Is This Heaven? No, It’s North Carolina
At first I thought it was just me, but I soon found out otherwise. Turns out there were hundreds, perhaps thousands, of folks just like me, doing the exact same thing at the exact same time.
Our cars, bikes and feet would somehow find themselves mysteriously turning onto Lindsay Street to see how it was going. We’d drive down Bellemeade from Friendly, and there it would be on the right. From as far away as Wendover, once the lights went up, we could see it in the distance.
It, of course, is now First Horizon Park, home of the Greensboro Grasshoppers and soon to be home away from home for all of us who will now be able to stop in instead of merely drive by. From mounds of dirt a year ago to a perfectly manicured pitcher’s mound today, we watched it rise up from the ground, feeling as if we had some peculiar vested interest in its progress. We worried and fretted about everything from its configuration to its seating capacity. It that right field line going to be long enough? Where are the best parking spots going to be? How handicapped accessible will it be? Will Sunday games be day, night or early evening? Where will they shoot off the fireworks? And on and on.
Even before the ballpark began taking shape, I found myself being drawn to the area for no apparent reason. From the first day the heavy equipment started taking down the Social Services building I’d catch myself going a couple of blocks out of the way to check on the demolition. Back when I had a paper to run I regularly dispatched a photographer to chronicle the progress, even though we published only a couple of his shots. It was that sense of watching history unfold before your eyes, I suppose, that kept luring me to the construction site.
But when the exterior brick walls started going up, the first base line along Bellemeade, third along Edgeworth, it started becoming tangible. That’s when the realization finally hit me that this was actually going to happen, that after all these years we were finally going to have a downtown stadium. The debate, the dreaming, the site-selection, the search for funding ‘… it was all over but the hollerin’.
Day by day, week by week, month by month, it started taking on a life of its own. A chain link fence sealed off the site, letting the curious among us know that some serious business was going on inside. The maintenance shed went up in no time, then, step by step, the outfield fences, light standards, scoreboard, seats and roof. Every day was one day closer to Opening Day.
Last fall I got my first glimpse from inside the park when the announcement of the name change from Bats to Grasshoppers was made. No seats had been placed, few interior walls erected, and the diamond was still dirt, but the feel was already there. The skyline was perfect, just as I’d imagined it years before. Whether sitting on the bare concrete or browsing about the expanse of the concourse, by golly, in just a few months we were going to have us a ballpark!
So now with all the preliminaries out of the way ‘— the delightful ‘“Casey At The Bat’” opera staged by the UNCG music department, the packed exhibition with the parent Florida Marlins, the road series to open the season ‘— it’s time for that most glorious day of this (or any) year, the home opener. Saturday, April 9, 7 p.m., mark it down.
Trust me, there will be no adults allowed in the ol’ ballyard that night; we’ll all be kids again. For a few hours the masses will be entranced, innocent, swept back to that sweetest time of life. In our reverie, time will stand still. There will be no talk of war or terrorism or Social Security or Terri Schiavo or gas prices. Oh, steroids may creep into the conversations, but only because of baseball’s reverence for its past and the fact that its ability to compare stats from one era to another has been compromised. But even that won’t dampen the evening. No, on this and many subsequent evenings for years and years to come, this small corner of downtown Greensboro will celebrate life.
Better still, it will have a ripple effect, causing celebrations to crop up all over. Already plans are being made for all sorts of new development within walking distance of First Horizon, and sooner rather than later this whole side of town is going to be bustling with after-five activity. And that’s going to be almost as exciting as watching the ballpark come alive.
We built it and they will come. Wait and see, they will come.