Strolling the BB&T BallPark concourse on opening day, you get the feeling no one’s in a particular hurry.
Baseball unfolds at its own speed, although there’s a 20-second pitch clock that’s supposed to quicken the pace going forward. There’s no need to rush, though. I’m unfamiliar with most of the players, so I really need to check out the lineup sheet to get my bearings. Knights starting pitcher Brad Penny, a 14-year major league veteran and two-time All-Star, I’m familiar with. Designated hitter Matt Tuiasosopo comes from a football family that includes a father and brother who played in the NFL. I know of his people, so Matt’s got instant cred. Center fielder Jared Mitchell was a two-sport star at LSU who won a BCS national championship with the Tigers. Mitchell’s scrappy, which is worth something.
There’s magic in opening day because it offers hope. In the collegiate and big-league professional ranks, it’s the dream of a banner regular season followed by playoff glory. Everyone starts the same, but soon enough, reality sets in – either you have it or you don’t. Fair enough.
In minor league baseball, the emphasis isn’t so much on bragging rights earned by beating the socks off a hated rival or winning a championship. At this level, the game is grass roots simple. For fans, it’s the opportunity to take the family or buddies out for an evening’s entertainment and memories. A day with the Knights doesn’t require football’s king-sized ransom, which is a good thing. BB&T Ballpark is a shrine to Charlotte’s minor league game heritage, a blend of modern amenities and history that drew nearly 700,000 fans in its first season last year. If Thursday’s crowd of 10,514 is any indication, 2015 will bring more of the same.
For players, it’s the start of their major league pursuit, a chance to hone skills and gain experience. Nothing against Charlotte or Norfolk or Durham, but everybody’s goal is to get out of town. It’s just a matter of time for the very gifted to earn a call; for others, it’s going to require some work. For the manager and coaches, it’s about developing big-league talent. Win-loss records? That’s so secondary.
Norfolk’s Chris Parmelee, hitting second, drills a Penny pitch over the wall for a 1-0 lead in the first inning. That didn’t take long at all. It also doesn’t take long for Charlotte to respond, blasting a pair of homers on their way to a 6-3 lead win.
Not that we’re in a hurry to see it end.
Baseball is uniquely American – and human