Columns & Blogs

BB&T Ballpark is the story on first day of Charlotte Knights practice

You can go to BB&T Ballpark on Tuesday for the Charlotte Knights’ first practice of the season and intend to write about a coach or player.

There are several candidates. There’s pitching coach Richard Dotson, who won 111 major league games. He’s a real guy, an interesting guy and he spits something – tobacco, maybe, or gum, I didn’t ask and nothing landed on my shoes – between paragraphs.

There’s pitcher Scott Carroll, 29, a former quarterback for Missouri State. There’s pitcher Eric Surkamp, 26, who played for N.C. State and started seven games for the San Francisco Giants.

In the early April sunshine, though, it’s tough to focus on a coach or a player. There’s one star here, and it’s the structure. If I wanted to show somebody Charlotte, BB&T Ballpark is one of the places I’d take him or her. The skyline that looms above the outfield fence is impressive, especially after a couple of beers.

The buildings look as if they are members of the same family. The ballpark is distinct. It’s beautiful, as new stadiums ought to be. It’s not vast or immense or overwhelming.

I tried to find a bad seat. I failed. No matter where you sit or stand, you can see what you want to see – players on the field and in the dugout, the enormous scoreboard, potential NFL free agents two blocks away at Bank of America Stadium.

“You don’t see many Triple A ballparks this nice,” says Surkamp, who saw it Monday for the first time.

Some of you know this. Others will figure it out April 11, opening night, the first of an eight-game homestand.

BB&T is a 2014 edition of Crockett Park. Crockett Park opened in 1940 and crumbled in a fire in 1985. The Knights played in Fort Mill from 1990 until last summer.

You want to get old-timers talking, ask them about Crockett Park. Crockett didn’t offer the spectacular moments that Bank of America Stadium and Time Warner Cable Arena do.

My memories are smaller, and sometimes warmer. I took my kids when they were young, the older hoping to catch a foul ball, the younger hoping to find dirt so he could play with his Matchbox cars and soldiers.

That’s the beauty of a stadium in town (Crockett Park was in Dilworth). You got there when you got there. We’d show up after work and hang out for five innings, or for nine.

A small and once vocal group in Charlotte was, and still might be, convinced we deserve major league baseball. They’re still wrong. We’d support it when it was new, support it on weekends when fans from Greensboro and both Greenvilles would drive to town. But once the newness wore off, weeknights would be a testament to empty seats.

What’s wrong with Class AAA ball? What’s wrong with non-major league prices? What’s wrong with getting to know players who will populate major league rosters? We knew them first.

What’s wrong with a 10,000-seat stadium squeezed into the middle of uptown Charlotte? Is minor league somehow beneath us?

What’s wrong with players who understand?

“No matter where you go in the country, you see kids playing baseball,” says Carroll, who last season pitched for Bristol (Va.) and Birmingham (Ala.). “It’s a game that kids play and as adults we get to play it. We get a chance to achieve our dreams, and the possibility of playing in the big leagues.”

Adds Carroll: “We get to bring baseball back to Charlotte.”

Thank you, Scott. Charlotte appreciates the gesture. We’ll prove it all summer long.