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Flashback Fridays: The First Opening Knight

The Knights Returned Home to Charlotte on April 11, 2014
The first pitch in BB&T Ballpark history was thrown by Dylan Axelrod on April 11, 2014. (Buren Foster/Charlotte Knights)
May 22, 2020

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. It was a day -- and a season -- many will never forget.

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. It was a day -- and a season -- many will never forget.

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 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 145 sell-outs at BB&T Ballpark (2014-19).

The day kicked-off with a party in Romare Bearden Park at 12 PM noon. It started with PURRcussion, who marched into the park with the entire 2014 Charlotte Knights team behind them. Manager Joel Skinner -- 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 before their big game later that evening. The Budweiser Clydesdales were there. Jugglers, musicians, balloon twisters, a caricature artist, and hundreds more were there, too.

A special ceremony took place at Romare Bearden Park earlier in the day. Media Arts Collective LLC MAC330

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 to see the Charlotte Knights and Norfolk Tides play the first-game in BB&T Ballpark history.

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.

The players took the line for World Series lineups on April 11, 2014. Buren Foster/Charlotte Knights

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. More on Thome and his remarkable 1993 season: JIM THOME FLASHBACK FRIDAYS

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

Dylan Axelrod threw the first pitch in BB&T Ballpark history. Buren Foster/Charlotte Knights

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.

A capacity crowd watched the Knights on Opening Knight of the inaugural season at BB&T Ballpark. Gregg Forweck

Through six seasons, the ballpark has been the crown jewel of the Queen City and has been the most visited venue in all of Minor League Baseball. Over 3.8 millions fans have watched Knights games over that span and it all started with that magical 2014 season and that first-ever game at BB&T Ballpark.

Although the baseball world has been halted for the past two months due to COVID-19, the excitement that fans have come to know and love will return again one day soon. Professional baseball returned to Charlotte once -- and it will do so again.