After 25 seasons in Fort Mill, SC, the Charlotte Knights returned home to Charlotte, NC on Friday, April 11, 2014 to open their brand-new kingdom -- BB&T Ballpark. Since then, the ballpark has been the crown jewel of the Queen City and has been the most visited venue in all of Minor League Baseball. As the Knights play baseball during their fifth season in Uptown Charlotte in 2018, it's only fitting to take a look back at how it all started on day one…
It was a day that many dreamed about for years. Baseball was in the air. The grass was green, the peanuts and Cracker Jack were ready for fans to eat, and America's Favorite Pastime was back in the center city of Charlotte for the first time since 1988. It was a beautiful April day and a sell-out crowd of 10,231 fans witnessed history on Opening Knight at BB&T Ballpark. It was the first of 110 sell-outs at BB&T Ballpark (2014-17).
The day kicked-off with a party in Romare Bearden Park at noon. It started with PURRcussion, who marched into the park with the entire 2014 Charlotte Knights team behind them. Manager Joel Skinner -- who is the all-time winningest manager in franchise history -- spoke to the fans from the park and ushered in his excitement for a new season in a new home. The "Voice of the Charlotte Knights", Matt Swierad, introduced the team one-by-one and the anticipation continued to rise with each name being announced. There were several key speeches in the park that day, as well as an autograph session for fans with the entire team. The Budweiser Clydesdales were there. Jugglers, musicians, balloon twisters, a caricature artist, and hundreds more were there, too.
As the day continued, thousands of fans flocked to 324 S. Mint Street for their chance to enter the gates to Charlotte's new home for professional baseball. At 5:00 p.m., the gates opened for the first time and fans made their way into the ballpark.
Memories were made and shared by those who remembered attending games at Crockett Park and those who were attending a baseball game in Charlotte for the very first time. Baseball was back in the Queen City, and it felt great.
A pre-game ceremony featured speeches from dignitaries and on-field World Series-style lineups helped usher in a new era of professional baseball to Charlotte. There were first pitches from notable Charlotte athletes and a special first pitch from Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera -- who had his first pitch filmed from BB&T Ballpark earlier in the week.
Jim Thome -- who won the 1993 International League MVP as a member of the Charlotte Knights -- tossed out a ceremonial first pitch right before the start of the game. Thome, who called Knights Stadium home during the franchise's first championship season 25 years ago, was recently inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Once the ceremonies were over and the fans were comfortably nestled into their seats, the first pitch of the game was thrown at 7:41 p.m. from Charlotte's Dylan Axelrod. Moments later, the first hit of the game came when Norfolk's Julio Borbon lined a double.
There were many other "firsts" on April 11th including the first Knights home run, which was hit by Denis Phipps in the third inning off Norfolk starter Steve Johnson. The game was exciting and it even went into extra innings! Despite an 8-6 loss in 12 innings, the day was a huge win for the Knights and their fans.
Additionally, while over 10,000 fans witnessed the game from inside the ballpark, hundreds more watched from outside the ballpark -- where the team's exterior videoboard featured the game for all to see. An incredible new atmosphere in Uptown Charlotte was born. Post-game fireworks capped-off the evening and lit-up the beautiful Uptown Charlotte skyline.
Baseball returned to Charlotte in 2014 and since then, nearly three million fans have crossed the gates to watch a Knights game at BB&T Ballpark. It's safe to say, baseball in Uptown Charlotte at BB&T Ballpark has been a home run!
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.