Final Knights Stadium opener kicks off nostalgic year

jjones@charlotteobserver.comApril 11, 2013 

The Charlotte Knights will open their season at Knights Stadium for the 24th and final time Thursday night, but things will still have a distinct 1990s feel around the stadium.

The White Sox Class AAA affiliate has several promotions set up throughout this season as a throwback to 1990, the first year the Knights were in the Fort Mill area baseball stadium

“We want to honor the heritage of Knights Stadium and its tradition,” general manager Scott Brown said. “We want to take people back to some of the earlier years.”

The Knights will move to a brand-new, $54 million uptown stadium, named BB&T Ballpark, at the conclusion of this season. Charlotte has already started its season, sitting at 1-6 after beginning the year on the road.

“They sure are (read to get back),” Brown said. “They’ve been through opening day ceremonies at two parks now. This is their chance to shine in front of their fans.”

Thursday night will feature a World Series-like introduction for both the Knights and visitor Gwinnett Braves along with the usual Thirsty Thursday promotion ($1 sodas and $2 beers).

The team will also unveil the All-Knights Stadium Team on Thursday night. Fans were able to vote on the Knights’ website for the top player at each position on the field who spent significant time with the Knights during their stint in the Fort Mill-based facility.

Director of media relations Tommy Viola said some of the players on that team will be in attendance Thursday night while others have sent video messages that will be played.

“We want to share their memories with (the fans) and really do a lot to say that it’s been a great 24-year run here,” Viola said.

Former owner George Shinn, who also owned the Charlotte Hornets, bought the team in the late 1980s and moved the Knights into their current stadium in 1990. Since that time the Charlotte club has been an affiliate with the Chicago Cubs, Cleveland Indians, Florida Marlins and, since 1999, the Chicago White Sox.

Thursday night begins a six-game homestand for the Knights after nearly a week on the road. Brown expects a crowd of 5,000 for the home opener, up from the team’s average of 4,200 last year.

In every home Friday game for the Knights this season, the players will wear throwback uniforms from 1990. The black jerseys with white pinstripes lasted just one year, Brown said, but they’ll make an appearance occasionally this season. The Knights will also be giving away throwback hats, retro baseball cards and a retro pennant, Viola said.

Fireworks, a Knights’ staple on Saturday nights, will also return this season, and there will be a show after Saturday’s game against Durham.

Viola said the first steel beam at BB&T Ballpark went up less than a month ago, and fans can view a live, 24/7 camera shot of the construction going on uptown.

Brown, just in his fourth month as the team’s general manager, said he’s excited for the new ballpark and the view of the Charlotte skyline it will offer. But there’s still plenty he’ll miss about Knights Stadium.

“We’ve got a top-notch surface and a great view that you have of the hills beyond the outfield wall,” Brown said. “The ease of getting in here and parking and walking in, it couldn’t be any more fan-friendly. I think there’s a sentimentality that they’ll miss.”

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