Baseball-crazed town hopes lights stay on for new team
By Steve Herring
Published in Sports on April 17, 2011 1:51 AM
The rally caps are on -- from 98-year-old Lois Flowers on down to the young children who turn the race for foul balls into a stampede -- that this won't be the final season for minor league baseball at historic Grainger Stadium.
Mrs. Flowers enjoyed a box of popcorn at the final opening day for the K-Tribe when a wayward foul ball bounced just feet away followed by a herd of children scrambling to claim the trophy.
Mrs. Flowers, a Newton Grove native, said she enjoyed baseball and had attended games last year.
"It is pleasant weather," she said. "I enjoy life."
Opening day started under brilliant blue skies, mild temperatures and a hope not only to start the year with a win, but that there would be another opening day next year even if it won't be with the Indians.
The sellout crowd of more than 4,100 wasn't disappointed with the outcome. They watched as starting pitcher Drew Pomeranz, Cleveland's first round draft pick in 2010, was perfect through his first three innings of work.
A 30-minute rain day in the top of the ninth didn't dampen the crowd's spirits as the K-Tribe went on to a 7-6 win in 10 innings over the Winston-Salem Dash.
While the people who spoke to the News-Argus said they were saddened by the news that the franchise would move to Zebulon next year, they were all optimistic that a new team would move into the stadium.
They also agreed that games at the stadium feel like family gatherings -- with breaks between innings devoted to children's activities and the seventh-inning stretch remains a tradition. Also a tradition are the hot dogs, burgers, nachos, ice cream drinks and beer.
Carol Dunn Tyndall, a native of the B.F. Grady School area of Duplin County and who now lives in Kinston, said that she is at the games every time that she can.
"I probably came 30 times last year," she said. "I bring two of my neighbors. We are all older and we come whenever we get a chance to come. I came years ago and kind of fell by the wayside and didn't have anybody to come with. Now I have neighbors that like to come. So now we have been coming regular for the last three years.
"I am sad (about the move), but I am glad for them that they are going to be the Mudcats. I am kind of sad that they are leaving, but we have always had a team. There will be a team to come back to replace them. I really do believe that. I enjoy the games, but I enjoy the people, the visiting, just the camaraderie of the crowd. I am a little sad that this is their last season, but I am still hopeful that we will have a team by the time the season is over."
Ms. Tyndall said that her granddaughter, Jordan Tyndall, a high school junior, has just started working in the Mudcats' gift shop at Five County Stadium and that she hopes to go to a Mudcats game and hopefully see the Indians play at their new park.
Stanley Sullivan, an usher for 11 years at the stadium, was walking through the crowd directing first-timers to their seats and hugging and greeting the fans he knows who have been coming to the games for years.
"I come back because I am a people person and I enjoy interacting with the people in the community," he said. "I get to meet so many interesting people. I get to meet almost all of the ball players' wives, girlfriends, parents, aunts, uncles. It is a wonderful feeling out here."
Opening days are great, and the first day and the last day of the season are always anticipated, he said.
"It is a wonderful feeling to be here and to see all of the people that I gotten to know over the past 11 years," he said. "They come by to speak. They bring their children and now their grandchildren. We want people to bring children that is the next generation of fans
"For us losing the Cleveland franchise has been a terrible blow to this community after 25 years. However, most of us in the business understand the dynamics of teams changing and moving. Personally I really hate it. Cleveland has been a wonderful organization here. It has been a wonderful relationship and I hate to see them go. I am hopeful that we can acquire another franchise and develop a relationship for another 25."
Sullivan said that he is terribly sad, but very hopeful a new franchise can be secured.
Dennis Hogan is another familiar presence at the games as well. He started working the games as a Kinston police office in the 1970s when it was the Kinston Blue Jays.
After his retirement he continued to work at the stadium and many people passing through the gate greeted him by name as he tore tickets.
"I have seen a lot of opening days and closing days and at the end of the season I am sad everybody is leaving, but opening game everybody is back and happy and ready for a new season," he said. "From what I understand they have a lot of stuff going on and hopefully we will get another team next year.
"If we don't, this is going to be sad that this is the last opening game and it is for the Indians. That will be sad because we have been affiliated with the Indians for so long. (I) see lot of the same people every year. You get a lot of really nice people out here. We have got to get a new team out here next year. I have a lot of friends who come out here and I have met a lot of nice people who come out and it is going to be sad if we don't get a team out here next year."
Like Sullivan Hogan said he feels "pretty positive" a new team will be found. The best part of opening day is seeing the people he did not see all winter.
"Grainger Stadium, people do not realize how much money the people who come to the game pump into the local economy," he said. "They (people coming in) are all wanting to know if we are going to have a team out here next year.
"We have got to be back next year. We have a beautiful stadium. It is older, but it has a lot of character. It is very fan friendly and there is not a bad seat. The good Lord will look out for us."
Grainger Stadium holds a special place for Carl Long who played one year in Kinston in 1956 after having started with the Pirates in the Negro League.
"I still hold the record here where I drove in 111 runs," Long said in between autographing and passing out baseball cards featuring him. "That building over there (past the center field fence), I used to hit balls on top of that building.
"Look at this crowd although the Indians are leaving, but we are going to get another team here. There is going to be another franchise over here. I don't know what class of ball it will be, but this stadium is too beautiful not to have ball team here. I just wished the people would support it like when I used to play here.
A native of Rock Hill, S.C., Long said that playing baseball had gotten him out of the cotton fields.
"I love coming over here to Kinston," he said. "Kinston is out of sight. Sometimes it gets cold. Sometimes it gets hot, but opening day you don't have to worry about it getting cold on opening day because everything is just fine over here."
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