The Charlotte Bats: An Unfinished Story

The idea of a Major League Baseball expansion team is nothing new. Baseball has seen expansion teams added to the league several times. Yet the league has been set at its current thirty teams since 1998, when the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays (the “Devil” has since been dropped from the name) joined the National League and the American League, respectively. That may not be the case for much longer. Commissioner Rob Manfred has made expansion one of the priorities of his regime, and named several cities as possible locations for new franchises. Charlotte, North Carolina, made the cut to the final eight locations.

The Story of the Charlotte Bats

Charlotte, one of the fastest growing cities in the country, ranks in the top twenty cities in the United States in terms of population. The Charlotte metropolitan area stand as the 22nd-largest in the US. It is home to the Nascar Hall of Fame, the NBA‘s Charlotte Hornets, and the NFL‘s Carolina Panthers, and is known for some of the best barbecue around. One thing Charlotte is not known for is baseball. Perhaps it should be.

A Baseball Town Without a Major League Baseball Team

It’s a little known fact that the people of Charlotte love their baseball. The city plays host to the Charlotte Knights, the Triple-A affiliate of the Chicago White Sox. The Knights have led the minor leagues in attendance in each of the last two years, and see an average home attendance of over 9,000 fans per game. That’s as much as some Major League teams get.

The Knights have quite the history of their own. From their time as the Charlotte Hornets until their current incarnation, they have seen some legendary players on their way to the Majors. Harmon KillebrewEddie Murray, Cal Ripken Jr.Jim Thome, and Manny Ramirez all once called Charlotte home. Ramirez and Thome even played together on the 1993 Knights team that won the International League title in 1993.

A Grassroots Movement

One person who knows a little something about Charlotte’s affinity for the Grand Old Game is Rick Curti. Rick is the founder and CEO of the Charlotte Bats, a grassroots movement to bring MLB to Charlotte, which he brought to life in 2011. While his “team” is in no way official yet, Rick is prepared. He chose his team’s colors, green and black, to represent the city he and those who support his cause love so much. The team’s mascot and name, the Bats, honors the Greensboro Bats, a minor league team which played in the South Atlantic League from 1994-2004, before being renamed the Greensboro Grasshoppers.

In addition to a name and logo, he has a team website, and he’s already picked out uniforms. He also has a good deal of support. The Bats fan page on Facebook has almost 16,000 likes and an active community. Though North Carolina has never had a Major League team, the people yearn for one. Charlotte is one of the largest cities in America without a MLB team. It also sits in one of the largest media markets in the country without a team.

Location, Location, Location

If Major League Baseball expands, it will look to do so in markets that can support teams and will not face competition from existing franchises. Charlotte meets the latter criterion by virtue of its location. As for the former, Rick and his supporters serve as evidence that the city would not only welcome a team, but would fill a new stadium as well. The attendance the Knights get proves that the people of the Queen City love going to baseball games.

Obstacles Stand in the Way

While the people of Charlotte may be clamoring for a Major League franchise, an expansion team coming to the Queen City is far from a certainty. Major League Baseball is, at its core, a business, and the ultimate goal of any business is to make money. There may not be another nearby team to draw fans away, but Charlotte is not devoid of professional sports. Sponsorship money is a big part of that bottom line, and a MLB team in Charlotte would have to compete with the Panthers and the Hornets for that money. In addition, Major League Baseball does not normally locate its franchises in cities that have Minor League teams. The Charlotte Knights, for the moment, may be blocking the Charlotte Bats.

The larger obstacle, however, may be the political and social backlash the state of North Carolina is facing right now in response to the passage of House Bill 2, one of the most anti-LGBT laws in the country. The law eliminates anti-discrimination protections for gay, bisexual, transgender, genderqueer, and intersex people. It legislates that, in government buildings, individuals may only use the restroom that corresponds with the sex assigned on their birth certificates. People who either do not or cannot change their birth certificates cannot use the restroom consistent with their gender identity. In North Carolina, only people who undergo sex reassignment surgery can change the sex on their birth certificates. The law also prevents municipalities in North Carolina from enacting anti-discrimination policies.

In response to the passage of the law, individuals and businesses across the nation have spoken out in protest. People called for business to boycott North Carolina. The NBA recently decided to pull the 2017 All-Star Game from Charlotte in direct response to the law. That precedent may have doomed Charlotte’s chances of getting an expansion MLB team any time soon. Major League Baseball likely will not want to be seen as accepting of such discrimination, especially not after another major professional sports league so publicly and emphatically opposed the law. As long as House Bill 2 remains in place, Charlotte’s chances of getting an expansion team remain slim. Curti acknowledges that the issue of HB 2 takes precedence over bringing Major League Baseball to Charlotte.

The Charlotte Bats: An Unfinished Baseball Story

For now, baseball fans in Charlotte must wait and hope. There’s no doubt the people there love baseball, and the city could support a franchise. The story of the Charlotte Bats may yet get the ending the people of Charlotte desire. For now, however, it sits in limbo, unfinished and uncertain.

Main Photo courtesy of Rick Curti