Former players look back at Charlotte baseball history as city mentioned in expansion talks

Former players look back at Charlotte baseball history as city mentioned in expansion talks

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (CHARLOTTE SPORTS LIVE) — Jim Rooney’s stint playing in Charlotte wasn’t surrounded by a glistening skyline, but rather wooden bleachers and fencing.

Rooney pitched for the Charlotte Orioles in 1983, near the end of the team’s run from 1976 to 1985. The former No. 1 pick of the Cubs would go on to have a 25-year career in baseball.

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“When you consider that back in ’83 we were all in an old wooden stadium — Crocket Park — and now all of a sudden, you see this beautiful place and right in downtown Charlotte. It’s just amazing.”

What’s also amazing is the amount of players that have come through Charlotte since professional baseball arrived here in 1892. This season the Knights are celebrating that rich history.

There’s Joe Bonikowski who pitched for the original Charlotte Hornets in the 1960s and even had a short stint with the Minnesota Twins.

Or Mo Hill who was a member of the Hornets’ championship team in 1971 and was one of the first African American ballplayers to play American Legion baseball in North Carolina.

Flash forward to the 21st century, and Mike Wright pitched for the Charlotte Knights at Truist Field in 2021.

“And you can tell there is true blue baseball fans,” said Wright. “I mean, North Carolina is rich with baseball history and with a lot of good players.”

Rooney can even recall a certain kid from the dugout that went on to make a name for himself.

“Believe it or not, our bat boy was Mike Schildt — the major league manager for the Padres,” Rooney said.

Like the hundreds of players who have taken the field in the Queen City, maybe someday Charlotte itself will get the call up. With Las Vegas becoming the next MLB expansion destination, there has been chatter in recent years about who’s on deck.

“I would love to see this become a big-league stadium,” Wright said. “That would be awesome. I mean I don’t think there’s anywhere else in the world that you can go and get this backdrop.”

Rooney thinks Charlotte has what’s necessary to support another major professional team.

“This is a business center, the money’s here,” he said. “The money to invest is here so i wouldn’t see why it wouldn’t be a big-league city.”

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