Friday, June 26, 2015

Scrappy Journeymen IV. Day 0: A Fancy Prologue.

Hello, loyal readers and the thousands of others we’ve locked in basements with nothing but Mets-Brewers on repeat until you read our blog. Zach, Ben, and Pat are back to bring you another tour of the wonders of Minor League and Inde-Pro baseball in America.

Continuing our Fake America Series after last season’s Tour de California, we’ll be reviewing ballparks in the mid-Atlantic and New England from the D.C. area up to Maine.  Tonight it’s Wilmington, Delaware, for monkey rodeos, fireworks, and hopefully Joe Biden. I mean, c’mon, Diamond Joe, we’re gonna be mega-disappointed if you miss a monkey rodeo and explosives. That’s not your style.

But first, I (Zach) found myself in Charlotte last week on a brief family outing to a nearby theme park. Somewhere in South Carolina I belatedly realized that we had not, in fact, ever been to see the Charlotte Knights. We drove by their ballpark once and commented on its apparent craptacularness (an old concrete monster with 70s-colored seating – it looked spectacular!), but tragically the Knights were out of town.  This time they were in town, so I dragged my family to the park.
Without further ado…

Highlights and Lowlights:

1. Noooo, the old craptacular park is gone! It’s a shiny new ballfield named after BB&T Bank in downtown Charlotte. This is only their second season, but large swaths of the ballpark were sold out on a Tuesday and an usher told me that’s not unusual. Indeed, they had the top attendance in MiLB last year, which I suppose shouldn’t be surprising in a market Charlotte’s size if the stadium is easily accessible.

2. In fact, Charlotte is the largest market for MiLB that I can think of with no other baseball competition (markets like Kansas City and Chicago have MiLB and Inde-Pro teams, but they’re competing with the majors and/or other non-MLB teams). Keep in mind Charlotte supports NBA and NFL teams.

There’s the Carolina Panthers stadium, right behind the 1st base line. Complete with fierce blue Panther eyes at night.

3. Speaking of crowded, most of the reasonably-priced sections had sold out for that night’s game, with remaining seats ~$20-25. Too much since I was treating 3 family members, so we sat on the grassy berm, which it turns out is mostly obstructed behind the Jumbotron (which, to be fair, also provided some much-needed shade).
We were able to find a shaded spot with this fairly unobstructed view. Still far from the field.

4. Man, that Tron was JUMBO. Filled with animations all night, nearly pro-grade. Again, not surprising given it’s a AAA team in a huge market.
This was blocking many views from the berm seating.

5. This was a Pepsi park, to the horror of me and my properly-raised sisters. I know it’s a League and not a team thing, but still.

6. Chick-Fil-A inside the park is always a winner with the Scrappy Journeymen.

7. Some serious North Carolina “Barebecue” action – if you wanna call that state’s style barbecue. I was born a Memphis and Kansas City man, and I’ll die a Memphis and Kansas City man. Still, there were some nice looking brisket platters and a wide selection of other meats, and I can’t complain about that.

8. I personally went with the Carolina Burger, which came with brisket chili + slaw + fried pickles.
You win this round, North Carolina.

9. My sister went with some kind of BBQ on a baked potato. I’d never seen it before, but she seemed to approve.
Sorry, we’re Instagram now.

10. Tragically, this was somewhat evened out by the availability of veggie wraps and salads at a couple concession stands throughout the park.

11. Fortunately, that was balanced back out by the bountiful Ranch dressing dispensers next to all the ketchup and mustard. God bless you, North Carolina.

12. North Carolina is also known for its microbreweries, and man were they on display. I think this was the most non-Inbev/SABMiller/Molson-Coors products I’ve ever seen at a ballpark. At least 4 local craft breweries. I had one of their local IPAs, which was quite solid.

13. Not all fancy things are bad. On this 99 degree day they had a mister working and also a frozen yogurt shop.

14. They had the highest-tech Kidz Zone I’ve ever seen. The standard bouncy castle fare, sure, but also this huge electronic board with lights and so on and about 10 pre-programmed games, none of which I could follow. My sisters were entertained, though.
On the one hand, good exercise. On the other hand, pff, kids these days. Why back in my day we…also had similar stuff, I guess. Just smaller. Interesting trend reversal.

