The Charlotte Blue Hornets, an amateur baseball team composed entirely of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department officers, took to the diamond for its first games this year.
For the 2011 season, team leaders have put together an inaugural schedule that includes charity games, membership in the Charlotte Adult Baseball League and a season-ending tournament at the World Police and Fire Games in New York City at the end of August.
The idea for a team started with Justin Davies and Jeff Lang, two officers with ties to the CMPD's Eastway Division. A former minor-league baseball player, Davies started asking around about the existence of a police baseball team when he started on the force 5 1/2 years ago.
Originally from Long Island, Davies heard how prominent department-based sports teams, including baseball, were among New York City police officers. He was surprised to learn there was no such thing in Charlotte.
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Lang, a former high school player, was Davies' training officer. They shared thoughts last summer about forming a team.
Their inspiration was having Charlotte represented at the World Police and Fire Games, a semi-annual event in which police and fire departments worldwide compete in dozens of sports. Not only are the World Games on American turf this year, they are commemorating the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Blue Hornets coach Scott Sweatt sent an email to everyone in the Police Department late last year, announcing tryouts for a team. Eighty-five people originally expressed interest and 40 attended a December tryout. The team was whittled down to 25 players, and workouts began in January.
Through a contact Davies had with the Chicago Police Department, he was able to schedule the Blue Hornets' first games. Though he was surprised the Chicago team accepted his invitation, a three-game series was scheduled for Charlotte in April.
The Chicago team paid for all of its travel expenses, just as Charlotte will when it plays in New York in August. The teams played a charity game at the Charlotte Knights Stadium, and a game at Pineville's Jack Hughes Park. The third game, at East Mecklenburg High, was rained out. Sweatt estimated the game at Knights Castle raised around $2,000 for Ace and T.J.'s Grind Kids.
In the Charlotte Adult Baseball League, the Blue Hornets are one of the league-leaders. They play in the Open Division (18-and-up) and won six of their first seven games.
The team's biggest challenge may be fielding the same team game after game. Conflicting work schedules often limit players' availability.
One of the Blue Hornets' top players is pitcher Jess Stewart, an officer in the North Tryon Division. Stewart, 26, pitched collegiately at Notre Dame and still has most of his stuff.
Stewart became a hero of the game at the Knights Castle: His run-scoring double in the bottom of the seventh was the game-winner, and he was also the pitcher of record.
Stewart is mostly looking forward to the World Police and Fire Games Aug. 27-Sept. 1.
"If Chicago is any indication, there will be some solid teams," said Stewart. "We have heard stories about NYPD and people practicing year-round and having the resources to do so."
Even though the next World Games will be played in 2013, the Blue Hornets plan to continue to play their charity games and to compete in the Adult League.
"Our main goal (is) to serve as goodwill ambassadors to the community," said Davies, "and to have an outlet for officers to play competitive baseball."