Kicking off their 20th anniversary campaign in style, the Hickory Crawdads hosted their annual Hot Stove Banquet at Rock Barn Golf and Spa on Monday.
The event featured a number of guest speakers, including former ‘Dads general manager Marty Steele and former Hickory players Josh Bonifay (2000-01), Chris Mader (1993-94) and Jason Evans (1993).
Steele, who was team’s first-ever general manager, recanted the first opening day at its new stadium.
Despite 10 inches of snow in March 1993, the team opened the doors to newly built L.P. Frans Stadium on April 16, and the rest remains history.
“We had been in meetings with the White Sox, talking about another place to play,” Steele said. “We didn’t have another place to play. We were walking around the building at 6 p.m. on April 16, wondering if the building was going to be open. The building inspector gave us that seal, we got to open and it was a heck of a ride.”
Mader’s fondest memory came from a special team promotion jointly with Domino’s Pizza in 1993. If the ‘Dads scored 10 runs in a game, the entire crowd earned free pizza.
Up 8-0 with runners on first and second, Mader was up to bat.
“I remember this, as sure as it was yesterday,” Mader said. “I hit a rocket to right field. I’m rounding first. One guy scores to make it nine runs. I stand up at second, looking at home saying ‘please God, please let him score.’ He slides into home plate. He’s called safe. The place explodes. I’ve never heard an ovation like that. I still get chills thinking about it.”
Evans, who was born in Buford, S.C., said the atmosphere for a game at L.P. Frans was simply indescribable.
“It was great,” Evans said. “We had probably averaged about 5,000-6,000 people per night. It was fantastic. That first year, it was nothing any of experienced again in any other town. I think the minors, the largest place I played was in Buffalo, N.Y. in front of 30,000-35,000. The level of excitement here, though, was unbelievable.”
Bonifay, an Asheville native and T.C. Roberson graduate, said Hickory holds more than baseball memories.
“When I got to Hickory, it’s been a tremendous place for myself,” Bonifay. “I met my wife here. Hickory is always going to hold a special place in my heart.”
The Crawdads’ 20th anniversary season kicks off starting with an eight-game road trip that begins April 5 in Kannapolis.
The team’s first home game is April 12 at 7 p.m. against the Asheville Tourists.