15. Charlotte is the White Sox AAA affiliate, so we got “treated” to “Ken” “Hawk” “Harrelson’s”  “He gone!”(TM) for every strikeout.

16. On the plus side, before strike 3 we were often treated to Mortal Kombat’s “Finish him!” for opposing hitters.

17. The clean-up hitter was sponsored by some sort of cleaning company. Clever capitalism.

18. We were around the corner from NASCAR HQ, so there were lots of NASCAR-themed races and so forth throughout the evening. I didn’t know people around here supported miscegenation of sports. But then again, NASCAR isn’t a sport.

19. Speaking of quirky Charlotte things, the on-deck circle was sponsored by the U.S. National Whitewater Training Center. Well OK, then.

20. The PITCH CLOCK! Oh, the pitch clock! How I have been looking forward to seeing this in action. I was unreasonably excited for this, really. For those of you not in the know, it’s basically a 20-second clock to time the pitcher between pitches after a non-batted ball (ball, swinging strike, looking strike). It also counts down roughly 2.5 minutes between innings for the new pitcher to get ready. Along with restrictions on batter movements, it’s designed to move the game along.  I had never seen it before and I love the idea.

I honestly didn’t notice much of a difference in pacing, but it’s hard to know what the counterfactual would have been without the clock.  Plus, over the course of a game a few seconds here and there can really add up. I wholeheartedly endorse its use in MLB, where a handful of other rule changes this year have already shaved minutes off the average game time.
Action shot! I kept trying to get the crowd to count down between every pitch, but strangely nobody was into it. C’mon, who doesn’t want the chance to scream “BLASTOFF!” between every pitch!?

21. The game was White Sox versus Red Sox affiliates, so there were lots of irritating Boston fans in attendance, which brings me to the 7th inning stretch.

22. The good: the announcer sang Take Me Out to the Ballgame. And not particularly well. Good on him!

23. The bad: Sadly, this was ruined when the Knights followed this up with “Sweet Caroline”, which is not only a godawful song but it’s the Red Sox tradition. They’re the visitors, Charlotte! Your sox are white. WHITE, I SAY! Just horrible on so many levels.

24. Mascot Issues. Now, this isn’t as bad as the Kansas City T-Bones having a cow as their mascot, perhaps (they slaughter their mascot to make their team), but my sisters pointed out the Knights’ mascot is a Dragon. Do you really want to be on a quest to kill your mascot…?

Actually, you know what, yes.
When they win, it lights up red and breathes smoke. Y’know, like a dragon.

25. These rosters featured ex-MLB players galore. Just on the Knights we noticed Tyler Colvin, Javy Guerra, Matt Lindstrom, Matt Tuiasosopo and Brad Penny. Also Kyle Drabek, son of Doug Drabek (whose name I almost wrote as Dough).

26. In terms of actual baseball play, there were a couple interesting things. We saw a guy steal 2nd and then 3rd in rapid succession, which is always fun.

27. In your nightly “This is still the Minors” reminder, the center-fielder let a routine grounder roll by him for a costly E8. Ouch.

28. The park, being fancy, also had LCD monitors displaying rotating League statistics (e.g. HR leaders, then RBI leaders, and so on). Now that’s some professional-grade work.

You can probably tell these aren’t baseball stats, but concession stand menus. Still, gives you an idea of the park’s fanciness.

Regularly Scheduled Metrics:

Price of Beer: 5.68/10 points. They had 22 oz. “Mason Jars” of beer for $11, which appear to charge you for the novelty of drinking from a plastic mason jar. The smaller 16 oz beers for $7-$7.50 (domestic vs. craft) were a better deal. The best I could find seemed to 25 oz. bombers of Bud and such for $9 – and brother, let me tell you, they are NOT shy about advertising that one extra ounce over the standard 24. That last ounce makes all the difference, I guess?

