(Fort Mill, SC) - The final game at Knights Stadium had it all. Special ceremonies (pre- and post-game), great weather, enthusiastic fans, emotional fans, a solid starting pitching performance, a win, and most importantly - a chance to say goodbye to a stadium that provided fans in Fort Mill 24 years of memories.
It all took place on Monday, September 2. Gates opened at 12:00 p.m. for the "Largest Tailgate" in Knights Stadium history. Fans came out to enjoy a delicious an all-you-can-eat buffet for just $12.
All gates opened at 1:00 p.m. and the first 3,000 fans received a Knights Stadium Final Game Commemorative Ticket, courtesy of TicketReturn.
From the beginning, fans came out with high hopes for the final game ever in the 24-year history of Knights Stadium. Some fans at Knights Stadium on Monday attended the very first game on April 14, 1990 and wanted to be a part of the final game ever. In a season that featured numerous rain delays - rain was not a factor. Mother Nature took good care of the Knights and their fans on that final day.
The Knights had two special pre-game ceremonies for all fans in attendance. First, the Knights honored media members who spent time covering the Knights at Knights Stadium over the years. There was Tom Sorensen, Rob Jones, Mike Solarte, Jon Wilson, Ira Cronin, Paul Cameron, and a handful of others who meant a lot to the success of Knights Stadium.
Moments later, the family of Doyle Jennings was honored on-field right before the official first pitch of the game. Doyle Jennings donated the land that Knights Stadium sits on. While Doyle has passed away, his family was on-hand for a special ceremony. During the ceremony, Knights front office members presented David Jennings (Doyle's son) a plaque of his father Doyle. The plaque hung inside the entrance wall of Knights Stadium for many years. David then threw out a ceremonial first pitch.
Anne Marie Taggio then stepped onto the field and sang the National Anthem in front of the crowd of nearly 7,000 Knights fans (6,894). It was a great rendition and it was a special moment.
With that, the game was underway. Charlotte right-hander Zach Stewart took the mound for the Knights and was masterful against the Gwinnett Braves. Inning-by-inning, Stewart recorded outs. In all, he tossed eight shutout innings en route to the final game win - his sixth win of the season. For his efforts, he was named the International League's Pitcher of the Week the next day.
As part of the festivities, an old friend made his triumphant return after the first inning -- looking and acting just like he did in the early 90's. It was an amazing site to see. Fans could not get enough of Homer!
Back to the game, Blake Tekotte put the Knights on the scoreboard in the bottom of the first inning. Tekotte's groundout scored Marcus Semien from third base to give the Knights an early 1-0 lead. Three innings later, the Knights added another run against Gwinnett starter David Hale (6-9, 3.22).
With Andy Wilkins on second base and Steve Tolleson on first, Carlos Sanchez singled home Wilkins to make it a 2-0 ballgame.
Just one inning later, Travis Ishikawa pushed across another run with an RBI single to center. Wilkins followed with an RBI double to make it a 4-0 game. That was all the Knights would need.
Reliever Deunte Heath allowed a hit in the ninth inning, but that was it. The Charlotte right-hander closed out the stadium in quality fashion and brought the fans to their feet when he got Phil Gosselin to pop out to Wilkins for the third and final out.
Once the third out was made, the post-game celebrations and ceremonies started. After the current Knights congratulated each other on the field, each player was given baseballs to throw to the crowd. It was a nice gesture by the players to say thanks to the fans for their support.
Knights Executive Vice President, Chief Operating Officer Dan Rajkowski was then introduced. Rajkowski gave a heartfelt speech in front of the remaining fans.
Next up, Knights Media Relations Director Tommy Viola took the microphone and introduced some former Charlotte O's and Charlotte Knights.
The O's players were: Rick Mayo and Cat Whitfield. The Knights were: Richie Grayum, Mike Tidwell, Jeff Schaefer, Nick Capra, Ken Vining, Chris Saunders, Brandon Moore, Richard Dotson, and Joel Skinner.
After the players took the field, they met at home plate. It was a nice moment as the Charlotte O's and Charlotte Knights came together. The O's represented Charlotte, while the Knights represented Fort Mill. Now, with the Knights returning home to Charlotte - they both become one.
After the player ceremony, members of The Annual Carolina Renaissance Festival appeared on the field. Three knights on horseback sprinted around the warning track and removed the final Strayer University countdown number. Then, one of the horses took the final lap around the bases.
Head groundskeeper Eddie Busque, along with his son Hunter Busque, then removed home plate in front of an emotional crowd. Long-time employees Eddie Waddell and Beverly Burnette were introduced and they escorted home plate to a helicopter in center field. Homer the Dragon then entered the helicopter with all three bases and home plate as the Knights said goodbye to Knights Stadium.
Where did the bases end up? Where is home plate? To be continued…
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.