Kannapolis Intimidators reach out to community

The Greensboro Spartans (yellow uniforms) and West Raleigh Iron Pigs (blue) squared off recently in the Top Gun Summer Nationals tournament at IntimidatorsStadium in Kannapolis.
The Greensboro Spartans (yellow uniforms) and West Raleigh Iron Pigs (blue) squared off recently in the Top Gun Summer Nationals tournament at IntimidatorsStadium in Kannapolis. JOE HABINA

On many Sundays at Kannapolis’ Intimidators Stadium supported by Carolinas Healthcare System, game day staff is abuzz in the early afternoon as it prepares for a 5 p.m. minor league home.

Concession workers are cooking hot dogs and chilling drinks, the maintenance crew is hosing down the bleachers as part of the cleanup from the night before, and groundskeepers are putting the finishing touches on their field. Kannapolis Intimidators players are in the clubhouse waiting for batting practice.

Though the Intimidators were almost 600 miles away on July 26, in the middle of a road series with the Lakewood, N.J., Blue Claws, baseball was still being played at Intimidators Stadium. Teams of under-14 players were wrapping up a tournament sponsored by the Concord-based organization Top Gun Sports.

Hosting a youth baseball tournament during an Intimidators road trip is just one of the ways the Chicago White Sox affiliate tries to make itself accessible to the community. Generarl manager Randy Long said the team’s contribution is not limited to bringing professional baseball to Kannapolis. It is about being a key presence in Rowan and Cabarrus counties.

“For events like this, we don’t make much (money),” said Long, who has worked for the Intimidators, and the Piedmont Bollweevils before that, since 1997. “We’re willing to give our time to the community.”

Long said bringing people to the stadium for non-Intimidators events may help turn them into long-term Intimidators fans.

The Intimidators play 70 regular season home games a year. Kannapolis is averaging about 2,100 fans per game.

With 19 home games left, Long said the team is on schedule to set a new attendance record for the 21-year-old franchise. In 2012, the Intimidators drew more than 138,000 fans.

Long realizes that not every patron attends a game at the 4,700-seat Intimidators Stadium to watch minor league baseball. Some are looking for an experience that extends beyond the sport.

To spark interest, the team sprinkles in promotions and guest appearances. This season, that included visits from the characters of the Disney film “Frozen” and former professional wrestler “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan.

On July 18, the Intimidators welcomed Sanctus Real, a Grammy-nominated Christian band for a post-game concert.

“I can’t open up the gate and get 3,000 people to come in,” said Long. “That’s just not in this market.”

The Intimidators lease the stadium from the City of Kannapolis. As part of his job as general manager, Long manages the use of the stadium. That can include opening it up for baseball teams from various levels of play.

In the past five years, Intimidators Stadium has been the regular season home of Gray Stone Day School, which is in Stanly County but does not have its own baseball field. Other teams that have played home games at Intimidators Stadium are two home-school teams, the Charlotte Stampede and the Cabarrus Stallions, and the Kannapolis American Legion Post 115 team.

In the spring, the Intimidators host annual high school and middle school tournaments. For the past couple of years, Top Gun has played its Summer Nationals tournament at the stadium andthe Amateur Athletic Union has played games there in the past.

“Randy and the team have been very gracious over the years to support what we do,” said Top Gun president Donnie Broome. “It’s a big feather in our cap that can offer (use of a minor league stadium) to our championship teams. Parents and players really like that.”

Teams and organizations are required to pay a fee for stadium use but they often get plenty of bells and whistles that come with playing on a minor league field. They get to use batting cages, bullpens, the scoreboard and the public address system.

“It’s funny, but kids come in and say ‘Wow. There’s a restroom in the dugout,’” Long said.

Joe Habina is a freelance writer: