In almost all of the past 15 years, I’ve finished up the Fourth of July at Knights Stadium in Fort Mill covering a baseball game. (I’ve always wondered how the Charlotte Knights manage to get the July 4 home game nearly every year.)
As I’ve noted before, I always enjoy covering baseball, but the “event” that is the Fourth of July makes that game extra enjoyable. And so it was last night. The Knights have been plagued by low attendance in recent years — near or at the bottom of the International League most of this season. (It’s ominous to note that the teams that have kept Charlotte out of the cellar in recent years solved their attendance problems by moving — Ottawa to the Allentown, Pa., area in 2008 and Richmond to Gwinnett County, Ga., earlier this year.)
But the July 4 game always brings out a crowd at the stadium near the N.C./S.C. state line. Crowd was 15,020 last night, third best in the stadium’s 20-year history, and surpassed only by the previous two July 4 crowds. See the video for a look at the fans.
And it could have been just the number of people in the house, but it also seems like Independence Day brings out the best in the patriotic rituals that usually accompany an athletic event in this country. You could actually hear folks singing the National Anthem and a full-throated rendition of “God Bless America” at the seventh inning stretch was gratifying.
They were rewarded with a nice performance by the Knights, who beat the Durham Bulls, 11-2. Click here for my story in The Charlotte Observer. In addition to the offensive fireworks noted in my story, the Knights also got great pitching. Starting pitcher Carlos Torres (8-4) gave up four hits and struck out nine in eight innings. His strikeout total (93) gave him the International League lead.
I talked with Torres after the game and pursued this story line a little, but he minimized the importance. “The guy I passed has been in the major leagues for a month,” he said. “I’d rather get them all out in one pitch. It’s more of a tribute to my catchers for calling the right pitches in the right spots.”
Gwinnett’s Tommy Hanson, who was called up to the Atlanta Braves on June 3, had been the strikeout leader.
Then it was time to watch a little fireworks. I was glad that the comparatively brief game — 2 hours, 22 minutes — gave me a few minutes to go down to the bottom of the ramp the players take to the field and watch the pyrotechnics. Like everything else about July 4, the fireworks were bigger and better than the Knights’ usual Saturday post-game fireworks — which I usually miss because I’m working.
It was an appropriate ending to a good day in America.