Talk about a comeback: With a new ballpark and new branding, the Charlotte Knights (Class AAA; International League) led MiLB teams in attendance and brought baseball back to the Queen City. For that turnaround, EVP/COO Dan Rajkowski is Executive of the Year in Ballpark Digest’s annual awards.
It wasn’t long ago that the Charlotte Knights was an underperforming MiLB franchise, mired in a suburban ballpark and struggling to attract fans. But with the opening of a gorgeous Uptown ballpark, BB&T Ballpark, and the subsequent surging attendance in 2014, the Knights vaulted into the league of elite MiLB teams.
“Many people had given up on the Charlotte Knights after several unsuccessful attempts at putting together a new-ballpark plan,” said Kevin Reichard, Ballpark Digest publisher. “But give Rajkowski and his front office credit: they never gave up on efforts to build a new ballpark and inject new life into the Knights. Those sorts of turnarounds are unusual, but definitely noteworthy, and Rajkowski’s years of work in Charlotte make him the easy choice for our Executive of the Year.”
“I’m certainly very honored to be the recipient of this award,” said Knight Chief Operating Officer, Executive Vice President Dan Rajkowski. “I have been very fortunate to have supportive ownership and an outstanding staff to elevate the Charlotte Knights to a great year. We built a beautiful ballpark and the community responded with record crowds. 2014 has been a special year and I feel privileged to be a member of this team.”
The numbers speak for themselves. The Knights attracted 9,686 fans per game in 2014, a rise of 155 percent over 2013’s numbers at Knights Stadium in suburban Fort Mill, S.C. All in all, the Knights drew 31 sell-out crowds over the course of the season. Add the attendance for the 2014 Gildan Triple-A National Championship Game — 8,886 fans — and the Knights recorded a final attendance number of 696,601 fans through the gates in the ballpark’s inaugural season.
Rajkowski joined the Knights as Vice President, General Manager in 2006. After the 2012 season, he was elevated to the team’s Executive Vice President, Chief Operating Officer and devoted his time toward the move of the team to a new Uptown ballpark. He has operated clubs at all classifications of Minor League Baseball and has been honored with numerous awards over his career. He was named the Southern League’s Executive of the Year in 1997. In 2000, he was the recipient of the Larry McPhail Promotional Award for Minor League Baseball and was elected to the Knoxville Sports Hall of Fame. One year later, while with the Toronto Blue Jays organization, he received the Bobby Mattick Award for dedication and excellence in player development.
“Opening a new ballpark is a whole lot more than just opening the gates at a new address,” Reichard said. “From the years spent negotiating the financials of a new ballpark to overseeing construction to managing the logistics of a franchise move, Rajkowski deserves plenty of congratulations on a career that hit a definite peak in 2014.”
Photo by Buren Foster/Charlotte Knights.
Each year Ballpark Digest honors noteworthy accomplishments in the baseball world: Major League Baseball, Minor League Baseball, independent baseball, summer-collegiate baseball and college baseball. Here’s a list of the 2014 awards:
Broadcaster of the Year: Steve Klauke, Salt Lake Bees
Best New Logo / Branding: Akron RubberDucks
Organization of the Year: Big Top Baseball
Best MiLB Promotion: Myrtle Beach Pelicans
Best Summer Collegiate Promotion: Kalamazoo Growlers
Editor’s Choice: Granderson Stadium, University of Illinois at Chicago
Best New Food Item: BIG APPLE, Fort Wayne TinCaps
Best Ballpark Improvement: Ferris wheel, Quad Cities River Bandits
Best Ballpark Renovation Under $2 Million: Simmons Field, Kenosha Kingfish
Best Ballpark Renovation Over $2 Million: Durham Bulls Athletic Park, Durham Bulls
Team of the Year: Fort Wayne TinCaps
Best New Ballpark: Southwest University Park
Best Marketing Campaign: Lehigh Valley IronPigs, Smell the Change