Summer's Favorite Pastime 15

INTRO

It’s a pastime of tunes. Childhood rhymes of cracker jack and baseball bats. Melodious rally cries and catcalls. The soft whistle of a bat swishing through air and the staccato crack of the ball. It’s a song we all love—the song of baseball.

For little boys, loving baseball is as American as apple pie, the striped forms of baseball legends towering in imaginations, on cards and in stadiums. And for grown men, the nostalgic love of the game is rooted in those same silhouettes, stretched long by the arch of summertime’s late sun.

Some associate the game with those Northern regions, with lifelong rivalries and the roughened call of “batta’” and “bawl.” But here in Charlotte, in the heart of the South and the heart of our city, baseball breathes its deepest breathes and finds its truest forms. Here the feel-good, wholesome sport of yesteryear finds fresh roots in the chivalrous, and aptly-named, Knights.

FAST FACTS ABOUT CHARLOTTE BASEBALL

• Sure, you know the tumultuous history of the Charlotte Hornets—the basketball team, that is. But the first Charlotte Hornets were actually a professional baseball team (the city’s first) founded in 1892.

• Baseballs may be thrown around Uptown these days, but for 50 years they found their home in Dilworth at Calvin Griffith Park (which would eventually become Crockett Park).

• For more than a century baseball has been an integral thread in the patchwork of Charlotte sports—except for the mid-70s, when all our teams disbanded. The new team, the “Charlotte Pines,” never came to fruition. But wrestling promoter Jim Crockett, Jr. brought the sport back in 1976.

• Think we’re done with the Hornets connections? Hardly. In 1987, George Shinn—the founder of the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets—bought the local baseball team from the Crocketts and, in 1988, christened them the Knights.

• The Knights have been affiliated with several major league teams over the years, including the Orioles, Cubs, Indians, Marlins and, since 1999, the Chicago White Sox.

INTERVIEWS

Chris O’Dowd

How did you find baseball?

My dad worked in the game for over 35 years, so it wasn’t as much ‘I found baseball’ as it found me. When you work in baseball, I would say your whole family’s lifestyle is determined by what you do in the game—it’s not a 9-5 job. I was at spring training, being homeschooled from like the age of 6 to 10. It would be odd for me not to have baseball as a part of my life in some capacity.
At what point did you decide baseball wasn’t just going to be a part of your life, but that you wanted to do this professionally?

It wasn’t anything I ever questioned or gave extended thought to, it’s just… I’m here to do it. On the field is a lot better than being in the stands, so I’ve always wanted to have the uniform on as long as I can.

How long have you been playing for Charlotte?

About two weeks! [laughs] What typically happens is you move wherever the big league affiliate sends you. And so this time of year, if they say you’re going to Charlotte, you move here for as long as they tell you… What makes it home is all the guys here with you. Everyone here is in the same boat as you. They’re most likely not from Charlotte. We have the same schedule, so you really come together and that’s like your family for six months of the season.
So far what do you like best about the city?
I like the energy. It seems like it has a very youthful presence. There are also a lot of new, clean areas to explore and be a part of. And the stadium is probably, if not the nicest in minor league baseball, one of the top couple. We live at the stadium for the most part, so that’s really all that matters.

Carson Blair

How did you find baseball?

Probably when I was five years old and my mom put a toy bat in my hands, back in the t-ball days. [My mom] was a big fan growing up. We always went to the Astros games, she had season tickets, so that’s probably where it started. I didn’t even really have to make a decision, I just kind of grew up liking it.

At what point did you decide baseball wasn’t just going to be a part of your life, but that you wanted to do this professionally?

Probably senior year of high school. At that point, my goal was really just to pay for my college through baseball, and then when scouts came around and started talking about draft and all that stuff, it starts getting in your head a little like, ‘ok, this is a legitimate option.’ So it was really my senior year when I realized this could be a legitimate career already.

So far what do you like best about the city?

Well, I don’t have a car [laughs], so my knowledge of Charlotte is literally the path between my apartment and the field, but there’s been some great restaurants. I know a lot of the area is beautiful. Downtown is nice because it’s all walkable, so I’ve been able to walk a few places. I like that this is a smaller field, at the same time in a bigger Southern city.

What do you like about playing with this team?

It’s awesome so far, I’m still getting to know everybody (I’m new to the organization). I’m coming from the Texas Rangers last year, so I’m still getting to know all the guys and they’ve been awesome, welcoming me with open arms. Baseball players are all similar characters, so we mesh really well.

ABOUT THE STADIUM

Baseball has had many homes here in Charlotte, from Dilworth to nearby Fort Mill, but now it seems the Knights have found their true home—or rather, castle—in Uptown. Just a block away from the Panthers’ Bank of America Stadium, when BB&T Ballpark opened in 2014 it established our downtown as one of the preeminent sports destinations in the Southeast. With breathtaking views of the Charlotte skyline and top-of-the-line amenities, like Dugout Suites and Luxury Lounge areas, this is—as O’Dowd said—the nicest minor league ballpark in the country.

But more than its swanky facade and unparalleled views, the new location offers accessibility and attendance that the old facilities couldn’t offer. Whereas old games required a lengthy drive out of town, now it’s easy to leave the office, don your cap and walk right into the game. Families can make day-long excursions of a game, exploring the bustling Uptown before pausing for pics with Homer, the friendly, not fearsome, dragon mascot. Plus the stadium’s proximity to our finest restaurants and bars make a Knights game a perfect entreé to date night—or guy’s night out.