• 57°

Wineka column: The night the lights went out in Kannapolis

KANNAPOLIS — A fly ball to left ended it. It had to be something, of course — a grounder to short, a called third strike or maybe a lineout to first.

But it was an easy fly to the Kannapolis left fielder that turned out to be the last out and the final play of minor league baseball at Intimidators Stadium.

I thought I would be more sentimental about the end Thursday night, yet I didn’t stay for the post-game ceremonies. I denied myself the chance to run around the bases like kids with other fans. I even left before the fireworks.

I reasoned this place was just a bunch of steel and concrete, wire and netting, dirt and grass — and only 25 years old at that. It wasn’t exactly a treasured landmark for the city of Kannapolis or Rowan County.

The lights went out, and I went home.

My kids were 9 and 7 when this ballpark opened in 1995. I was working in sports back then and covered many of that first season’s home games from the pressbox.

But separately, as a family, we also must have attended about 10 other games that first year, when the team was known as the Piedmont Phillies. The Phillies played well, and my kids knew all the players’ names.

I think my oldest son might have participated in the first or one of the first “dizzy bat” contests between innings.

And in anticipation of minor league baseball coming to Kannapolis and Rowan County, my family had donated money toward the stadium, which meant our names were etched onto a metal tag on one of the reserved seats below the pressbox.

When the stadium opened in a rush, with still many things to finish, portable toilets served as the bathrooms. A real concession stand had yet to be built. A grander entrance remained on the drawing board, and the parking lot still wasn’t paved, but it didn’t matter.

For baseball fans and many families, it was just great to have professional baseball — even low Class A — this close to home. I covered a Piedmont Phillies playoff game that season in Asheville and, if memory serves, they pulled out a well-played, 3-2 victory.

The next year, the team name changed to the Boll Weevils. The major league affiliation eventually changed from the Philadelphia Phillies to the Chicago White Sox, and for the past 19 years, the team was known as the Intimidators — the nickname for the late, great NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt, who bought a piece of the team just months before his death at Daytona in 2001.

Through the years, we kept going to the stadium as a family and with friends, and we saw many future major leaguers play, though we didn’t know it at the time.

But support for the team was as fickle as our own attendance, which kept dwindling as the kids grew up and moved away. As I got older, the evening trip to Kannapolis seemed like a much longer drive.

Thursday night’s last game drew many people like me, I suspect. They attended as their own personal gesture of thanks for family memories. They also came for the $1 beer and the post-game fireworks.

Thanks to the generosity of Walt and Joann Shoaf, a friend and I sat in comfortable seats not far from the pressbox. Joann even reeled in a foul ball.

The game was a good one, with the Intimidators holding on for a 5-4 win. After one call, the Intimidators manager, Ryan Newman, offered the crowd a good and well-justified tirade before the umpires tossed him.

Half of the big outfield scoreboard didn’t work, and we couldn’t make out anything on the public address system, so we missed a lot of what was happening on the field between innings.

All this will be better, of course, when the team opens up next year in the new Kannapolis Sports and Entertainment Venue in the downtown, not in this isolated outpost near Interstate 85.

After the game, I took a quick look at some of the empty seats near the pressbox, but I couldn’t find the tag recognizing our family’s donation. I think someone was still sitting in “our” seat, waiting for the fireworks.

So I headed for the parking lot.

As I left the stadium for the last time, a woman handed me a ticket-shaped reminder for “The Big Reveal” Oct. 23. That night at the Gem Theatre in Kannapolis, the ticket said, “Hear the new name, meet the new mascot and be thrilled with the future of Kannapolis baseball!”

No, I wasn’t sentimental about the last game at Intimidators Stadium. Not at all. I walked out of the ballpark holding a metal Boll Weevils lunchbox I had purchased at the stadium “yard sale” for $2.

Well, OK, maybe a little sentimental.

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263 or mark.wineka@salisburypost.com.

Comments

News

Man killed by deputy recalled as storyteller, jokester

News

Rowan’s Sen. Ford backs ‘Election Integrity Act’ to move up absentee ballot deadlines

Business

Salisbury earns ranking on national list of best small cities to start a business

Crime

Supreme Court makes it easier to give minors convicted of murder a life sentence

Local

Quotes of the week

Local

Salisbury Human Relations Council offering online Racial Wealth Gap Simulation

News

Bill seeking permanent daylight saving clears NC House

News

Friends describe Elizabeth City man killed by deputy

Business

With second hobbit house now complete, Cherry Treesort looks toward future expansion

College

Catawba Sports: 2021 Hall of Fame class announced

Crime

Supreme Court makes it easier to sentence minors convicted of murder to life in prison

Local

Overton dedicates tree to longtime volunteer Leon Zimmerman

Coronavirus

First dose COVID-19 vaccinations up to 24% in Rowan County

Crime

Blotter: April 22

Crime

Lawsuit: Salisbury Police, Rowan Sheriff’s Office tore woman’s shoulder during traffic stop

Business

‘Believe me, they’ll be fresh’: Patterson Farm welcomes strawberry crop

Local

City appoints more members to boards, commissions, with 9 seats left to be filled

News

Virtual play groups the new norm at Smart Start

Local

City meets in closed session to consult with attorney on two ongoing litigation cases

Education

Summit takes art out of the classroom, into the student’s home

Education

Education briefs: Gene Haas Foundation donates $12,500 to RCCC

Business

County’s restaurant grant program dishes out funding to eight local eateries

High School

High school football: Yow out as South head coach

Education

Shoutouts