CHARLOTTE – The Charlotte Knights and the Atlantic Coast Conference have teamed up to hold this year’s ACC baseball championship from May 25 to 30.
“Charlotte is very excited to host the ACC Baseball Championship,” said Rob Egan, general manager of baseball operations for the Charlotte Knights. “The Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority, the Charlotte Sports Foundation and the Charlotte Knights joined together in the bid to bring this event to the Queen City and we can't wait to showcase all the city has to offer to the schools, student athletes and their fans in May.”
Slated to host the 2020 ACC baseball championship, Charlotte quickly ended up with no championship when the pandemic struck in March as it forced the cancellation of all spring and summer sports.
“This year is even more special because these student-athletes lost their season and championship last year. It is a true privilege to be able to provide an opportunity for them to compete at the highest level this year,” said Kris Pierce, championship and senior women administrator for the ACC.
The Charlotte metro area last held the championship in 2001 when the Knights played at Knights Castle in Fort Mill, so to bring the ACC back to the Queen City is somewhat historic.
Egan said getting to hold the championship at Truist Field is a terrific feeling and something many longed for this past year.
“It's been a tough 12 months for everyone and to be able to bring baseball back to the region at Truist Field is rewarding because fans of the game have really missed it,” the Knights general manager said.
The City of Charlotte has been a longtime partner of the ACC as they hosted several ACC championships and events. Pierce said the beautiful city always makes the teams feel welcome and such great city partnerships are critical to the success of the ACC and its future.
“From a city standpoint, being able to show off gorgeous uptown Charlotte is a benefit,” said Aaron Bray, youth instructor for the Carolina Vipers and professional hitting instructor at Waxhaw Athletic Barn. “With everything that has happened in the last year and restrictions loosening it will hopefully bring some business back to the uptown area.”
In holding such major sporting events, there are certain guidelines and protocols the city and partnering organizations must follow in regards to preventing the spread of COVID-19. Because of this, the championship will abide by state and local guidelines and the standards established by the ACC Medical Group Advisory Report.
"The good news is that we had most everything ready to go as we were finalizing preparations for the event in 2020. So, now we're simply adjusting how we'll need to operate from a health and safety perspective,” Egan said. “There will be some logistical challenges, of course, but the ACC and Charlotte's Local Organizing Committee are committed to doing what we need to do to make the experience memorable for all involved."
Pierce said the ACC will continue to focus on providing a safe environment for the athletes with appropriate testing, cleaning and distancing requirements from all participating governing bodies. She said the conference is hopeful that spectators will be allowed, as that is the current plan, but they will continue to monitor local conditions to ensure the safest possible environment for the attendance of spectators.
Providing first-class championship experiences for student-athletes is one of the ACC’s top priorities. With this being said, the players are getting the opportunity to play in one of the nation’s top minor league ballparks and showcase some of the best of college baseball.
“The facility the athletes get to play in is top-notch. I think over the last couple of years Truist Ballpark was rated best stop in Minor League Baseball,” Bray said. “It allows these players to experience what it’s like to play on a big-time field.”
Being able to compete in such an iconic setting against the best teams in the country is an experience that Pierce hopes they never forget and will take with them, whether it’s into the big leagues or into the workforce.
The Knights will also benefit from the high-caliber series of games as it raises the profile of Truist Field for those who are new to the facility and the nearby area.
“It helps the Knights when we invite schools to come to Charlotte to play in our annual Sunbelt Rentals Collegiate Baseball Series. If they've been here or seen the ACC Championship on regional or national television, they're eager to bring their teams and fans to Truist Field,” Egan said. “There's also a tremendous benefit to Knights season ticket members, our staff, and all of the game-day employees who get an opportunity to be a part of the event."
Bray said he feels like the combination of the city and the nationally recognized facility is a great chance to show all that Charlotte offers while ensuring current players and future generations get the opportunity to watch quality baseball. He said many former college and pro athletes relocate to the area for work after sports due to the impact Charlotte once had on them and hopes this trend will continue.
Holding such a prestigious competition will also have a great influence on the youth of the Charlotte area.
“For youth athletes being able to see the caliber of teams and players is an important part of the learning experience. Having played both college and professionally, seeing the drive and emotion in college games is something you cannot make up,” Bray said.
The championship and senior women administrator said there is no better training ground than watching and one-day playing college baseball for any young baseball player who aspires to play professionally someday.
As the championship season approaches, the City of Charlotte, the Charlotte Knights and the ACC are preparing to bring back live college sports with hopes of displaying the best teams in the country and inspiring the futures of today’s youth.
“Conference tourney and NCAA tourney are possibly some players’ last games ever, just the fact that a magical season or impressive win streak could end,” Bray said. “The tournament being here has a positive influence on the youth as well as high school kids as seeing that it is a passion and the athletes do breathe the color of their schools is something inspiring that all should see.”
Jessica Brock is a student-journalist at UNC Asheville. She graduated from Butler High School.