million club level offers a roomy, versatile space the team pitches as a unique place for events and an ideal venue for watching the 'Dogs.

But the thing that sets the Riley Park Club apart from the rest of the park is the food, which along with select drinks, is included with your admission.

As part of the upgrade to the park, the RiverDogs signed with The Indigo Road to manage a completely new kitchen to serve the Club as well as the existing upper-level suites. With their Charleston restaurant portfolio boasting upper-end spots like Oak, the Macintosh, O-Ku, and the Cedar Room, the group has the expertise to turn out both quality steaks and sushi.

During a visit a few weeks ago, we were treated to a ballpark-adapted stir fry menu. Platters and buffet trays featured seaweed salad, crispy fried vegetable and chicken dumplings, pork fried rice, sweet-and-sour chicken breasts, and an Asian-spiced barbacoa. The wontons were ideal finger food while the barbacoa, chicken, and rice provided a substantial-enough main dish.

click to enlarge The Riley Park Club overlooks the first base line and the Ashley River - SAM SPENCE
  • Sam Spence
  • The Riley Park Club overlooks the first base line and the Ashley River

After seeing chef-attended stations at an earlier preview night, I was slightly miffed by the self-serve chafing dishes on game day. But the more I thought about it, I probably wouldn't have felt as at ease going back for more wontons with the silent judgment of a starched-shirt attendant. Even with more than 100 people there to watch the game and chow down, the dishes were continually replenished until about the seventh-inning stretch.

If stir fry night isn't your speed, a centrally-located table also stocked piles of warm Oak-branded cheeseburgers, big ol' hot dogs, and shoestring french fries. (Burgers and dogs are conveniently halved so you can grab one or six of each.) I found myself wanting more ballpark standards though there were no peanuts or nachos to be found.

Over at the full bar, ticketholders can choose from "complimentary" Bud and Bud Light on draft and a selection of red and white Woodbridge wines. Beyond that, you're paying out of pocket. But for a pro sporting event, the prices are reasonable, with Palmetto bottles at $5, and mid-range cocktails, wine, and prosecco for $9 a glass.

click to enlarge The Riley Park Club is ideal for large groups - SAM SPENCE
  • Sam Spence
  • The Riley Park Club is ideal for large groups

That said, the one thing that will steer people away from the Riley Park Club is the price of entry for a single-game ticket: $105. With general admission seats going for couch cushion change ($8), the idea of laying down a hundo for a RiverDogs game is a tall order. But if our initial trip to the club on opening weekend is any indication, the club may prove to be a winning option for groups or businesses. While we were there, a large rehearsal dinner party set up shop in the far end of the club, providing more than enough room for kids to scurry while parents gathered on couches and golf fans stopped to check in on The Masters on the dozen big-screens throughout. And the local businesses that buy luxury box seats for employees and clients may also find that the Riley Park Club provides a more spacious option than the upstairs suites, which can feel cramped at times.

There may be wontons and white wine, but you can enjoy a RiverDogs game all the same from the plush confines of the Riley Park Club. Don't let that leather couch or marsh view spoil you or stop you from grabbing a beer and stepping outside to sing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game."

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