02/19/13 — Baseball proposed for Goldsboro

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Baseball proposed for Goldsboro

By Ty Johnson
Published in News on February 19, 2013 1:46 PM

Ernest Lofton remembers the tin roofs that only the biggest home run hitters could rattle.

Bob Malpass remembers how bringing back a home run ball from over the fence meant free admission. Lofton remembers taking advantage of that, too.

It's been almost 60 years since semi-pro baseball left Goldsboro, but the memories are still fresh.

And at Monday's Goldsboro City Council meeting, a local businessman unveiled his plan to bring America's pastime back to Wayne County and to make new memories with a whole new generation.

John Strickland said he's been in talks with the city for about six months about the reincarnation of the Goldsboro Jets, a semi-pro baseball franchise that played one season at the city's municipal stadium in the mid-1950s.

Strickland said there is an opportunity for the city to get a team in the Coastal Plains League, a wood bat league that attracts college players looking to hone and showcase their talents each summer and features 14 other teams from the Carolinas and Virginia, among them the Wilson Tobs and the Gastonia Grizzlies.

While following his son's baseball career across the Eastern United States, he said it occurred to him that a franchise could work in Goldsboro. The city's venerable history with America's game added even more legitimacy to his idea.

Strickland said he's willing to invest the $250,000 necessary to bring the team to Goldsboro if the city found that building a stadium was in its best interest.

He said the best location appeared to be Berkeley Park, as that would require no land acquisition, and asked that the city perform an economic impact study to determine whether it was an avenue worth pursuing.

But if estimates from down U.S. 70 are any indication, the deal appears to be a home run.

When the Kinston Indians left, Malpass said there was an estimated $12 million impact on the city's economy.

And a large portion of the Indians' market came from Goldsboro, Strickland said. While 67 percent of fans that visited Grainger Stadium were from out of town, more than half of them were from Goldsboro.

"I said we've got to find a way," he recalls.

Although the market likely couldn't handle a minor league team, he said the Coastal Plains League, which is actually a reincarnation of the league the Goldbugs, Cardinals and Jets played in half a century ago, appeared to be a good fit.

With that league in its 17th season, all that's missing is the Jets.

"We are, in a sense, trying to bring the Jets back home," he said. "It's too good of an opportunity here in Goldsboro."

The city boasts a baseball history that dates back to the Mechanics in 1908, but the game's heyday in Goldsboro came with the Goldsboro Goldbugs, who were a semi-pro team in 1929.

The Goldbugs joined the Coastal Plains League, which became a farm league in 1937, classified as a "D" league.

The Bugs franchise became affiliated with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1950 and became the Goldsboro Cardinals and in 1952, the Jets took the field for the first and final time.

The municipal stadium also served as the home field for the Goldsboro Braves, Lofton's team, for as long as they could keep it up, but he said damage from a hurricane proved to be too much.

The City Council had little discussion concerning Strickland's presentation as it was not an action item, but Strickland said following the meeting that the next step will be to evaluate the feasibility of a new stadium in Goldsboro and to secure funding.