CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The Chicago White Sox like North Carolina. Just look at their minor league system.
Their low-A team is in Kannapolis. The high-A club is in Winston-Salem. The Triple-A team is in Charlotte. The only outlier is the team’s Double-A affiliate in Birmingham, Ala.
“It’s something Jerry Reinsdorf wanted from the beginning,” White Sox assistant general manager Buddy Bell said. “It gives our people the ability to hit every team in one specific area. It could have been Ohio, could’ve been Florida, could’ve been wherever, but it happened to be in North Carolina, which happens to have the best A-ball leagues in baseball and also the best Triple-A league.
“We really like it a lot. To say our relationship with all those clubs is good is a real understatement.”
Bell, whose White Sox title also includes vice president of player development, said his relationship with Knights CEO Dan Rajkowski goes back to 1991 when the White Sox were trying to put a ballpark in Hickory. That stadium, L.P. Frans, was built in 1993 and housed Chicago’s single-A team from 1993-98.
“Any relationship you have depends on the people you have the relationship with,” said Bell, who played for the Cleveland Indians, Texas Rangers, Cincinnati Reds and Houston Astros before managing the Detroit Tigers, Colorado Rockies and Kansas City Royals.
“Obviously the facility makes it easier to have a better relationship, but it really wouldn’t matter because they understand us and we understand them,” Bell said of the Knights. “It’s easy to do with Dan every day. It’s a great situation and this facility is incredible.”
Adam LaRoche, who has played 11 MLB seasons, said minor league stadiums have come a long way from when he was coming up through the Braves system from 2000-2004.
“This is like a Major League stadium,” Chicago’s new first baseman said Friday at BB&T Ballpark, the home of the Triple-A Knights. “It’s hard to believe times have changed that much. It was nothing like this. And it’s got the best view from the home plate looking out, I know that.”
BB&T Ballpark sits right in downtown Charlotte, or Uptown as it’s known locally. The Knights welcomed the big club for an exhibition game on Friday and gave their big brothers from the Windy City a 10-2 drubbing. The White Sox were the first MLB team to play in Charlotte since 1984 and 10,556 fans showed up to Friday’s game.
“There’s so much we enjoy,” Chicago GM Rick Hahn said of Charlotte. “The staff here has been so easy to work with, from a baseball standpoint. Our group is more focused on the players developing than a win or loss on a given night, but there has been tremendous support from the understanding of what we’re trying to do at the minor league level, as well as from a facilities standpoint. It’s tough to beat anywhere. We’re extremely pleased with the partnership.”