Mike Bullard arrived at the new Charlotte Knights BB&T Ballpark on his bicycle Saturday at 4:40 a.m., the first person in line for the first day of single-game ticket sales.
The office didn’t open until 9 a.m. so he made himself at home on the sidewalk. From a backpack, Bullard, 29, removed a folding chair, snacks, a six-pack of beer and a bottle of champagne.
It was a good time to celebrate: As the Knights’ first season in uptown Charlotte drew nearer he felt confident about getting a ticket for the April 11 opener. The new $54 million ballpark with a seating capacity of 10,200 was just a few minutes from his South End Charlotte home. Lines eventually wrapped around the stadium and ticket sales were brisk.
“Charlotte has the Bobcats, the Panthers and the Checkers. The only thing missing was the Knights,” Bullard said. “This was the missing piece. The ballpark is absolutely gorgeous. It’s a great setting with the city skyline in the background.”
Bullard’s friend, Jeremy Coffey, 29, jogged 3 1/2 miles to the ballpark and got second place in line.
Shortly after Bullard and Coffey arrived others began trickling in. Before long, the line stretched down Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and eventually wrapped around the stadium along Graham Street all the way to Fourth Street. Waits of more than three hours were common.
Early Saturday, bundled-up fans stood in the cold sipping coffee, nibbling pastries and chatting on cellphones. They came with babies and dogs. One man relaxed in a folding chair reading a Michael Crichton thriller.
Dan Rajkowski, Knights executive vice president and chief operating officer, could hardly believe the turnout when he arrived around 8 a.m.
“I was amazed,” he said. “It tells me how excited people are about the ballpark opening downtown. It’s been a long time in the works but on April 11 the first pitch will be thrown at BB&T Ballpark. It’s a splendid location and is creating a tremendous energy in Third Ward. There’s a real buzz in the city about this team.”
On sale were tickets to any of the 72 home games, the USA Baseball game against Chinese Taipei on July 3, and the Triple-A National Championship on Sept. 16.
Knights officials would not disclose how many tickets were sold Saturday, but did say that by the time the ticket office closed at 5 p.m., single-game tickets for the April 11 opener and the April 12 game (both against Norfolk) were sold out. Season ticket packages that include those games are still available.
Single-game tickets to other home games were available online at www.charlotteknights.com or by calling 704-357-8071.
Rich Baran landed third in line by getting up at 4 a.m. and leaving his Mint Hill home without taking time for breakfast.
“All I had was a Pepsi and a chew of tobacco,” said Baran, 50, who planned to attend the opener with his daughter, who is a student at UNC Wilmington.
Since she was a little girl they’d gone to Knights games in Fort Mill, S.C. The old stadium was fine, but “like anything else it got outdated,” Baran said. “You’ve got to change with the times. The new ballpark is beautiful and long overdue.”
He planned to text his daughter as soon as he got tickets.
“She’ll be surprised when I tell her she’s going to be there on opening day at BB&T stadium,” Baran said.
Albert Taylor stood in line along Graham Street, recalling 20 years of Knights action he’d witnessed in Fort Mill.
“I saw a lot of great games down there,” said Taylor, 69, of Charlotte. “I hope to see some here.”
Looking at the new ballpark and fans lined up on the sidewalk, he said, “I’m glad to see this much enthusiasm and I hope they keep it up all season long.”
Angelo Montana, 74, of Fort Mill described himself as a veteran of waiting in lines. Two of his longest waits were for concerts by Andrea Bocelli and Bruce Springsteen in New Jersey.
Montana predicted good things for the Knights in the new location.
“Attendance will grow,” he said. “This is a sports conscious city.”
Rich and Donna Sitarski of Charlotte found themselves standing near the end of the line at Fourth Street.
“We were shocked and dismayed,” Rich Sitarski said. “I should have set the alarm clock earlier.”
He hoped to get an opening day ticket as a present for his wife’s mother on her 90th birthday.
Hundreds of people stood in his way, but he remained positive.
“It’s a beautiful day for buying tickets,” Sitarski said.