When do pitchers and catchers report?

Sloan Park, located in Mesa, Arizona, is home to spring training for the Chicago Cubs.

As December darkness descends far too early in the day, baseball fans comfort themselves with the eternal question: When do pitchers and catchers report?

The answer is Feb. 14, 2023 – Happy Valentine’s Day indeed to our true love – and a website even has a countdown by the seconds, minutes, hours and days until baseball returns. The utterly addicted can watch it HERE. Its footer says: This website is not endorsed by, nor affiliated with, Major League Baseball. It’s just fans helping each other cope with The Void.

For those awaiting the return of baseball – and the return of America’s pastime to Knoxville specifically – the News Sentinel has a photo gallery of the site and prep work being done before construction is expected to get under way in 2023.

Land at the corner of Patton Street and Willow Avenue is prepped before construction starts. (Photo by Calvin Mattheis of the News Sentinel)

The 94-photo gallery taken in mid-November can be viewed HERE.

The News Sentinel also sent Ryan Wilusz to Durham, North Carolina, for a series of stories about how building a downtown stadium for the Durham Bulls, a Minor League Baseball team, revitalized the area.

The main story begins this way: If 1990s residents of Durham, North Carolina, had it their way, a downtown stadium in the city’s abandoned warehouse district never would have happened.

They voted against the idea, but the city moved ahead regardless, betting big on a new minor league baseball stadium’s ability to revitalize a mostly deserted downtown once prosperous in the tobacco industry.

Today, with community members from diverse backgrounds hosting and attending events in and around the ballpark, it’s hard to find someone who could imagine downtown Durham without Durham Bulls Athletic Park, which is approaching its 30-year anniversary.

The story, which is for subscribers, is well worth it and can be read HERE. The series is thorough and well-researched and examines all aspects of the efforts to bring the stadium downtown, obstacles to overcome and pitfalls to avoid.

The parallels are apparent, and Durham started well behind the eight ball. While the stadium opened in 1995, the surrounding downtown area wasn’t developed yet and while the games drew fans, they left after the game much like they do now at the Smokies current location in Sevier County off Interstate 40 because very little to draw visitors is nearby minus fast food. In 2004, an unused tobacco warehouse district was converted into a multi-use campus of businesses and event space, and all of downtown Durham began to thrive.

Randy Boyd and Knoxville are ahead on the scoreboard because downtown is thriving, and development around the stadium already is on the drawing board. The stadium will extend the downtown resurgence further into the Old City and East Knoxville.

The writer of this column went to downtown Durham for a concert in 2018. Baseball season was over, but the stadium was packed the same evening for another concert. Having visited the same area several decades ago, it’s unrecognizable way in a very good way.

I also spent my final two years of high school in Greenville, South Carolina, and graduated in a downtown venue. I returned recently and if not for the large Baptist church and nearby cemetery, I would have not been able to get my bearings and navigate downtown as everything has changed in the best way after the city built a Minor League Baseball stadium in 2006.

Downtown in Greenville, South Carolina

“The proof’s in the pudding,” Scott Strickland, assistant general manager of operations for the Durham Bulls, said in the News Sentinel story. “And so, to a degree, I would say to the naysayers of the stadium in Knoxville: Walk down there five or six years after it opens and think to yourself, ‘Was this a good idea, or was it not a good idea?’ 

“I guarantee you will say this was a doggone good idea and, more importantly, is worth the investment.” 

I could not agree more. Can’t wait for pitchers and catchers to report in 2023 and to hear the words “play ball” in downtown Knoxville in 2025.

Maria Cornelius, a writer/editor for Moxley Carmichael, is a lifelong baseball fan and longtime Smokies season ticket holder.