The Charlotte Knights’ Class AAA season doesn’t officially kick off until April 9, but on a crystal-clear Friday night they gave Charlotte fans a glimpse of just how exciting of a team they can be.
Leury Garcia, Jared Mitchell and Neftali Soto each connected on two-run homers to help Charlotte on its way to a 10-2 win over its parent club – the Chicago White Sox – in an exhibition played in front of a sold-out crowd at BB&T BallPark.
The announced attendance of 10,556 was the second-largest in the history of the ballpark, trailing only its Aug. 31, 2014, mark of 10,574.
“There was a great atmosphere tonight,” said Mitchell, who finished the night 2-for-4 with a double and three runs knocked in. “A great crowd came out, and it gets you back into season mode. It’s good to get that under our belt and hopefully it’ll kick-start us into next week.”
As the Knights walked off the field, Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk” boomed out of the ballpark’s PA system. The plan is to play the song after each home victory.
It could play more often than not this season.
The matchup between the Knights and their major-league affiliate was their first-ever played within the city limits. The clubs last played an exhibition game in Fort Mill, S.C., in 2010. It was first time a Major League team has played in Charlotte since April 12, 1984, when the Charlotte O’s hosted the Baltimore Orioles.
The game was preceded by a charity lunch that featured a Q&A session with White Sox General Manager Rick Hahn, Vice President of Player Development Buddy Bell and Knights manager Joel Skinner.
“We have a system full of great ballparks, but this one is really the crown jewel of them all,” Bell said when asked about his experience in the city and thoughts on the Knights’ ballpark as the team gears up for its second season uptown.
From the first inning, it was clear the Knights were out to prove that Hahn had mistakenly assigned each and every one of them to the minors.
Tyler Saladino – appearing in his first game in Charlotte since Tommy John surgery sidelined him just before the Triple-A All-Star Break last season – worked a leadoff walk, stole second and – after a John Danks throwing error – came in to score on a fielder’s choice.
After a scoreless second inning, the Knights connected on two-run homers in the third, fourth and fifth innings to break the game wide open.
Tracye Thompson, who is in line to start at centerfield for Charlotte this season, finished the night 3-for-4.
Knights’ pitching held the White Sox to eight hits. Reigning American League Rookie of the Year Jose Abreu went hitless in three at-bats, snapping a 16-game spring-training hitting streak.
“It was a fun night because a lot of those guys (on the White Sox) have played for a long time,” Mitchell said. “It’s nice to get out there and show that we can play with them and belong on the same field as them.”
The Knights’ next exhibition action will come on Monday when they host the Davidson Wildcats at BB&T BallPark. First pitch is scheduled for 3:05 p.m. Admission is free.