04/09/04 — K-Tribe mixes old and new this season

View Archive

K-Tribe mixes old and new this season

By David Williams
Published in Sports on April 9, 2004 2:00 PM

KINSTON -- The Kinston Indians of 2004 could be characterized by the old saying about everything old being new again.

The K-Tribe will open the season tonight against Winston-Salem in Historic Grainger Stadium, and the fans that loyally support baseball in Kinston can expect to see some of the old and some of the new as the K-Tribe starts a new season in the Carolina (Class High A) League.

What's changed?

* The general manager. Although North Johnson still maintains a financial stake in the team, he has moved on to become the general manager of the Rancho Cucamonga (Cal.) Quakes. After 17 years as general manager in Kinston, Johnson gives way to new GM Clay Batten. Just arrived from three years as GM of the Gastonia Grizzlies of the Coastal Plains League, Batten knows that taking over for Johnson means not worrying about making big changes.

"There's a reason he was here 17 years," Batten said. "It was done right, and done the right way the whole time he was here. For us to come in and make a bunch of wholesale changes overnight, not only would I be pretty foolish, but I'd probably get run out of town."

Batten said the team would make a few small changes in trying one or two new things. The big draw for fans is just what it was last year -- enjoying a game in one of the finest facilities in the region after remodeling the park before last season.

"The biggest thing is that the rain hurt us so bad last season that most of our normal fan base couldn't get down to game and enjoy the renovations that were made," Batten said. "That's the biggest change -- the new concession stand, the new bathrooms and the new seating in the grandstand. It's a 55-year old ballpark, and the amenities are like brand new."

* The fresh faces. While several players are back from last season, the newcomers arrived mostly from Lake County, where the team won 97 games -- the best winning percentage in all of baseball. The roster features three first-round draft picks.

The biggest future stars in the group are pitcher Fausto Carmona, who is the top prospect in the entire Cleveland organization, and first baseman Michael Aubrey. A first-rounder out of Marshall, Texas, Aubrey started his professional career in short-A ball and hit .347.

* The broadcast team. Rob Sinclair will be doing the play-by-play this season for Kinston on the Indians radio network after working in the Pioneer League in the Northwest.

What's stayed the same?

* The prices. An Indians game is still one of the cheapest ways to entertain a family, with box seats going for $6 and bleacher seats down to just $4. Students' seniors and military get in for $2 -- and on military appreciation night, all military showing an ID card get in free.

"It's our way of giving back," When you're in Afghanistan or Iraq, you can't watch a ball game."

* The promotions. The Indians have scheduled six fireworks nights, including tonight. Scheduled among the giveaway nights is a giveaway for a Grainger Stadium miniature.

* The manager. Torey Lovullo returns for another year as the Indians' skipper, and Batten said that the year's experience makes him a valuable commodity.

"I like to think that with Torey back, we're better," said Battin. "He learned last year how to win when your best players keep getting yanked away from you every three or four weeks. He's our best asset on the field."

* The bulk of the team. Pitchers like J.D. Martin and Brian Slocum are back, as well as position players like Trey Dyson, Dennis Malave, Ivan Ochoa and Eider Torres -- the group that won the second half of the Southern Division and made the Mills Cup playoffs.

"Those guys want to play for Torey," said Batten. "They'd run through brick walls for Torey -- they'd do anything for him."