The northeast Charlotte suburb of Kannapolis has only hosted professional baseball for parts of three decades, but there is already quite the interesting baseball history within the gates of CMC-NorthEast Stadium. From the Piedmont Phillies (the team's first iteration after relocating from Spartanburg, South Carolina) to the Piedmont Boll Weevils (which featured future Phillies superstar Jimmy Rollins) and on to the Intimidators, the South Atlantic League has been well-represented in Kannapolis since 1995. The Intimidators are one of the Chicago White Sox' three minor league affiliates in the Tar Heel State.
Unfortunately for the Intimidators, one of those other teams has taken a bit of the luster away from the experience in Kannapolis. The Charlotte Knights campaigned for a new park in the Queen City for years, and finally got their wish. As with all new ballparks, fans have flocked to see the shiny facility. The presence of that new park a half-hour -- and no longer a state -- away has pushed attendance in Kannapolis near the bottom of the South Atlantic League. All that glitters is not gold, though. If you want a great baseball experience at a fraction of the prices in Charlotte's uptown, a drive to the suburbs may just be for you.
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It is not all that common to see a food court at a single-A ballpark, but there is a "play" on one at CMC-NorthEast Stadium. Nestled on the concourse behind the press box, one will find a large, six-line concession stand, a funnel cake stand, a beer station and an assortment of snack carts. The primary stand offers a number of satisfying options, including Wing Street wings ($5 for six, $7 for 12), grilled chicken sandwiches ($5 for the sandwich or $7 for a basket), barbecue sandwiches ($5 for pulled pork or turkey), hamburgers ($4 for the sandwich or $7 for a meal with chips and drink), turkey wraps ($4), french fries ($3 for regular, $4 for chili cheese), pizza slices ($3), veggie burgers ($4) and pretzel dogs ($4 for the dog, $6 for a meal). Ballpark standards, including Cracker Jack ($1), peanuts ($3) and chips ($1) will also add to your meal. Be careful, though -- despite the stand offering six lines, it is rare to find all of these lines open at the same time. This may make your wait a bit longer.
Funnel cakes are $5, and can be topped with powdered sugar, cinnamon or chocolate syrup made by a certain company in Pennsylvania, which shall remain nameless. The funnel cakes appeared to be a bit underdone on the night I visited, but the toppings are more than plentiful. Cotton candy ($4) is also a favorite with the little ones, and can be purchased from the funnel cake stand. Dippin' Dots, shaved ice and more complete the sweet options.
All meals require a beverage, of course, and Kannapolis offers a bevy of drink selections. From lemonade (fresh or frozen) to sodas to booze, your liquid of choice is just steps away from your seat. North Carolina favorites Pepsi and Cheerwine are available for $3 a bottle, with bottled water priced at $2. 16-ounce draft beers are $3.50 or $4.50, with 32-ounce drafts at $6.50 or $7.50, depending on whether your draft is standard or "premium." Wine ($4 for a small plastic cup) and canned margaritas and hard lemonades ($4) will also quench adults' thirst. North Carolina state law only permits the purchase of one beer per person per trip, so be mindful of this, should you choose to partake.
If the other items on the Intimidators' concessions list don't immediately catch your attention, how about a snack you can both eat and wear? The Intimidators offer loaded nachos ($12) and popcorn ($6) in a wearable batting helmet, giving you a simultaneous meal and souvenir.
The drive to CMC-NorthEast Stadium is unlike many others. A winding road takes one through what almost appears to be a forest, as the small road cuts through the trees. The ballpark suddenly appears from the trees to the left, surrounded by a large parking lot. Though Interstate 85 is nearby, it is never an intrusion. This allows fans to focus on the game in front of them and the conversations with their friends around them.
Minor League Baseball is synonymous with amusing between-inning promotions, and many of the standards take place in Kannapolis. Fans can scream for free pizza, catch frisbees and dance against mascots. That mascot, Tim E. Gator, wanders the stands and says hello to the kids. If there is an open seat nearby, you may even find that Tim E. Gator joins you for a few pitches.
Fans should note that, for evening games, the sun will be prevalent on the first base side during the early innings of the contest. Be sure to bring a pair of sunglasses to shield your eyes, if your seats are on that side of the park.
The scoreboard is located beyond the left-center field wall. The standard game information (ball-strike-out count, line score, miles per hour reading) can be found on the board, along with a small LED board below the line score. This board could benefit from an upgrade, as it looks to be straight from 1995, the year in which the park opened.
There is not a lot close to the stadium, with a Subway store inside a truck stop across the interstate as the only real option on the stadium exit. If your plan is to walk from the stadium to a bar or restaurant after the game, this is not a possibility.
Since you'll need a car to get to the stadium, take that car one exit south to Dale Earnhardt Boulevard. Logan's Roadhouse, East Coast Wings and Grill and other chains will give you plenty of options for a pre or post-game meal or beverage. Be sure to check the hours before heading to grab a bite, though, especially on nights with extra innings.
If you feel the need to shop or have even more dining options, Concord Mills is just 15 minutes south of the park. Concord Mills is the largest mall in North Carolina, and the surrounding area features all the food, entertainment and shopping one could want.
Fans at Kannapolis love their Intimidators. The normal attachment to teams found in small towns is on display in Kannapolis, as parents and children can often be found enjoying the hometown nine.
