They say lacrosse is huge in Charlotte, so I figured All-Star weekend was the perfect time to make my first visit to this smaller, but still exciting, American city . It will not be my last trip. That much is certain.
Game Photo Credit: Kim Black Photography
If you’ve never seen it for yourself, downtown Charlotte is an absolutely lovely place, filled with absolutely lovely people. The weekend afternoon social scene had a laid-back, cheery vibe to it, with friendly and polite strangers, families taking carriage rides, even some very talented guy with a karaoke sound system, singing some classic Sam Cooke (eh, just google him) as people stopped and danced. If someone yelled “cut” and got mad at me for walking into the shot of the romantic comedy he was filming, it wouldn’t have surprised me one bit.
Experiencing the local cuisine is obviously a must for anyone visiting a new city, and as I happen to love pulled pork BBQ, this online exchange before I got to town had me particularly excited:
Aside from lacrosse, of course, there are few things I enjoy more than twitter and BBQ. If you’re a BBQ place sending me tweets, AND you’re MLL-affiliated (@CharlotteMLL being, of course, the Hounds’ twitter handle)? Well, then you go right ahead and take all my money, thank you very much. I will gladly eat your BBQ. Your tweet game is strong, Queen City Q; I applaud your hustle.
After finishing up lunch over at Queen City Q, followed by a little pre-game tailgating with these guys (thanks for the invite):
It was time for the game to begin. Now, in and of themselves, All-Star games are largely forgettable affairs. Whereas the Steinfeld cup is that steak dinner you’ve been craving for weeks but can only get once your paycheck clears, the All-Star game’s a pack of fun dip washed down with a slurpee: little to no substance or value, but it’s harmless fun. And if the MLL can keep the games slightly more “real” than the NFL, NHL, or NBA does, well then that’s a nice bonus.
I mean a game for fun once a year ain’t gonna hurt nobody, right? Of course not!
Who won the game? Umm… team White Jersey, I think. The score? I’ll have to get back to you on that. What matters, and all you can really ask for, is an entertaining game, some quality highlight-reel performances, and (if you’re there), an enjoyable live experience. These are all boxes that were easily checked off on Saturday night.
Charlotte’s Mike Sawyer was the breakout star of the weekend, and in hindsight, it’s funny that of all people, Paul Rabil bowed out with the injury (although he made the trip anyway, signing autographs and posing for pictures with fans – well done, sir) that opened the door for Sawyer, who wasn’t initially named to the All-Star team.
The rookie midfielder, born and raised in North Carolina, only an afterthought addition to the game itself, is now the owner of the fastest, and second fastest, shots Major League Lacrosse has ever seen, having taken the crown right off of Rabil (amongst others)’s head. When Jeremy Sieverts “only” shoots the ball 98 mph and gets the “Price is Right” fail horn/”do you even lift?” treatment from the crowd, you know we are officially spoiled.
Speaking of being spoiled, if you are amongst those who love pro lacrosse as much as, or more than, any of the four “Major” sports, take a second to appreciate the level of accessibility the stars of the MLL (some of whom were busy coaching youth clinics or working at Moe’s during their weekend down time) offer during All-Star weekend.
We’re clearly all about growing the game (the phrase is probably on this page alone at least two or three times), but there may come a time where we look up and realize that we’ve created a monster, everyone listens to what we’ve been saying for years, and pro lacrosse expands beyond recognition. Next thing you know, the Hounds are playing at the Panthers’ NFL stadium across town and families are dropping hundreds upon hundreds of dollars for nosebleed seats and hot dogs. Good luck getting the league’s biggest stars to fix your lunch for you when that happens.
For now though, these guys are making burritos before, sitting in the crowd during (Brett Queener, of course), and signing autographs for almost an hour after the All-Star game. You name it, they’re doing it, all in the name of the fan experience. It’s like you invited your friends to a huge party, they all stuck around to help you clean the place up, and they even did it with a smile the entire time; it’s fair to say the game appears to be in the hands of some very responsible ambassadors.
Thank you to the players for representing the game so well, thank you to the 6,184 fans who supported the product, and thank you to Charlotte: I’ll see you again… soon.