CHARLOTTE, N.C. – I recently performed the National Anthem prior to a Charlotte Knights baseball game and this was the second year in a row I had the honor to do so. I always enjoy visiting BB&T Ballpark in Downtown Charlotte, but in a lot of ways it reminds me of home – the Tulsa Drillers home, that is, ONEOK Field.
The Drillers’ new ballpark opened in April 2010, while the Charlotte Knights ballpark opened in March 2014. However, the design of the two ballparks is very similar. Both stadiums are situated downtown, or “Uptown” as they refer to the area in Charlotte. Both ballparks are surrounded by high-rise apartments, office buildings and the like. Plus, both ballparks are of the new “open-air” design; where you can see the game from anywhere as you walk around the concourse.
Another similarity between the stadium in Charlotte and the one here in Tulsa is that they both have a suite level that includes a porch section of seats in front of each glassed-in suite, and because of the abundance and demand for suites in ballparks these days, they both have small press box areas for the media. Tulsa’s press box is a little larger than the one in Charlotte, but not by much.
The Charlotte Knights made the move in 2014 from a ballpark that was situated across the state line in South Carolina. It appears the fans have really taken to the move downtown.
“It’s been a very positive thing for us and our fans love it,” said media relations director Tom Viola. “There has been a lot of development in the city, especially downtown with the ballpark being here.”
I certainly can attest to that. Last year there were a couple of buildings visible beyond the outfield walls that were under construction, this year they are completed and occupied. Like in many cities, young urban professionals have made the move to apartments and homes in the downtown area.
“So many people now live in the center city, that they can walk to the games from home, or come by after work,” Viola said.
The combination of a new ballpark and so many people either working or living in the downtown area has contributed to an increase in attendance for the team that struggled to draw fans at their previous home ballpark.
“We have led minor league baseball in attendance all three years we’ve been in this park,” Viola said. “Plus, we’ve been real fortunate to host other exhibition games here like college games, the Chicago White Sox against our team, and USA vs. Cuba twice (2015 and 2017).”
Another great thing about BB&T Ballpark in Charlotte is they serve Sahlen’s hot dogs in the concession stands and in the press box. Sahlen’s has been a family favorite of ours since growing up in Western New York. They are made in Buffalo, and are only sold in the grocery stores in Western New York and in the Charlotte area. That may be because there are so many Buffalo transplants in North Carolina. Along with BB&T Ballpark, the only other sports venues that serve Sahlen’s hot dogs are the homes of the Buffalo Bills, Buffalo Sabres, Buffalo Bisons, Western New York Flash, and Florida Panthers.
When I worked for the Jamestown Expos in the 1970s and 1980s, we served Sahlen’s hot dogs at our stadium. I bought some packages of Sahlen’s hot dogs at a grocery store in Charlotte before leaving and we’ve already enjoyed several at home.
The Knights are the Triple-A affiliate of the Chicago White Sox, and due to many injuries at the Major League level, the Knights have seen many of their star players get called up to Chicago this season. That has made things a little more challenging for manager Mark Grudzielanek and his staff.
However, one player the White Sox are content to keeping in Charlotte for the time being is one of the top prospects in all minor league baseball, Yoan Moncado. The 22-year-old, second baseman from Cuba is biding his time at Triple-A, however, it may be that the White Sox don’t want to rush him along, while at the same time, protecting his contract status.
If you’re a minor league baseball fan like I am, and you enjoy visiting different ballparks around the country, you need to put BB&T Ballpark in Charlotte on your list; then let me know what you think after you’ve visited there.