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Up, up and away: Knights making home runs tougher

The days of lazy fly balls carrying out of Knights Stadium for cheap home runs are gone.

Crews from Charlotte-based Concorde Construction have demolished the old 10-foot-tall fence that ran from the right field foul pole to the pole in left field. The company also removed all of the aged plywood signage from the steel framework that stands some 5 feet beyond the home run fence.

It is the first time since the stadium was built in 1989 that the outfield configuration has been modified.

The steel framework needed some repairs. There were welds that were failing and some rust.

On Wednesday, workers began fastening sheets of sheathing to the naked outfield wall. A total of 424 sheets will be required. The wall, once sealed, should last more than 15 years.

Beginning in April, sluggers will have to hit the ball farther, and higher, to be credited with home runs at Knights Stadium. Patrick Starck, the team's director of media relations, said the old fence measured about 345 feet from home plate to straight-away right and left fields.

The new configuration pushes the distance back just 5 feet but forces hitters to hit the ball over a 30-foot wall. The centerfield wall will still be a 10-footer, however.

"Looks like we'll see a lot of doubles this season," Knights general manager Dan Rajkowski said.

The Chicago White Sox, the Knights major-league parent team, approached Rajkowski in 2006 regarding the outfield wall.

"They were concerned about the dimensions," Rajkowski said. "At that time, we were in a year-to-year lease with York County. I told (the White Sox) if we could fund it without interfering with the fan experience we'd do it."

The Knights and the county agreed on a lease agreement in October 2009. The Knights reportedly committed parking revenues up to $150,000 annually toward stadium upgrades, including an expanded picnic area and a new outfield fence.

The picnic areas and party decks were in place for the 2010 season. The work on the outfield fence - which includes repositioning the gates at right and left field and relocating the foul poles - is expected to be completed by the end of the month at an estimated cost of $225,000.

Rajkowski said he is in the process of pricing a new video board to replace the often-malfunctioning board that sits prominently in center field.

The Knights' 2011 home opener is scheduled for April 7 at 11:15 a.m. against the Norfolk Tides.