Charlotte Knights

Charlotte Knights are on a quest to reclaim a minor-league title. Fireworks can help.

The Charlotte Knights lead the race for top attendance among U.S.-based minor-league baseball teams this season.
The Charlotte Knights lead the race for top attendance among U.S.-based minor-league baseball teams this season. 2016 File Photo

Charlotte and the Austin, Texas, area are locked in a race for top attendance among U.S.-based minor-league baseball teams this season.

The Knights, who won the minor-league attendance title from 2014-16 but surrendered the crown last summer to Indianapolis, are on top in 2018. Before Sunday evening’s game, they were averaging 8,852 fans in their 39 home dates at BB&T Ballpark.

Second, with an average of 8,757 fans, is the Round Rock Express, a Pacific Coast League team based in the north Austin suburb.

Charlotte will pad its average this week, with a capacity crowd almost a certainty for Wednesday night’s Independence Day game (followed by the SkyShow fireworks display) against Durham.

The Knights’ average is actually a bit behind last year’s mark of 9,120, which finished just behind the 9,159 average of Indianapolis. But attendance tends to be strong in July and August.

Third this season is Nashville, also of the Pacific Coast League, with 8,316. Rounding out the top five are Columbus (8,135) and Lehigh Valley (7,961). Indianapolis is sixth, at 7,723.

Actually, the minor-league leader is Monterrey, of the Mexican League, with an average of 12,878. Minor League Baseball considers the Mexican League to be at the AAA level, although the franchises do not have direct ties to Major League Baseball teams.

Some other attendance facts:

▪  Frisco (a suburb of Dallas) of the Texas League leads AA with an average of 6,700.

▪  The Single-A leader is the Dayton Dragons (Midwest League) with 7,845.

▪  In the Class A South Atlantic League, Hickory is averaging 1,774 and Kannapolis 1,047. The lowest average attendance in A, AA and AAA is in North Carolina – the Buies Creek Astros, with a draw of 354 fans per game.

Charlotte pitchers Thyago Vieira, above in 2017 with the Seattle Mariners, and Donny Roach were named this week to the International League All-Star team. Elaine Thompson AP File Photo

Here’s a look at the Knights’ past week, and the week ahead:

All-Star selections: Charlotte pitchers Donny Roach and Thyago Vieira were named to the International League All-Star team. The IL stars will face the Pacific League stars July 11 in Columbus, Ohio. Roach, 28, has a 9-2 record as a starter. Vieira, 24, has made 29 relief appearances with four saves.

Monday: Shortstop Jose Rondon’s eighth-inning home run lifted Charlotte to a 2-1 victory at Durham in the opener of a four-game series. Starting pitcher Michael Kopech threw six shutout innings, allowing only four hits and walking two.

Tuesday: The Bulls touched up Knights’ starter Carson Fulmer for five runs in four innings and beat Charlotte 6-4. Rondon hit another homer, his sixth of the season.

Wednesday: The Knights split a day-night doubleheader with Durham by 5-1 scores. They won the opener behind Roach, who went eight innings. The Bulls scored four runs in the first inning of the nightcap and were never threatened.

Thursday: Matt Skole slammed two home runs, helping the Knights past the Gwinnett Stripers 6-5 in the opener of a four-game series. Rondon also homered for Charlotte – his third in four days.

Friday: A sellout crowd of 10,213 watched the Knights edge Gwinnett 5-4. Mason Robbins’ two-run double in the fourth inning put Charlotte ahead to stay.

Saturday: Kopech went six innings and allowed three runs – only one earned – and took the loss in the Knights’ 5-3 setback to Gwinnett. He struck out eight.

Sunday: Dustin Garneau drew a bases-loaded walk in the bottom of the eighth, scoring Eddy Alvarez with the winning run in the Knights' 7-6 victory over Gwinnett. Charlotte second baseman Jake Elmore had two hits and reached base three times on walks.

Week ahead: Charlotte travels to Norfolk on Monday and Tuesday evenings. The Knights have a Wednesday home date for Independence Day, with a 6:05 p.m. start against Durham. The Knights also host Durham at 7:04 p.m. Thursday, then hit the road for games Friday through Sunday at Gwinnett.

▪  Also at BB&T Ballpark, Team USA takes on Japan Tuesday at 7:05 p.m. as part of the 42nd USA vs. Japan Collegiate All-Star Series. Team USA leads the all-time series 23-18. Postgame fireworks are planned Tuesday as well as Wednesday nights.

Steve Lyttle on Twitter: @slyttle