On the eve of one of the biggest nights in Charlotte baseball history, three men took the field at BB&T BallPark for an afternoon practice. In some capacity, Charlotte Knights pitcher Brad Goldberg, Memphis Redbirds manager Mike Shildt and Reno Aces shortstop Jack Reinheimer will all be part of Wednesday’s Triple-A All-Star Game.
These three have different lives, different stories. And yet here they are, fielding ground balls and sweating together on the same field. The trio never could have known they’d all be at the same place on the same day, but now they are, and that means something.
That baseball in Charlotte has no one face; that old-timers of the past and the next generation of stars can coexist; or maybe most importantly, that baseball in Charlotte still exists.
That baseball in Charlotte will continue to exist.
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Shining shoes and baseball ABC’s
Before the Charlotte Knights, there were the Charlotte Orioles, and before there was Shildt the manager, there was Shildt the shoeshiner.
His mother was an administrative assistant with the team, which meant Shildt spent his childhood in the clubhouse.
“You learn your ABC’s of baseball at a young age,” Shildt said, “and I learned mine from some really good people.”
Cal Ripken Jr., who Shildt said he shined shoes for, was chief among them. The future-MVP and Hall-of-Famer spent less than two years in Charlotte, but during that time, he made his mark on a young Shildt. Shildt went on to play first at Olympic High in Charlotte and then at the University of North Carolina at Asheville.
But during his freshman season in Asheville, Shildt had an epiphany.
After a win over Tennessee, Shildt was riding back to school in the team van with his peers. He wasn’t celebrating like the rest of them, so a teammate asked what was wrong.
“I just realized,” Shildt remembered saying, “I’m not gonna play professional baseball.
“I knew where I stood ... and I realized I was a little more gifted mentally than I was physically.”
Not wanting to give up baseball yet, Shildt turned first to scouting and then to coaching. He quickly rose through the ranks of the St. Louis Cardinals organization, and in late 2014, he was named the manager in Memphis.
He still has that same passion for the game, but his role has changed. As teachers are judged on the successes of their students, so too are minor league baseball managers with their players.
“You’ve gotta care more about your players’ careers than your own,” he said. “I don’t get caught up in classes or levels or all that.
“I just appreciate being able to teach and coach.”
An unexpected homecoming
Reinheimer checked flights from Reno back to Charlotte.
The $1,000 – too expensive.
It was a shame, because Reinheimer was hoping to see his family in Charlotte over the Triple-A All-Star break. The Reno Aces shortstop grew up here, was drafted out of Ardrey Kell High, and then played college ball at East Carolina until 2013. With the season and offseason workouts occupying most of the year, he only gets back home so often.
But then a spot came open in the All-Star Game, and Reinheimer was asked to fill it. He was glad to oblige.
He’d get to come home after all.
“Definitely a blessing,” Reinheimer said, “that I’d get to come home.”
The late addition meant finding tickets for all his family and friends could’ve been a problem. Luckily they’d already bought some, so the Reinheimer clan will show out in full force Wednesday night.
“I don’t know how many it’ll be,” he said, “but probably around 50.”
What a fitting homecoming after all.
An adopted home
It was the best alarm clock he’s ever had, Goldberg said.
A phone call one morning two weeks ago – it was admittedly pretty late, he said – telling him he’d be on the International League roster for the Triple-A All-Star Game.
It made him Charlotte’s only player representative, since infielders Matt Davidson and Leury Garcia suffered injuries. Hitting coach Andy Tomberlin and head athletic trainer Scott Johnson are also part of the game, but now the Knights had a player representing them on arguably the biggest night in Charlotte baseball history.
Goldberg isn’t a Charlotte native – he grew up in Cleveland and went to Ohio State –- but the city has become his adopted home.
“I keep getting the, ‘Man, how lucky are you guys to play here?’ ” he said. “Just to be here and let the guys know where the training room is is cool.”
Goldberg said he’s given his teammates restaurant and nightlife suggestions, but that he’s trying to take a step back at the same time.
He wants to appreciate where the city is, but that also means looking at how far it’s come.
How the team Shildt first shined shoes for has transformed, bringing the city with it. How a former local like Reinheimer can reunite with his family here, and how generations more like him will follow. How a city hundreds of miles away can take a visitor and, months later, turn him into a spokesperson.
When all three men step onto the field Wednesday night, it will mean something in Charlotte baseball history. But what exactly will it be?
“I’m not really well-versed in the history,” Goldberg said, “but the turnout just for this, and for (Monday)?
“You can’t beat this.”