Indians Plan Bittersweet Departure From Kinston





CLEVELAND—The news was somewhat bittersweet when the Indians learned their longtime high Class A affiliate in Kinston, N.C., will be moving after the 2011 season.

The Kinston Indians, an affiliate since 1987, were sold in mid-December. The franchise is scheduled to move to Zebulon, N.C.—20 miles outside of Raleigh—following the final pitch of the 2011 season.

"While we are extremely excited about a move to Zebulon, where there is a passionate and experienced owner and front office in a state-of-the-art facility, we reflect on an incredible 25-year run in Kinston, where we had a very productive and positive experience," Indians farm director Ross Atkins said. "We will continue to value the personal and professional relationships that we developed in Kinston and feel very fortunate to have worked together so well for so long."

The sale of the Kinston franchise is among deals involving three cities: the Double-A Carolina Mudcats (Reds) will move to Pensacola, Fla., into a new ballpark but  remain in the Southern League, while the Mudcats take Kinston's place in the Carolina League. Pensacola's current independent minor league team—the Pelicans—are slated to move to Amarillo, Texas.

The new Mudcats will serve as the premier tenant of Community Maritime Park, a mixed-use facility currently being constructed along the Pensacola waterfront.

Kinston, whose professional baseball history dates back to the early 20th century, is expected to look for another franchise to replace the K-Tribe in time for the 2012 season.

In the meantime, the Indians will continue to operate under current management for the 2011 season before the moves take place.

"I'm an optimist, and I'm hopeful that baseball will be played in Grainger Stadium in 2012," said Cam McRae, a general partner in the Kinston Indians ownership group. "We did not have a for-sale sign on this franchise, but this transaction is a good opportunity for the Carolina League team to field a team in a bigger market and a modern ballpark."

A big reason why the Indians aren't broken up by the move is due to Kinston's aging stadium. While players and Indians officials will no doubt miss Kinston's tight-knit baseball community, there's little nostalgia in playing in a 61-year-old facility.

Although often referred to as "historic Grainger Stadium," many former K-Tribe players have felt that's always just been a nice way to say "antiquated." Further, as the smallest market in the country with an affiliated baseball team, the team has averaged just 115,933 fans per season over the last five years—ranking at or near the bottom of the eight-team Carolina League standings.

"The area and facility will be extremely productive for us in Zebulon," Atkins said. "It is located just outside of Raleigh, at a facility that was rebuilt in 2002 to Triple-A standards."

While located in a more rural area, Zebulon provides a good geographical fit for the Carolina League being right in the middle of the league's territory. Grainger Stadium, which opened in 1949 and is the second oldest ballpark in the Carolina League, seats 4,100. Zebulon's Five County Stadium, which opened in 1991 and underwent a $15 million renovation in 1999, seats 6,500.

SMOKE SIGNALS


• Center fielder Ezequiel Carrera, 23, hit .261/.371/.310 in 41 games for Magallanes in the Venezuelan League.

• The Indians signed 25-year-old righthander Toru Murata to a minor league contract. Murata, who's 6 feet, 175 pounds, pitched three seasons in Japan for the Yomiuri Giants in their minors from 2008-10 before being released on Dec. 2.