For me, baseball is nostalgia — going with the family to my first game, smelling the freshly cut grass before I even see the field, and my awe-inspiring look out at the ballyard for the first time. Taking in the scoreboard and the signage around the stadium, breathing in the fresh air on a crisp spring night or a perfect summer eve. Letting my nose lead me as the smell of sausages grilling nearby makes me hunger for a bite.
I get that feeling every time I walk into a ballpark. I am back to being a kid again, remembering baseball in its purest form, no matter how old you are.
Baseball is back in Charlotte after a year’s absence due to COVID-19, and folks of all ages — dads with their sons or daughters, families taking in the game together, couples on a date night, and old friends reliving the days of their youth — have been out for the opening week of Charlotte Knights baseball at Truist Field.
When I attended, fans were gathered at the entrance on South Mint Street and West Martin Luther King Drive well ahead of the game, waiting patiently for the gates to open. Despite threatening weather throughout the day, 2,617 fans attended on Opening Night, followed up by 2,579 for the Wednesday night game that I attended. Based on current COVID-19 restrictions, the Knights are limited to about 26-27% of stadium capacity, which is 10,200.
That was all good with some of the fans I spoke to. Shang Skipper, attending with his wife and two daughters, said, “The stadium has the people spread out pretty good and we feel real comfortable with it. Otherwise we wouldn’t be here.”
Henry Ko, there with his 5-year-old son, said, “I think being outside does feel a little safer.”
When I asked how he would have felt attending a Charlotte Hornets game indoors, though a bit more hesitant, he admitted he would go there, too.
Everyone I spoke to felt safe with the way the Charlotte Knights were handling the situation in bringing back live baseball, and they appreciated being outside enjoying life again.
Frank and Lindsay Schall were happy to be back. Season-ticket holders since the Knights came to Uptown, they attended with their two boys, ages 2 and 4. Both parents were fully vaccinated and felt comfortable being at the park. Frank mentioned, “Last year was rough not having minor league baseball.” When contacted last year by the Knights saying they could have a refund or roll their tickets over to the 2021 season, they chose the latter.
Bobby Pappert, a season-ticket holder for a few years now, also decided to roll his tickets over to this year. He was the first in line to get into the park on the night I attended.
Pappert was a season-ticket holder for one year when the team was in Fort Mill, but he was reluctant to renew when the team moved to Uptown. “I didn’t know if the parking and beer and everything was going to be super expensive, but it’s not. It’s super family-oriented … “I love this ballpark, and minor league sports are the very best.”
Before the Wednesday night game, I spoke with Brandon Sarkis of Mac’s Speed Shop about how business was on Opening Night. He said they were busy the whole game, exceeding expectations. Sarkis looked forward to the possibility of expanding crowds as the season progressed.
In the Diamonds Direct Luxury Lounge, things were hopping. Fans were lined up as I waited to approach the bartender, not wanting to interrupt the flow of paying customers by asking my questions. I spoke with Bianca, who mentioned that weather might have affected business on Opening Night more than anything, but that, “It was a nice day to get back in the groove of things.” She said business was pretty steady on Opening Night, as well as the game I attended.
Bianca confirmed that she had worked with the Knights before COVID and was unable to work for much of 2020. “It was a struggle,” she said, adding that the Knights helped out with donations and gift cards for out-of-work employees.
While baseball is the same game we all remember, there are noticeable differences when attending the ballpark. Truist Field is a cashless facility, with tickets being scanned from people’s phones. Tickets bought at the ticket window are texted to fans, though it’s recommended to buy in advance, as game-day tickets are limited for the time being. Fans who want a game program can scan a QR Code upon arrival, as they won’t be printed this year.
Even in the press box, I was partitioned off from those around me by plastic barriers to the side and front.
Fans will find hand sanitizer stations sprinkled throughout the concourse, and other signs that things aren’t quite the way they used to be, but some stuff never changes. “Another One Bites the Dust” still played after opposing batters struck out, and “Born To Be Wild” and other rock classics were the soundtrack of the evening, along with the occasional sound of the organ.
Even with limited capacity, there was a buzz in the crowd when the Knights were putting runs on the board, as well as a sigh of relief when they got out of a tough jam in the eighth inning.
On the night I attended, the Knights won 9-6 for their first win since 2019. At the end of the night, what really matters is that Charlotte Knights baseball is back in the Queen City, giving people a sense of normalcy, and that’s how it should be.
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