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In My Opinion

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Birth of a ballpark

By Tom Sorensen

If you’re a fan of baseball or ballparks, it’s tough to drive down Mint Street without gawking at BB&T Stadium. We talk about how fast our kids grow. I don’t care if their last name is Zeller. They don’t grow as fast as this has.

Ground was broken nine months ago. Rain falls almost daily. Yet this clearly is a ballpark. These clearly will be seats and these clearly will be suites. You see the spike in the dirt with the pink ribbon attached that’s guarded by five white or orange fences? That’s going to be home plate.

The Class AAA Charlotte Knights will move to BB&T in 2014. The International League has yet to release next season’s schedule. But if it has a heart, and a financial adviser, it will allow the Knights, who play in one of the league’s biggest markets, to host a July 4 game in their new stadium.

July 4 is about many things, among them an opportunity to pause and admire our traditions. What’s more traditional than baseball, ballpark hot dogs and fireworks?

Charlotte is playing its 24th and final season in Fort Mill. The biggest crowd the Knights attracted, 15,591 fans, was July 4, 2008. On July 4, 2012, they attracted 14,206. Capacity is 10,000.

So imagine yourself in BB&T Stadium on July 4, 2014. Two blocks west is Bank of America Stadium. Time Warner Cable Arena is less than a mile away. Look out from home plate past the outfield fence and you see office buildings, towers, sports bars, apartments and condominiums. In the last of the early evening sunlight the city gleams.

A concourse stretches the length of the stadium and will take you to bars, restaurants and a play area for kids. One section of seats is so close to home plate that every time a Durham Bulls pitcher looks at home plate you’ll want to compete with his catcher and offer a signal of your own. Four fingers mean a curve ball that doesn’t curve, a knuckler that doesn’t knuckle and a slider that doesn’t slide.

I will not compare BB&T to Fenway Park. I’m sober.

But they share a trait.

I looked out the window of my Boston hotel one afternoon and saw a strange configuration of lights several blocks away. I was curious, so I ran over to see what caused it. Beneath the lights was Fenway. Yet it didn’t loom. You didn’t see it until you were upon it. This is one of the great ballparks in the world. And it was squeezed into the neighborhood like a Ma & Pa stadium.

BB&T is squeezed in. To retain the feel of openness and to give spectators room to move, capacity is only 10,000.

I predict sellouts. I predict thousands of employees will stay downtown after work, find a seat at the ballpark and linger. Football and basketball are more intense than baseball. You don’t linger at Panthers games or Bobcats games, not if you’re interested in the sport or the outcome. Baseball, even Major League Baseball, allows fans to linger.

I lingered a few weeks ago at a party the Knights threw for sponsors, ticket holders and potential ticket holders. On a long table next to conventional party food were Cracker Jacks.

Cracker Jacks, popcorn and peanuts covered with caramel come from a different time. I didn’t know they still existed. Does every box still offer a prize? I picked one up.

Yes! In every box, there’s a prize.

I took a long look at the ballpark. I felt as if I’d already collected mine.

Sorensen: 704-358-5119; tsorensen@charlotteobserver.com
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