Section 108, Row P, Seat 1: My head is down and my eyes are locked on the newspaper, which features a photo taken in early July of the old Knights Stadium in Fort Mill, S.C., with different shades of green (and brown) weeds growing wild up and over its walls.
My eyes drift up from the paper and it’s a totally different scene: There isn’t an unchecked weed inside gleaming BB&T Ballpark, the new home of the Chicago White Sox’s Class AAA team and the undisputed gem of the International League.
The three years of court battles that finally paved the way for this place, for the Knights to pack up their belongings after the 2013 season and make the move 21 miles up Interstate 77 for 2014 – it all appears to be worth it.
It’s the night of July 30, and the stadium that sits at the foot of our skyline is nearly packed to its capacity of 10,200 fans.
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
The team has already set its all-time attendance mark and is on a seemingly cruise-controlled pace to finish the season having hosted north of 650,000 fans – which would eclipse the 636,268 who watched the old Charlotte Bobcats play at Time Warner Cable Arena last year.
I’m sipping a Knights Ale – a beer NoDa Brewery crafted to be sold exclusively at the uptown stadium – and can see long-time Knights season-ticket holders John Ansell and Gene Fortner a few rows ahead of me. Both have been regulars for years, since the Knights were the Charlotte Orioles (the name was changed in 1989).
Tonight, Charlotte outfielder Jordan Danks is trying to pull even with Joe Borchard for the most hits in franchise history. He’s one away from the mark.
Ansell (who lives within walking distance) and Fortner (who drives 35 miles) both could tell you that Danks’ first hit with the Knights was a two-run home run in April 2010, but on this day, their attention is elsewhere – they’re busy marveling at the new ballpark.
Ansell notes that in Fort Mill, the average attendance last season about a third of the announced total of 9,729 on hand tonight. “Even less than that, if you took out Saturday nights and the Fourth of July,” he says.
I’d been hoping Danks would join Borchard in the record books early on, but it’s the sixth and he’s 0-for-3 with two punch-outs. The team is trailing Durham, 4-1.
At this point, I remind myself that I have to write a story for the Observer about the game, so I make my way upstairs.
Press Box: I’m in my usual spot: front row, all the way on the right.
To my left are two more holdovers from the old Knights Stadium: Jim “MoJo” Morrison and Dave Friedman. MoJo used to host a New York Jets radio show in New York and Friedman is the voice of the Winthrop Eagles. The press box is rarely a silent place.
I like that about it.
MoJo, who is in charge of Minor League Baseball’s pitch-by-pitch game tracker, praises the Internet access (it’s actually reliable) at the new stadium, and Friedman – who is the game’s official scorer – just likes that the press box windows stay open without needing to prop them up with spare pieces of plywood.
The game rolls on. My fast-approaching deadline means nothing to Danks as he steps into the box in the eighth for his final at-bat. Sitting on a first-pitch fastball, he gets exactly what he’s looking for: his 439th hit in a Knights jersey, a ringing single up the middle.
Danks gets stranded at first base and the Knights never score again, but that doesn’t matter to the diehards that stuck around past 10 p.m. on a weeknight, many of whom will probably be walking home.
Mojo and Friedman finish up and head out to choose from a number of pubs and restaurants that now line an area of Charlotte that was – not all too long ago – occupied by a rundown parking garage.
As I hurry to meet deadline, I pause for a moment and look up from my laptop. The image of the old Knights Stadium again flashes in my head but quickly melts away, once more replaced by my view of the Charlotte skyline.