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Baseball Arrives In Buies Creek

BUIES CREEK, N.C.—After a search that took them to approximately 40 sites across the Carolinas, the Astros announced on Friday their agreement to have their high Class A club play at Campbell's Jim Perry Field for the next two seasons while they wait for their new stadium in Fayetteville, N.C., to be built.

The team—which will be known as the Buies Creek Astros for the next two years—is one of two moving in to the Carolina League after the contraction of High Desert and Bakersfield in the Carolina League. The other, the Down East Wood Ducks, will affiliate with the Rangers and will play their games at Grainger Stadium in Kinston, N.C.

Though Campbell was long rumored to be the Astros' eventual landing spot—Campbell head coach Justin Haire said the university first heard from the Astros in September—Carolina League president John Hopkins said the agreement only came together recently before the official announcement was sent to the media on Thursday afternoon.

"I don't think it was finalized until last week," he said. "That's when I knew."

When asked why Minor League Baseball gave the OK to go forth with the move, which had been talked about for than 10 years, even without a stadium available, Hopkins said that he preferred not to announce the move and then let a franchise and a city dangle for two seasons while waiting for a stadium.

"Somebody, somewhere is going to be a lame duck if you say 'Two years from now we're leaving,' " Hopkins said. "So it was really better to bring a new community, a new product, even on a temporary basis, than it would be to give a two-year notice to a city in California that they're going to lose baseball."

Among the other temporary homes the Astros explored were East Carolina (Greeneville, N.C.), UNC Wilmington, Methodist University (Fayetteville), and parks in the Coastal Plain League such as J.P. Riddle Stadium, which is the home to the Fayetteville SwampDogs. The team also approached the other new Carolina League franchise, in Kinston, about playing some of their games at Grainger Stadium.

A rotating-site arrangement was also considered, as was having the team spend the entire year on the road with an eye toward landing a site for 2018 before moving into their permanent home in 2019.

"At the end of the day, with the quality of this facility and being sort of being right smack in the middle of the state, where we were right in the middle of the footprint of the Carolina League," Houston Astros team president Reid Ryan said, "it made it easiest on us and easiest on our nine partners in the Carolina League."

There were a few key reasons that drew the Astros to Campbell, chief among them the planned additions to Jim Perry Field. The school is in the process of completing the Jim and Daphne Perry Pavilion, which will increase seating to more than 1,000 and will provide a new visiting dugout, locker room upgrades and a new office for the baseball staff.

"With the city of Fayetteville and the fact that we're still not done with our arrangement with them, we had to find a temporary facility," Ryan said. "As we looked around the state, and we probably went to 10 different facilities and looked at 40 that we had a report on, Campbell made sense for so many reasons, because of the quality of the facility, the willingness of the administration to work with us, the fact that they had so many things that we needed as far as hotels and things that we needed for the other players and the proximity to Fayetteville, so it ended up being a perfect fit."

The Astros, for their part, will pay for the installation of a turf field to replace the grass at Jim Perry Field, and Campbell will collect all revenue at Astros games. The Astros begin their season on April 6 against Salem and play all but three games in April in North Carolina.

The Astros' schedule works out so there will be just one game of overlap with Campbell. On April 11 the Camels are slated to play a night game at home against Duke, which, although the games times haven't been released, likely will result in the Astros playing their slated game against Myrtle Beach in the morning.

One hurdle that had to be cleared before a deal could be reached involved Minor League Baseball's territory rules. Campbell's campus infringes on the turf of both Triple-A Durham in the International League and the Carolina Mudcats in the Carolina League, so agreements had to be reached before the Astros could finalize their deal.

"This process is one Pat O'Conner and Minor League Baseball's offices have helped spearhead," Ryan said. "Working with Pat O'Conner and John Hopkins and (IL president) Randy Mobley, they were all able to say 'Hey, this is in the best interest of baseball, these guys have bought a club without a place to take it.'

"Everyone knew that we were sort of the last piece to making this Cal-to-Carolina League deal happen and that we were taking a leap of faith and we were doing it in the best interest of baseball, but we needed some partners to return that favor to us in the best interest of baseball."

The Astros have signed a memorandum of understanding with the city of Fayetteville that calls for a 30-year lease on the new ballpark. The deal for the park isn't finalized yet, but Fayetteville city councilman Jim Arp—a Campbell alum himself—said at Friday's press conference that the deal is close.

"We're excited. We are in the eighth inning with the Astros, and we're going to close this one out," Arp said. "This is going to be a big development not only for Fayetteville but for the whole region." 

One quirk that will set Buies Creek games apart from others in the minor leagues is the absence of alcohol. Harnett County is not a dry county, but Campbell's campus is dry, and Astros games won't be an exception. No beer will be sold at Jim Perry Stadium, no matter the tenant.

Buies Creek, Campbell Relationship Going Swimmingly

Astros, Campbell University have formed a quick bond in Buies Creek.

Tickets for the Buies Creek Astros go on sale on Saturday, and the team is working diligently to get merchandise available for purchase as well. David Lane, already the general manager of the Greeneville Astros in the Rookie-level Appalachian League, will serve in the same position with the Buies Creek club.

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