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Memories of Knights Stadium: Part 1

September 5, 2013

On September, 2, 2013, the Charlotte Knights played their final game ever at Knights Stadium. The game featured special pre- and post-game ceremonies. The game brought back many memories. Over the course of this offseason, the Knights are looking to hear from their fans about their memories at Knights Stadium. If you have memories you would like to share about Knights Stadium, please email Tommy Viola at [email protected] Some of them will be posted to the official Knights website: CharlotteKnights.com.

Daniel Coston: Long-time Charlotte Baseball fan

I moved to Charlotte in the fall of 1983. In April of 1984, the Baltimore Orioles (who were the defending World Series champs) came to Crockett Park for an exhibition game. This was big stuff, for me. The game was sold out. My mom and I took photos of the game. I did not meet Cal Ripken, who was swamped by fans, but I did meet his dad, who signed some O's memorabilia for me. Jim Palmer pitched for the Orioles, and one of Baltimore's stars pitched for the O's. The Orioles got an early 2-0 lead, but the O's bounced back, and took a 3-2 lead in the third inning. A few of the O's pitchers then took turns in relief of the last four innings, and won the game 3-2, which seemed to even take the O's by surprise. The Orioles went on to have a horrible year, while the O's (whom I saw at least twice more than year) won the Southern League crown.

Crockett Park burning down was one of the saddest days in Charlotte history. I was heartbroken when I saw the newspaper the next day. Two stupid 16 year olds goofing off with matches. The old wood ballpark went up in ten minutes. They postponed a couple of games, and started the season with temporary bleachers a few days later. I remember going to the ballpark, and looking at the burn marks that stretched into the outfield. The space was never the same, afterwards.

I was lucky enough to meet Hall Of Famer Brooks Robinson when he came to Crockett Park in the late 1980s. He was a very nice man, and signed autographs for anyone that asked. 

Many don't know that Bo Jackson began his pro baseball career in Charlotte, in 1985. He'd announced that he was going into baseball on Tuesday, and on Thursday the team he was with began playing a homestand in Charlotte. Each of the four games was packed with fans and media. I went on Friday, and afterwards, got him to sign that week's copy of Sports Illustrated, with Bo on the cover. On Saturday, Bo got his first professional hit, and on Sunday, he got his first homerun.

Over the years, I collected a number of autographs, bats and other collectables at Crockett Park, and then at Knights Castle. Somewhere, I may even have some grass from the Crockett outfield, as well as a piece from a wood railing. I also have a program from the Yankees/ Charlotte Hornets exhibition in 1934 (Yanks won, 16-3). Baseball card and memorabilia didn't really get expensive until the late 80s/early 90s, and I wish that younger kids today had as much opportunity to collect history as I did back then.

The New York Yankees played here a few times -- 1926, 1934, and Babe Ruth visited Belmont Abbey in 1929, during an exhibition in Gastonia. One of Babe's teachers and mentors taught at Belmont Abbey. I have the original news clippings from that visit.

Those Knights teams in the early 90s were the best Knights/O's teams I ever saw. We had no idea that Manny Ramirez was going to turn into the star/media attraction that he became. He was just a good player, back then. Jim Thome hit the ball like no one I'd ever seen, before or since. He was already switch-hitting by the time he came to the Knights, and he hit home runs from either side of the plate. It looked like he lowered his back leg when he swung, and he hit upward. And that's where the ball often went -- up, and out. He came closest to hitting the house out behind the stadium.

They were so many good players that passed through each year.

Other things I saw/photographed at Knights Castle. Jim Palmer's visit in 2006. Curt Schilling's 2005 appearance, and many others. Sadly, I did not get to see Frank Thomas play there, or Jose Conseco (who ended his baseball career with the Knights). As a Yankees fan, I was thrilled when Chris Chambliss was the manager.

Years later, the Observer sent me to Knights Stadium to photograph a concert by Bucky Covington. Bucky was fresh off of American Idol, and seemed to enjoy wearing his Knights jersey onstage. I somehow missed the Beach Boys when they played at Knights Stadium in 1995, and I really wish that I'd gotten to see that. 

While it's sad to see any ballpark go, I'm looking forward to having the Knights back in downtown Charlotte. It makes a huge difference when a ballpark is a part of the neighborhood. It becomes part of the community. Crockett Park had been built in 1940, and the neighborhood on Magnolia Avenue was built around the stadium. The ballpark meant a lot to the neighborhood, and to that side of town. I'm really looking forward to having baseball be part of Charlotte's growing community, once again.