Kannapolis, located 25 miles north of Charlotte, is renowned as the hometown of NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt.
Earnhardt left his lasting imprint on the local Class A baseball team, known as the Piedmont Boll Weevils at their 1995 inception, when he and NASCAR buddies Larry Hedrick and Bruton Smith purchased the team in November of 2000. Their first act of business was to rename the team the Intimidators, Earnhardt’s long-held nickname, and design a consumer-friendly logo, which resulted in the team having the best selling hat in all of minor league baseball.
Unfortunately, Earnhardt was killed at the Daytona 500 in February 2001 and never got to see the team that bore his nickname play a game. As a tribute, Kannapolis retired his number 3 on May 15, 2002, the 3 etched on a black flag in left field next to the American and North Carolina flags.
The Intimidators play in Fieldcrest Cannon Stadium, which is named for a textile company that went belly-up in 2000. Built in time for the team’s inaugural season of 1995, “The Cannon” holds 4,700 and is nestled in a secluded patch of real estate just one mile off of Interstate 85.
After paying $1 to park, I noted the stadium’s unique house-like main entrance. Fieldcrest Cannon is eerily similar to Greenville, South Carolina’s Municipal Stadium, which is my least favorite ballpark of all I have visited. The first thing you notice once inside is the lack of a roof, awning, or anything to protect fans from the sun, which was probably a contributing factor to the afternoon’s sparse attendance, generously announced at 709, but probably around 200.
The ballpark appears to be a mixture of old and new: wide, open concourses and comfortable seats, but an eyesore of a press box that literally looks like a trailer.
The Cannon’s dominant feature is the “house” that runs the length of the first base line. Serving as skyboxes on the second level and concession stands and the team store on ground level, the house lacks the brick edifice from the exterior that made it so appetizing upon my arrival. Instead, it features the same plain white aluminum siding as the press box, although its existence is the ballpark’s signature that sets it apart from other minor league stadiums.
Even though it seems tacky, the house actually serves as a nice backdrop if sitting on the third-base side, which I’d recommend to take advantage of its presence. Otherwise, trees, sky, and empty seats frame the action.
Since Kannapolis is in the heart of NASCAR country, the Winston Cup standings are displayed on the main concourse where everyone can see them. The day’s lineups and league standings are tougher to locate, but exist just inside the main entrance gate. The team shop is very large and has a wide display of merchandise, thanks in part to the success of the new name and logo. They still sell the large, full color tickets from the Dale Earnhardt number retirement ceremony for $5.
Without many fans to mingle with, I struck up a conversation with Intimidators merchandise director Sean Feeney, who informed me that the rigors of minor league life extend to players and staff alike. During the weeklong homestand, I was told that Kannapolis employees log 112-hour work weeks, arriving at the ballpark by 8 am.
Kannapolis was victorious in the game, beating the Greensboro Bats 5-2. Although I wasn’t particularly pleased with the architectural features of Fieldcrest Cannon Stadium, I still enjoyed the ballgame, although the absence of shade means night games should be given a higher priority to those planning a visit.