BUIES CREEK, N.C.—Upgrades were always in the works for Campbell baseball. The video board in right-center field was going to be there. So, too, was the Jim and Daphne Perry Pavilion behind the third-base stands. That was all before the Astros came calling last September, looking for a place to play for the next two seasons while their new ballpark in Fayetteville was under construction. When that deal happened, Campbell secured one last item on its wish list: A turf field.
And if Campbell were going to successfully share their stadium with the Astros for two seasons, turf was going to be a necessity.
“There’s no way (we could do it without turf),” Campbell head coach Justin Haire said. “We don’t have the staff. We don’t have the infrastructure for a natural surface. And that’s kind of where we started. Basically, I’ll be interested if they’re interested in helping us potentially get turf.”
The terms were agreed upon a few weeks later, and the deal was formally announced in November at press conference at Campbell’s Jim Perry Stadium. The Astros would use Campbell’s field for two seasons, and the Camels would get new turf for the ballpark while also collecting all revenue at Buies Creek games. With Buies Creek’s and Campbell’s seasons in full swing, both teams are getting a taste of life as cohabitants.
“When they’re in town, Omar (Lopez)—their manager—and I, talk or text just about every day,” Haire said. “It’s more of just, ‘Hey, check with the schedule. Is everything going fine?’ … Just trying to get settled in to a routine with these guys is the big key. The days when we’re here and they’re here, I talk to Chris Holt or Troy Snitker or Omar or whatever, I talk to one of their guys almost every single day.”
And while they share a playing surface, the two teams do not share all of their facilities. Campbell uses the sparkly new locker room in the Perry Pavilion, while the Astros use the Campbell basketball team’s locker room and strength and conditioning facilities. That means that after each game they collect all of their equipment, exit the stadium and walk for a while beyond the right-field fence to the John W. Pope Convocation Center before they can eat, shower and go home for the evening.
The visiting teams do all of their pre- and postgame activities in the locker room that normally houses Campbell’s swim teams, behind the left-field fence.
Buies Creek’s season, like any other minor league team, runs through the beginning of September. Campbell’s regular-season slate ends on May 20. And although the teams have just one game of overlap—April 12—there are days where Buies Creek is home and Campbell still needs time and space for its regular practice. To accommodate everyone, both sides have to get creative.
“Yesterday, they had a game at 7 (p.m.) and we had a practice day, so basically when they have games we try to work around their schedule and when we have games they try to work around our schedule,” Haire said. “Basically, we chopped up our day into some individual work, small group work in the indoor facility, some bullpens and stuff like that. Then we came together from 2-3 (p.m.) and did some teamwork and then got off and let them get on for their early work.”
When the season is over and Campbell returns to the practice field, the Camels will likely do their work early in the morning to avoid clashing with Buies Creek.
Even during the one day this when Campbell and Buies Creek each had a home game, the transition went as smoothly as could be.
The Astros started their game with Myrtle Beach at 11 a.m. and finished at 1:44 p.m. The teams quickly vacated the dugouts, and the grounds crew did the relatively small work it needed to make sure things were ready when Campbell and Duke showed up for their 6 p.m. game. Because the turf field is in place, the only real maintenance occurs on the pitcher’s mound, the only place on the field you’ll find dirt. So the grounds crew brought out a hose and watered and tamped the mound until it was looking new again, and then removed all their equipment.
A few hours later the batting cage, L-screen and infield screens were brought out and Campbell began its batting practice sessions. Duke followed in kind shortly thereafter. And when the fans started through the gates, it was as if Campbell and Duke were the only game in town.
Besides turf, there are a few extra perks Campbell and its players get from having Buies Creek around for two seasons. Namely, they get access to pro players and coaches and get a first-hand look at how they prepare for game after game in a lengthy season.
“The coolest thing is that they get a chance to see how these guys work on a day-to-day basis,” Haire said. “It’s easy to look up and see that you have a 7 0’clock game and you don’t have to show up the yard until whenever, take BP at 5 and all that kind of stuff. (The Astros) are out here at 2 or 2:15 or 2:30 for a 7 o’clock game and getting some early work in and basically running a practice before the game. That’s especially the case early in the season as these guys are trying to get situated and get settled and do that kind of stuff.
“It’s neat for our guys to see that because, again, you watch big league games and you think, ‘Those dudes play at 7:05, they must get there at 3, hit at 5 and play at 7.’ That’s not the case, those guys are probably over in the training room and weight room or whatever (early). I think it gives (our) guys an appreciation for what it’s like to play pro ball, to be in that system and to play every single day and the dedication you’ve got to have to be able to do it at a successful level.”
That goes for the coaches, too. Haire has been Campbell’s head coach for three seasons, has been on the staff for a decade and has been a college coach for 15 years. Even with all that experience, there’s still plenty he can soak up from the Astros’ personnel he has access to for the next two years.
“We’re silly if we don’t take advantage of being around as good of baseball people as we can be around,” Haire said. “I think Troy, Chris and his staff are really good guys, and if we don’t see fit to learn from these guys, then we’re kind of wasting an opportunity for the next couple of years to be around these guys every single day.”
With the turf in place, the locker rooms constructed and the video board up and running, it’s an exciting time to be a Campbell Camel. The school had three players drafted in 2015—Steven Leonard (Rockies), Cedric Mullins (Orioles) and Heath Bowers (Athletics)—and Atlanta reliever Matt Marksberry in 2016 became the school’s eighth player to make the major leagues. The school’s facilities have transformed greatly in the last decade, and that upward trend made Campbell the most enticing option of the 40 the Astros looked at for their temporary home.
“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,” Astros team president Reid Ryan said during the press conference announcing the agreement, “it made it easiest on us and easiest on our nine partners in the Carolina League.
Because of those upgrades, Campbell gets two years to be around professional players and coaches, and two years of extra revenue from the 140 additional home games it will host. The school was on an upward trend before the Astros came to town, but their presence makes sure thing will be looking up for the Camels for the foreseeable future.