The Charlotte Knights may have ended the team’s first season at uptown’s BB&T BallPark on Monday with a 9-2 thumping, but there’s still a bit of baseball to be played at the ballpark.
This game will decide the Class AAA champion Sept. 16 on national TV, and it won’t involve the hometown Knights. At 63-81 for the season, they had the worst record among the International League’s 14 teams.
Instead, it’ll be a one-game championship game between two out-of-towners: The undetermined winners of the International and Pacific Coast leagues.
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The game will be televised on the NBC Sports Network. Half the available tickets have been sold, bought up by “hard-core” Knights fans, Dan Rajkowski, the Knights chief operating officer, told reporters Thursday.
About 150 executives from all teams in both leagues will attend the game and hold meetings in Charlotte. Less certain is how many fans both teams will draw to the Queen City.
The top four teams of both leagues are currently in a playoff, with each pairing playing a best-of-five game series. If some take five games to decide – or if rain delays a series – “we may not know until the Sunday before the Tuesday of the national championship game which teams are coming,” Rajkowski said.
The Durham Bulls of the International League is the only Carolinas team in the playoffs.
Class AAA baseball has used the current format since 2006. The first five championship games were played in Oklahoma City, Okla. In 2011, organizers decided to move the game around each year.
The Knights are marketing the game to their season ticket-holders – hoping BB&T BallPark will see its 32nd sellout for the first season in Charlotte after playing the previous 24 seasons at Knights Stadium near Fort Mill.
Dan Moore, a Knights fan from Charlotte, bought two tickets to the game Thursday. “It’s another chance to watch more baseball in my hometown,” he said. “And these are the best two teams in the minors.”
Ballpark takes the LEED
It will be a rare championship game for professional teams in Charlotte. Pro soccer teams from Charlotte have played in title games here, but there’s been no Super Bowl or NBA finals.
So for Charlotte, it will be another opportunity to show off the city’s skyline on national television, with the game played in the best-attended ballpark in all of minor league baseball. It will also be played in only the second minor league facility given a LEED certification by the U.S. Green Building Council. The credential is given to buildings with energy and water-saving designs.
Rajkowski announced the certification Thursday, along with final attendance numbers for the inaugural season: 687,715 fans came through the gates. That’s an average 9,686 fans each home game – and none of the 71 home games saw less than 8,000 fans.
Before the season, Rajkowski said the Knights had hoped attendance would reach 600,000.
He said the club will get more aggressive during the off-season to schedule more events at the ballpark. Team officials are also reviewing everything from pricing to making changes to the ballpark.
“We got thrown into the season,” he said. “We went from groundbreaking to locating our offices to closing up Fort Mill. We know what our charge is: We’ve got to make sure we keep 9,500 to 10,000 fans coming out to the games.”