Most Caloric Concession Item: 4/10 points. Nothing stood out spectacularly, but some of the BBQ plates with fries and such were probably pretty terrible for you. Naturally, I ate one. Guessing 800 calories. My sister’s potato with all that stuff was probably similar.

Minor League Personalities: 4/10 points.There were more Major League Fans (Red Sox) than Minor League Diehards. Lots of Families Out for Nice Nights.

I did notice that it was a very young crowd. There were gaggles of teen-to-20s girls, in particular, everywhere, most of whom weren't watching the game. These accounted for the Teenagers on Dates and a few of them might have been Minor League Groupies. The overwhelming feeling I got from the crowd was young, douchey, but enthusiastic.

Willingness to Give Random Bloggers Free Seats: 0/10 points. The seats were pretty pricey, too…at least the ones left by the time we got there.

Tailgating: 1/10 points. None to speak of, really, but the park is downtown so there’s no space. Parking is in hotel decks and so on, so I’ll give them one token point for not being able to.

Funniest Roster Name: 5/10 points. Matt Tuiasosopo. TOO-ee-ah-soh-soh-poh. Say it like you mean it! Yes, of that family of Tuiasosopos. He’s got two brothers who played in the NFL (well, were on NFL rosters, anyway). Plus, his cousin Ronaiah perpetrated the infamous Mati Te'o catfishing hoax. Man, what a family!

Promotion Quality: 7/10 points. Some of our older readers might remember the, er, colorful pitcher "Spaceman" Bill Lee. Well, Spaceman was there signing autographed cards, but the real gold came during a pregame interview when he was given an opportunity to shamelessly hawk the bats his company apparently makes (note he was, ironically, a pitcher, and an AL pitcher at that). He went on an extended tangent/infomercial about wood, suggesting that ash that was on the way out, maple was no good, and his company's yellow birch would reign supreme.

But this paled in comparison to his awesome diatribe about ballpark philosophy. I'm not even sure how they got on the topic, but he had zero sympathy for the woman who went to the hospital about getting hit by a bat at a Red Sox game the previous week, saying when you're at the park you should be watching the damn game and not on your cell phone texting and playing games the whole time. Spaceman, you're a crotchety old coot and our spirit animal. We love you.

They also had a couple interesting inter-inning things. You often see a Smile Cam or Kiss Cam, but Charlotte had a Mean Mug Cam, where you made your meanest face. I approve. They also had a "Guess the Hometown" game for one of the Knights' players, but they gave the contestant a picture to help out, which was weak. You should have to guess off the last name alone.

Crowd: 3/10 points. White as the bread you use to soak up proper BBQ grease. Very young, lot of college kids it looked like. Not too many paying attention to the game, and a fairly quiet crowd for its size.

Men’s Room: 0/10 points. New stadium, fancy men’s rooms, zillion urinals. We used to piss in troughs in this country, but we now we have a bathroom setup where you can't reach into another guy's pocket.

Bonus Points: +1 for creepy blue Panther eyes at night, +3 for smoking dragon, -1 for seat prices but +3 for incredible attendance on a Tuesday, -1 for Pepsi park, +1 for Chick-fil-A in-park, +4 for extensive "barbecue" selection, +1 for RANCH, +2 for extensive microbrewskies, +1 for hi-tech kidz zone, +1 for whitewater sponsorship, -4 for Sweet Caroline, +4 for announcer TMOTTBG, +3 for mascot the team tries to slaughter, +1 for stealing two bases, +2 for E8 on a grounder, +1 for rotating digital stat boards.

I want to give 888888888 zillion bonus points for the pitch clock, but every minor league team has it now so it's not really fair.

Summary: 52.68 points on our totally arbitrary scale. A very fancy, clean, new experience that draws a lot of fans (~700K last year) while retaining at least some semblance of North Carolina local charm. Edging towards a little bit too pro-style for my personal tastes, but hey, it's a big market and the fans have spoken. All in all not a bad night. Get your tickets in advance, even on a Tuesday. 6.5/10.


  1. How about the hometown center fielder interacting with yelling fans. That has to worth a point.

  2. My high school mascot is a dragon. They'd love this one.