CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Tuesday through Sunday of this week, Truist Field will ring with the sound of metal bats as Atlantic Coast Conference college baseball is in town.
The 2021 ACC Baseball Championship will bring 12 teams and 15 games to Charlotte’s Truist Field, home of the Charlotte Knights.
The tournament, originally meant to be in Charlotte in 2020, is making its first return to the Queen City in 20 years.
The COVID-19 pandemic led to last year’s cancellation.
Now, the tournament is up and running in Charlotte at 100% capacity.
"I think it’s great for the center city to get some life back through this very devastating year of pandemic that we’ve had. We’re looking forward to people being in hotel rooms, looking forward to them going to area restaurants and just enjoying this beautiful city,” said Dan Rajkowski, chief operating officer of the Knights.
In his 16 years with the Knights, this is also Rajkowski’s first ACC tournament in Charlotte.
No matter what happens on the diamond, it will be unique as the Knights and Atrium Health are partnering to provide something other than popcorn and sodas. They are offering COVID-19 vaccines.
"We wanted to be a part of this, just think it’s really important that people do get vaccinated, that we can get this pandemic clearly behind us. And so we’re just trying to do our little part, and we encourage people to come out— if they can. If they haven’t been vaccinated yet, they can do that [this] week during the ACC Baseball Tournament,” Rajkowski explained.
From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, Atrium Health will be offering free vaccines, no appointments needed, to anyone who has not been vaccinated yet. If you get a vaccine at the ballpark, you will get a free ticket to one of the day's sessions.
Each weekday of the tournament, teams play in a round-robin format at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m in the first session, then a game at 7 p.m. in the second session. The four teams reaching the semifinals will play on Saturday, with the championship set on Sunday.
The ACC, with member schools spread across the East Coast, sent 12 teams to Charlotte and at least one local business is hoping those teams bring their fans.
The tournament is a welcome sign of Uptown activity for the folks at Haymaker.
Haymaker, a farm to table restaurant located on the corner of Poplar Street and 3rd Street, is just steps away from Truist Field.
For chef and owner William Dissen, he’s breathing a sigh of relief his three restaurants located across North Carolina survived the pandemic.
"It really hit us all like a ton of bricks in March 2020, really thought at that time we had lost everything,” Dissen said.
The pandemic closed Haymaker for months in the spring of 2020, before it reopened offering delivery and curbside. Eventually, they were able to offer limited in-person dining in the late summer of last year.
Now, as the state and CDC relax mask and social distancing guidelines for vaccinated Americans, Dissen is looking forward to reopening 100% of his restaurant’s capacity.
“We don’t want to just pull the Band-Aid off, so to speak, and not be able to provide that experience to our guests,” Dissen added.
In the meantime, he's hoping they can cash in the special neighborhood feature just steps from the door: baseball.
"Sure, I mean about 10,000 tourists come to every game,” Dissen said while looking at one of the outfield fences from the front of his restaurant.
With Truist Field so close and 100% of fans returning for the ACC tournament and Knights regular season baseball, Dissen said he’s hoping it brings more fans in the front door.
The field was a major reason he chose the spot on Poplar Street for his restaurant. Before COVID-19, the decision was paying off.
"I joke with our guests who sit at the ball here at Haymaker that they get a free firework show after every game,” Dissen said with a laugh.
Normally, Haymaker attracts fans, player families and the corporate crowd before and after games.
A sports fan himself, Dissen wants folks to return to Uptown Charlotte in a safe and responsible way and enjoy what the Queen City has to offer, especially if it includes his restaurant.
“I think once we can get through this pandemic, I’m hoping for Roaring '20s again!” Dissen continued. "I think people are going to be ready to get out of their homes and get back out and have some great times with friends and family. And hopefully restaurants will be the place they do it."