It’s finally time to play ball uptown.
The Charlotte Knights open their 10,200-seat BB&T BallPark on Friday, at South Mint Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. Based on what we’ve seen (that skyline!), the stronger team name/location tie (the Charlotte Knights are actually in Charlotte now!) and the proximity of lots of restaurants for pre- and post-game grubbing (Mellow Mushroom, anyone?), it’s unlikely very many fans will miss the old stadium in Fort Mill, S.C.
As for the new one, here are some of our favorite features, along with a list of fun happenings to look forward to this season.
Try before you buy: You actually can sneak a peek at the action from the sidewalk along Mint Streets, since the open design of the ballpark includes see-through fences with direct lines of sight to the field.
Concessions: Been wondering how much for a beer and a hot dog? A jumbo Sahlen’s hot dog is $5; a kids’ dog is $3. Beers start at $7 for domestics, or $7.50 for craft brews from locals including Olde Mecklenburg Brewery and NoDa Brewing Company. NoDa, in fact, is debuting A Knight’s Ale for the home opener. Sodas are $4, or $2 for the kids’ size. A sampling of other items: $10 for a smoked turkey leg, $8 for chicken tenders, $5.50 for a Chick-fil-A sandwich, $4 for ice cream, $3.50 for bottled water, $3.50 for Crackerjack. Food vendors will include Queen City Q, Just Fresh, Domino’s Pizza, Salsarita’s and Whisky River. A frozen yogurt shop called The Fuzzy Peach will open Friday and operate year-round, with an entrance accessible from the street.
360-degree views: In Fort Mill, there was no fan access beyond the outfield walls. In Charlotte, any ticket holder can walk around the entire park, taking in perspectives from right, center or left fields.
The video board: Looming beyond the left-field fence, the high-definition Toshiba display is the widest in minor-league baseball, the team says – 82 feet across and 30 feet high. That’s six times larger than the one in Fort Mill. On it you’ll see scores, instant replays, sponsor logos, head shots, animations and more.
TV-style broadcasts: A video director and crew will operate cameras in different areas, delivering the action to TVs throughout the stadium. The ESPN 730-AM radio feed (featuring Matt Swierad, aka “the voice of the Knights”) will accompany the video.
Standing-room-only tickets: For $10 in advance or $12 on game days, you can stand up on the “home run porch” in the upper deck beyond the right-field wall; these are available whether the reserved seats are sold out or not. In the event reserved seats sell out, $8 standing-room-only tickets give you access to the concourse, where drink rails abound.
Dugout suite experience: Two dugout suites, which accommodate 25 people each, are low to the ground and put you closer to home plate than the pitcher. Rental is $1,975, and includes 25 tickets, a buffet and soft drinks.
Team store: The store is open year-round and features merchandise with the team’s four new logos.
“Thirsty Thursdays”: Small draft beers are $3 until the end of the seventh inning. The Knights have 10 Thursday games in 2014.
“Friday Night Fireworks”: The displays will cap 14 Friday nights at the stadium (including the home opener). July Fourth’s will be super-sized, and a 15th fireworks show falls on Sunday, Aug. 31 – the team’s last home game.
“KnightinGals”: The Knights’ 10-woman official dance team will perform before and during all 10 Saturday home games.
“Family Sundays”: Kids will be invited onto the field to run the bases after Sunday home games (except Aug. 31).
The team’s dozens of promotions are listed at www.charlotteknights.com, but here are a few highlights:
Opening Day: Former Knights slugger/future Hall of Famer Jim Thome will throw out the first pitch. Starting at noon Friday at adjacent Romare Bearden Park, a festival will feature the introduction of the Knights team, an autograph session, the Budweiser Clydesdales, music, stilt walkers, face painters, jugglers, magicians and more. Gates to the ballpark open at 5 p.m.; the first pitch is at 7:05.
Cinco de Mayo (May 5): WWE Hall of Famer Tito Santana will mingle with fans, sign autographs and throw out the ceremonial first pitch. First 2,000 women get a pink baseball.
Bark in the Park (June 8): Fans can bring their dogs to the park, or adopt one. First 2,000 fans get a Knights soccer ball. WWE Hall of Famer George “The Animal” Steele is the night’s guest star.
Great Outdoors Night (June 23): “Duck Dynasty’s” Mountain Man will be on hand, and in his honor, the team will host a beard contest.