Buies Creek Welcomes Pro Baseball With A Win
BUIES CREEK, N.C.--The first thing you notice at a Buies Creek Astros game is the lack of things to notice.
Sitting behind home plate for the first game for the high Class A Buies Creek Astros you see grass (OK, artificial grass). You see a relatively old-school scoreboard. There's a nice-if small--set of seats behind home plate and down the first base line, while a set of seats and suites down the third base line looks like what you expect in a modern ballpark.
But Jim Perry Stadium is otherwise unadorned. There's not one advertisement in sight. None on the walls. None in the stands. Besides the MiLB mandated, between-inning ads for national sponsors, there's a paucity of ads coming over the public address system.
There's no between-innings dizzy bat races or Sumo bouts either. There's baseball. There's inexpensive tickets. There's good seats. There's soda, popcorn and hot dogs if you so desire, but no beer--the stadium is on a dry campus.
Don't worry. No Buies Creek Astros' salesperson is getting fired for failing to sell the wall spots. The Buies Creek marketing staff hasn't taken a siesta. It's all intentional.
"We won't have a promotion every half-inning. This is pure baseball. This is going to be as simple as it can be," said Ricky Ray, Campbell University's associate athletics director for external affairs, who is serving as the go-to person on game days.
It's intentional because it's a necessity. The Buies Creek Astros don't have a dedicated sales staff, or salesperson. There's no dedicated marketing staff, either.
The Buies Creek Astros general manager is David Lane. He's also the Rookie-level Greeneville Astros GM. He's also in charge of the Astros' new Fayetteville club, set to arrive in 2019. He's very busy.
But he and everyone else knows that the Buies Creek Astros are a temporary tenant, as Campbell University has shared its ballpark with its new neighbor.
And as a short-term tenant, the Buies Creek club is relying on Campbell University (and people such as Ray) to supply the staffing for game days. Campbell's marketing and sales department have full-time jobs of their own--they don't have time to add a second full-time summer gig to their to-do list. So what fans got on Opening Day and what they will get for 69 more dates this year is pure baseball, which is somewhat unusual for full-season baseball in 2017.
It's taken a lot of effort to get to pure baseball, especially for Lane, who relished the opportunity.
"I wanted to do more," Lane said. "It was time for me to make the move to full season ball. It was the perfect opportunity so I jumped at it."
The opportunity meant that Lane was crisscrossing North Carolina and the surrounding areas looking for somewhere for the Fayetteville Astros' club to play for the two years before the team moves to its permanent home in Fayetteville.
"I went all over the state of North Carolina," Lane said. "If there was a baseball stadium, I found it and went there."
Lane talked with locales all over, including the University of Virginia (couldn't work because of summer construction). But in the end, the answer to the team's needs was found just 35 miles up the road in Buies Creek. Campbell's Jim Perry Stadium isn't large, but it's an immaculate field with solid clubhouses and a new artificial turf field that drains quickly and ensures that the heavy use won't wear out the field. And it's nearby to the team's eventual home.
"It's not Fayetteville, but it's close," said Lane, who noted that the Fayetteville mayor and city council traveled to attend Opening Day.
The Buies Creek club will assuredly sit at the bottom of the Carolina League in attendance each of the next two seasons. The stadium fits just 1,500 or so without adding temporary seating. And there's no need to add temporary seats because they're just aren't many people nearby to attend--roughly 3,000 or so live in Buies Creek. The visiting team and the umpires have to travel to the nearby city of Dunn, a town of 10,000 or so roughly 15 miles away, for their hotels.
On Opening Day, the 1,117 fans didn't seem to miss the bells and whistles. Tickets are only $7 and $5, so it's an inexpensive night out. They saw the new hometown team start off their season with a win.
But more than anything, the fans seemed to be enjoying the opportunity to watch players such as Kyle Tucker and Zack Collins take their next steps to the big leagues.
"When I graduated in 2008, I never thought this would be major league anything," said public address announcer John Wood. