To borrow and paraphrase an opening from Norman Mailer, greetings to Ernie Banks across vales of karma.
We’re playing two here on a sunny Sunday afternoon at Knights Stadium in Fort Mill, S.C., as the 2011 Charlotte Knights baseball season gets under way. The Knights were off to a 2-0 start in the Class AAA International League before a big rain/hailstorm cancelled Saturday night’s game.
And they just improved to 3-0 by taking a 2-1 victory in Game 1 of the doubleheader.
It’s good to be out at the ballpark again, just in time to ease the withdrawal from college basketball — emphasis on being out at the ballpark. I enjoy going to baseball games from high school to the Major Leagues, but don’t much watch them on TV or follow Major League Baseball generally. And this comes from someone who cared deeply about the woeful Atlanta Braves teams from the Seventies and Eighties, before they actually became good.
What happened? Well, maybe that’s another post for another day.
So I guess that’s why it puzzles me that so many people who are from neither New York nor Boston care here in Charlotte, N.C., about the much-hyped Yankees-Red Sox rivalry, which of course is the main event on ESPN tonight.
But I digress. The Knights in recent seasons have made more news off the field than on it, with their plans for a new stadium in uptown Charlotte on indefinite hold due to the litigation of one man who thinks he can bring MLB to Charlotte. So they’re still in limbo in their 20-plus year old stadium just across the line in York County, S.C. – a pretty generic facility compared to the “retro” parks being built in larger minor league cities across the country like Durham’s. But still a perfectly fine place to watch a baseball game.
Knights Stadium has been spiffed up a bit in the off-season with a new video display on the scoreboard and a tweak to the outfield fences that extends the power alleys 6 more feet to 353 feet in left and right center, and closes a gap between what used to be two “levels” of outfield fence in left and right. Hitters will now have to clear a 30-foot wall in those areas to get it out of the park.
In the press box, we’ve already identified a couple of long fly ball outs or doubles off the wall that would have been home runs last season. In a park that’s historically been a pitcher’s nightmare (I’ve heard several over the years complain that they’ve pitched in more spacious venues in high school), it’s a small favor.
It’s also good to be back in a baseball press box. Over the long haul of a baseball season, you can watch only so much of the action, and I enjoy the digressions that take place. Who was in the starting lineup for the 1960 Pittsburgh Pirates? Who would be at each position on your “All-Steroids” All-Star team?
The Knights press box is also, strangely enough, good for a few political conversations each season. It’s a bit right-leaning here and I find myself, out of contrariness or just to make sure both sides are represented, chiming in with an alternate viewpoint. (As I always tell conservative friends, “It doesn’t mean I’m a liberal, just means I’m more liberal than you.”) There’s a lot of room to the left of many folks that I know — not that there’s anything wrong with that.
As a result of one of those conversations this afternoon, I learned that Knights right-handed pitcher Lucas Harrell is a nephew of John Ashcroft, former attorney general in the first George W. Bush administration and former U.S. Senator from Missouri.
The 25-year-old Harrell, who is charting pitches this afternoon, is a well-spoken young man who’s earning a bachelor’s degree in political science online and wants to go to law school after his baseball career is done. He’s also interested in a political career and seems dead serious when he says he’d like to be President. I told him I’d consider voting for him, which he seemed a little surprised at.
Like I said, you hear the darndest things in a baseball press box. It’s good to have the season back.