The start of our second baseball mini-road trip of 2017 started on Friday, June 16th. Our first stop was scheduled for Charlotte, North Carolina, to see BB&T Ballpark. Having seen a photo of the park, I felt as though it was worth a visit, before traveling to our final destination, SunTrust Park in Atlanta.
Our drive took us through Richmond, VA on Interstate 95 South (where we saw The Diamond, home of the Richmond Flying Squirrels from the highway) before linking up with Interstate 85 South near Petersburg, VA. Following a quick stop for lunch, we pressed onward toward Charlotte, NC. As we traveled south, the warm and humid airmass was becoming increasingly conducive to thunderstorm development.
Scattered storms started to dot the route toward the ballpark. Arriving in the Charlotte area around the time of the evening commute, the combination of traffic and storms slowed our approach, and it appeared as though we might miss the first pitch. We weaved our way off the interstate to the ballpark complex. Though not raining at the time, it was apparent that heavy rain has occurred at the ballpark.
The rain at the ballpark was heavy enough to bring the tarp on the field. Putting the tarp on the field almost always involves a rain delay of at least 30 minutes, and this delay worked in our favor. Rather than arriving just about the time of the scheduled first pitch, we were given some time to explore the ballpark before settling into our seats.
We parked in the same deck used for the Carolina Panthers games, and ambled over the park. BB&T Ballpark was yet another example of a ballpark with an urban setting as its backdrop. This seems to be a trend for minor league parks, as it was for some MLB parks in the previous two decades. The skyline of Charlotte was impressive from street level was we headed toward the stadium.
Because of the 45 minute rain delay, fans were still milling around outside of the park, waiting to gain entry. With some extra time before the first pitch, we encircled the ballpark before heading inside. We noted a center field entrance, which is unusual for a minor league ballpark.
Mainly out of convenience, we entered through this gate. BB&T Ballpark has a concourse that surrounds the playing field, and we walked the entire circle, taking pictures and marveling at the view in right field. Clearly, the ballpark was designed to feature the amazing view. Though I had seen the view in a photo earlier, it did not do the incredible vista justice.
I had only caught a glimpse of the ballpark, and it was already my favorite!!! My previous favorite (PNC Park in Pittsburgh) also features a magnificent skyline, but for some reason, this one seemed more majestic. As we walked along the concourse toward home plate, every view seems better than the last. I began wondering if I needed to move to Charlotte, if for no other reason that to visit this place as often as possible.
The best view from the park was the last, peering out from under the overhang just to the third base side of home plate. Unfortunately, our seats were not located in this prime piece of real estate. The Charlotte Knights, the Triple A affiliate of the Chicago White Sox, draw well, and after seeing the ballpark, that was not surprising. In fact, tickets for this game were at a premium, and rather than get seats via the normal route, we needed to use StubHub to get tickets for this game.
The Knights’ opponent for the game was the Indianapolis Indians, the Triple A affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates (a team we would see at home later in the 2017 season). Because of the 45 minute rain delay, the starters for the game were just warming up when we reached our seats. We were treated to a up close look at the Knights’ starter Lucas Giolito as he completed his warmup pitches in the bullpen before heading out to the mound.
Giolito, once the pride of the Washington Nationals farm system, was dealt to the White Sox for Adam Eaton in a controversial trade. Frankly, I was surprised to see Giolito still in Triple A, assuming the White Sox could use the help at the big league level.
However, it didn’t take long into his start to determine why he was still in Charlotte. Giolito surrendered three runs on five hits in 4 2/3 innings, while striking out five and walking four. His control was actually worse than his line showed, going into deep counts again many batters.
Despite the shaky start by Giolito putting them behind, the Knights’ bats came alive in the sixth inning, scoring six runs against three Indians pitchers, including left hander Antonio Bastardo (so that’s where he was hiding). As the evening faded into night, the Knights’ relievers held the lead as the offense tacked on two runs in each of their last two at-bats.
As often happens during blowouts in the minor leagues, the fairly large crowd started thinning out after the seventh inning. The extra room allowed my brother to wander about, taking pictures of this gorgeous stadium. By the time the Knights recorded the final out of their 12-4 victory, most of the crowd was gone or leaving. This is often fortuitous for us, since it generally means a cleaner getaway.
What can I say??? This ballpark quickly became my favorite, and was well worth the stop before heading south to Atlanta. If you are a baseball fan and find yourself within range of Charlotte when the Knights are home, do yourself a BIG favor and visit BB&T Ballpark. You need to see it for yourself to truly appreciate it.