Ready for some baseball?
The crack of the bat sounded again at CMC-NorthEast Stadium in Kannapolis on Saturday.
Young and old got a chance to hit practice pitches on a spring afternoon as the Kannapolis Intimidators celebrated Fanfest, their annual season kickoff. The team will begin its 19th season with a home opener on April 11. This will be the 13th season as the Class-A Chicago White Sox affiliate.
Intimidators General Manager Randy Long has been with the team for 16 years.
“I love our kickoff every year. It looks like the baseball gods gave us a great day,” he said. “When I stop getting goose bumps about a new season, then it will be time to quit. We are expecting a wonderful summer. We have promotions for nearly every game throughout the season.”
Promotions for 2013 include nine fireworks shows, Belly Buster Mondays, a youth jersey giveaway, Thirsty Thursdays, a BBQ Sauce competition and plenty more. Every Sunday is Kid’s Day, featuring player autographs, prize drawings, in-game activities for the kids and post-game running of the bases for children.
Josh Feldman, media-relations director, moved from Los Angeles to work for the team and live in Kannapolis.
“Imagine that change, and I came here sight unseen. It has all been worth it,” Feldman said, before listing the special activities of the day. “We have 50-cent hotdogs, Easter baskets for door prizes, batting practice for a $5 Make a Wish donation and a bounce house. Our team store is totally revamped with new merchandise.”
The team arrived in Kannapolis Sunday night, and will have media day at 3 p.m. this afternoon.
About half of the team will return from the end of last season, and new players will include Courtney Hawkins, the top Chicago White Sox draft choice. Tommy Thompson, Intimidators’ manager in 2011, will return after a year away from the Class A team.
About 120 employees will be on hand to work at the stadium during the summer. Less than ten are full time, and most of the total staff will work in concessions.
Paula Murphy is in her 17th year working for the team.
“I was the original beer-hut lady. Since then, I have worked in the ticket office, taken tickets, did parking, and now I work in the team store,” she said. “It is very much like a large family here. We came here when my husband was transferred from New Jersey. I’ve been here since.”
Long, who works for team owners Smith Family Baseball, said, “The team just tries to do it better each year. Our in-game entertainment will be very good. We have a new hot dog toppings bar. There will be no concession price increases. Our goal is to keep the game experience affordable.”
As excitement builds to meet the 2013 team, Booster Club President Marshall Smith and wife, Debby, look forward to assisting the new players in getting settled in the Kannapolis area.
“Most of the players will be 18 to 22 years old and away from home for an extended period of time. We try to help them find housing, a church or a dry cleaner,” she said. “Some of the players will share apartments and others will live with host families. They are from all over the country, so we just try to make it easier to build the relationships they will need.”
Debby Smith makes cookies for the winning pitcher after every game. The Booster Club also hosts a monthly picnic honoring the players.
Marshall Smith lauded the quality of the players.
“These guys are usually top of the line and very respectful. Even a top draft choice fits right in,” he said. “Most have been playing baseball since age 4. They play for their dreams and passions, not egos.”
The Smiths attend nearly every home game.
The highlight of Fanfest, especially for children, was the opportunity to take batting practice on the field.
CJ Josey, 5, of Salisbury was first up.
“It was fun, cool. I hit the ball pretty well,” he said.
CJ’s dad, Clyde, and grandmother, Sheila Triplett, watched him hit after buying two tickets to Fanfest at the end of last season.
“The field is beautiful and I am ready for spring, ready for baseball,” Triplett said. “We come to a lot of games here, and CJ enjoys birthdays and team celebrations here.”
Lexington’s Travis and Tanzy Tysinger brought Andrew, 8, to take his turn at hitting.
Tanzy Tysinger gets the opportunity to visit the stadium often through her work with RH Barringer and Budweiser.
“We love to come here. Everyone is so friendly and baseball is always a good attraction,” she said. “Andrew’s dad challenged him to hit the ball and he did pretty well. He will have to come back next year to do it again.”
More information on the team, schedule, and promotions is available at www.intimidatorsbaseball.com.