Saturday, May 31, 2014

BB&T Ballpark (Charlotte)

All photos of Charlotte and BB&T Ballpark available on Flickr.

My girlfriend Megan and I recently got back from a vacation in North Carolina.  We spent most of our time visiting friends in the Raleigh area, but the trip began with a ballgame at the brand new ballpark in Charlotte.  I have made it very clear to Megan that probably every vacation and free summer weekend I have for the rest of my life is going to involve a ballgame, and so far she has been almost as passionate about my hobby I am.  The friends we flew in to see, Phil and Josh, decided to meet us at the game, along with their wives.  Our plane touched down around 4:45 PM and Phil and his wife (also named Megan) were nice enough to pick us up at the airport.  We drove to our hotel for the night, which was a suite at the Marriott across the street from the ballpark that Phil booked with his government discount.  After meeting up with Josh and pounding a pre-game PBR silo, we headed off to the game.

The first thing you obviously notice about this ballpark is the view.  BB&T Ballpark is situated just west of downtown Charlotte (called “Uptown” for some reason) and boasts a stunning vista of the city skyline.  It's right up there with Davenport and Staten Island in terms of best view I've seen at a minor league park.  The view isn't just amazing for its beauty, but also for what it represents.  The plight of the Knights to build a proper ballpark has been a well-documented history, marred by political jockeying, outdated facilities, and a number of failed attempts to land a major league franchise.  This ballpark is the culmination of over a decade’s worth of efforts to move the team back to the city proper from the suburb of Fort Mill, SC.  I’m not trying to suggest that anybody should feel sorry for a sports team, or that a new stadium should be high on a municipality’s to-do list, but if there is any team that deserved a gorgeous new ballpark, it’s the Knights.

There’s no doubt just about anything that Charlotte built would be better than their old stadium, and residents now have a civic gem they can be proud of in BB&T Ballpark.  But the incredible view looms over the park so much to the point where I found myself asking, “would this place be any good without it?”  The answer I came up with objectively was “yes, but…”  Overall it’s a nice park but I did have some minor issues with the exterior, namely the lack of a prominent main gate and the material selection.  Yes I am an architect so of course I would say this, but given the amount of time that the owners had to brainstorm ideas about this park, I don’t see these things as insignificant oversights.  One of the most important things to me at any ballpark I visit is a clearly identifiable and sociopetal main entry point.  I would guess that the right field corner gate where we came in is probably the main gate by default due to higher traffic, but I think more attention could have been paid to this as a gateway because it faces the city.  The view in to the stadium should be just as important as the view out.  The fa├žade behind home plate that one normally identifies as “the front” is about as uninviting as possible, and there is also a small gate in the left field corner that seems like it’s just there for code purposes.  This stadium is primarily clad in EIFS and brick, both of which seem out of place.  EIFS is always a sure sign of value engineering, and nothing else in the city is made of brick; the downtown is a sea of gray tones and glass.  It is a classic case of a ballpark being designed in the retro palette just for the sake of being retro.

Once inside, it was easy to get swept up in the experiential nature of this ballpark and disregard all of the nuances I found with the exterior.  Some ballparks just have that feeling about them, that energy you get in a great public space, and this one has it.  I’m definitely a victim of this blog sometimes when I focus so much on critiquing a stadium that I forget to just soak in the atmosphere and enjoy myself.  BB&T is really just a lovely and relaxing place to watch a ballgame, there’s no better way to put it.  Great sightlines, good local beer selection, a great set of group areas, and of course that view just slapping you in the face from everywhere in the ballpark.  I particularly liked how the concourses has little places to stand at the top of the seating bowl for people to enjoy the view, instead of not paying attention where you’re walking and running into people like I did.  These viewing areas along with a slew of standalone food carts also make the narrower concourse on the 3rd base side much more manageable.  At first glance, I was not a fan of the glass club area behind home plate at first because it interrupts the concourse, but when I thought about it more I realized how unique and awesome the experience must be from in there.  I just wish at least part of it was public so that I could have seen for myself.  This would have been a great area for a standing room bar.  Other than the nit-picky things I've outlined, and the absurd price of tickets, I thoroughly enjoyed my time at the new home of the Knights.

The Knights wound up losing the game 15-6, but the lopsided score was due to a 8-run 9th inning by the Indians.  This was a different type of minor league game than I’m used to watching in the Midwest League, which at that level is primarily made up of high-ceiling prospects and teenagers from the Dominican Academy.  AAA-baseball has for the most part become a conglomeration of has-beens and never-will-bes, and Friday night’s game was a perfect example of this.  Players including Felipe Paulino, Vance Worley, Chris Dickerson, Gorkys Hernandez, Jaff Decker, and Robert Andino littered the box score, all of whom have scratched around in the big leagues at some point in the past few years.  The Knights hit up Worley for a 6-spot in the 2nd, but the Indians quickly tied it with 3 in the 3rd and a 3-run homerun by Gregory Polanco in the 4th.  I had never heard of Polanco prior to this game, but he was clearly the best player on the field, hitting .368 with 43 RBI as of last Friday.  The game remained close after his homerun until the Knights brought in Donnie Veal.  He gave up 5 runs without recording an out in the 9th and sent the fans scurrying for the exits.  Despite this meltdown, Dylan Axelrod was credited with the tough-luck loss in 3.1 innings of solid relief.  The only real “prospects” I recognized were Matt Davidson on the Knights and Chris McGuiness on the Indians.  Davidson was acquired from the D-Backs in the Addison Reed deal this past offseason.  The White Sox are high on this kid as their franchise 3rd baseman but he is hitting below the Mendoza line so far this season.  McGuiness I recognized from a couple cups of coffee with the Rangers, not sure when he was traded to the Pirates organization.  He had 4 singles and 3 RBI out of the cleanup spot.

After the game we hit up a place called VBGB not too far from the ballpark.  I would highly recommend it to anyone visiting, not only because it was awesome and had $5 liters of PBR, but because downtown Charlotte was surprisingly disappointing and deserted.  I couldn't believe that with the arena and football stadiums nearby there wasn't even so much as a sports bar in sight.  Here’s hoping that new development pops up downtown faster than it took to approve the Knights ballpark. 

park rankings and statistics:
aesthetics - 5
views from park – 10 (uptown Charlotte)
view to field - 8
surrounding area – 4 (surprisingly lame)
food variety - 7
nachos - 7
beer - 9 ($9 for 24oz cans, variety of local brews)

vendor price - 7
ticket price - 1 ($18 by the foul pole!)
atmosphere - 9
walk to park – 6 (only walked from across the street)
parking price/proximity - 5 (team shares parking garage with Marriott for $5, kind of a hassle)
concourses - 7 (a little cramped in some areas)
team shop - 8

best food – Queen City Q
most unique stadium feature – the view
best jumbotron feature – crazy cap shuffle
best between-inning feature – Royalty Race

field dimensions – 330/400/315
starters – Vance Worley (IND) v. Felipe Paulino (CHA)
opponent – Indianapolis Indians
time of game – 3:27
attendance – 10,367
score – 15-6 L

Brewers score that day – 9-5 W

Brewers 32-22, +3.0, (3 v. Cubs, 2 v. Twins, 2 @ Twins)
Reds 23-29, -8.0 (4 @ Diamondbacks, 3 v. Giants)
Twins 24-27, -6.5 (3 @ Yankees, 2 @ Brewers, 2 v. Brewers)

Erik - 2 (+6 worked)

Peter - 16 

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