As great as the fans are in Kannapolis, though, there is just not enough of them to go around. Stadium Journey attended on a Saturday night, and the stadium was unfortunately just under half-full. A number of fans stayed throughout the entire 15 innings on this night and rooted on their Intimidators, but there are often rows and rows of empty seats visible down the baselines. This is a shame, considering that there is much to be enjoyed at an Intimidators game.
CMC-NorthEast Stadium is just five minutes or so from Interstate 85, and about 35-to-40 minutes from uptown Charlotte. Fans can fly into Greensboro (PTI) or Charlotte (CLT) if traveling by air. Both airports are just over 45 minutes from the park. US Highways 29 and 601 are also nearby, allowing easy travel in and out of the region.
Once inside the park, there is plenty of room to maneuver on the concourse. The stadium has a very wide-open feel, as there is no overhang above the seating bowl.
Restrooms are available on the first base side of the concourse, and are more than plentiful for even the largest crowd that may attend an Intimidators game. The facilities are clean and well-maintained.
A night out at an Intimidators game is certainly an inexpensive affair, and fans are in control of how much they wish to spend when visiting the ballpark. Tickets are available online for as little as $5 in the Ollie's Cheap Seats section down the right field line. General admission seating (four sections down the first base line, two sections on the third base line) is $6. The remainder of the park is reserved seating, priced at $8. A ticket in the Cheap Seats section ($5), hamburger ($4), bottled soda ($3) and parking ($2) allows a family of four to enjoy a game for less than $50.
Be sure, though, to buy your tickets in advance when attending an Intimidators game. Tickets cost an additional $2 at the gate, which is a bit much.
The Intimidators offer a small -- but nice -- souvenir store just to the left of the main ballpark entrance. Team merchandise is prevalent in the shop, along with an ATM, should you need one. The wall on which the ATM resides also commemorates players who have reached the majors after playing in Kannapolis. When taking your purchases to the counter, you will be greeted by a friendly Intimidators staffer who will process your order.
Scores from around Major League Baseball are offered to the crowd during the game. This is a nice added touch, stopping the need to have an app open on your phone throughout the game. It would be good, however, to show the scores on the LED board, as the announcements are difficult to hear at times.
Kannapolis reminds its fans -- in several locations -- of the team's history in the town. The Intimidators won the 2005 South Atlantic League championship, an achievement noted in no fewer than three separate spots in and around the park. The exterior facade even notes the title. The team also boasts three retired numbers on the outfield wall -- 50 (John Henry Moss, the former South Atlantic League president), 3 (Dale Earnhardt, who was a former member of the team's ownership group) and 42 (Jackie Robinson). One of Earnhardt's former cars also occupies a space on the sidewalk just outside of the stadium's entry gates.
Last, but certainly not least, The Uh-Huh Guy bears mention. Paul Buchanan, also known by his hard-earned nickname, participates in a call-and-answer game with the crowd for much of the night. He is a local celebrity, attending many collegiate and professional sporting events in the area. MiLB.com's Benjamin Hill even penned a feature on Buchanan. If you see Buchanan at a game, approach him -- he's friendly, promise -- and ask him to explain "dirtball" or any of his other catch phrases.
There are no views of city skylines, gastropubs or $16 tickets to be found in Kannapolis, North Carolina. What you can find, though, is a night of really good baseball at an inexpensive price. Many are -- understandably -- drawn to the allure of new downtown ballparks, hence why many are built year after year. If your travels lead you to see a Charlotte Knights game -- or even if they don't -- be sure to stop by CMC-NorthEast Stadium. You just might find that things are better on the outskirts.
The Chicago White Sox organization has a stranglehold on the Carolinas, with three of their affiliated teams taking up residence in North or South Carolina. Their advanced-A affiliate, the Winston-Salem Dash, resides in North Carolina's Triad region, while their Class AAA affiliate is – for now – in Fort Mill, South Carolina. The Charlotte Knights will actually call Charlotte home in a new facility in the city's Third Ward in time for the 2014 season.
This leaves the White Sox' Class A affiliate in the South Atlantic League, the Kannapolis Intimidators. Kannapolis is, to many, a tiny northern suburb of Charlotte, but there is much more to this town and its sports history than most realize. The franchise began in 1995 after relocating from Spartanburg, South Carolina, and was named the Piedmont Phillies. The club later became the Piedmont Boll Weevils (a nod to the town's textile history) before the White Sox took over the affiliation in 2001, and the club's name was changed to reflect the nickname of Kannapolis native (and partial team owner) Dale Earnhardt.
The Intimidators have a South Atlantic League title to their credit, taking home the crown in 2005. Despite a brief affiliated baseball history in Kannapolis, several future big leaguers have passed through the former Fieldcrest-Cannon Stadium (now CMC-NorthEast Stadium; the previous name was another nod to Kannapolis' textile history), with Jimmy Rollins, Brett Myers, Clayton Richard, and Gordon Beckham among those having stopped over on their way to the majors. Former Texas and NFL running back Ricky Williams also played in Kannapolis during his brief flirtation with baseball.
It's a nice enough park, and a great value.... but it definitely lacks shade, I still think it needs a signature menu item.
I don't think it measures up all that well against the other A ball parks in NC... Durham, Greensboro, Winston-Salem are all a significant experience upgrade. It's better than Charlotte, and on par with Hickory, and maybe Asheville, but Asheville has more history.
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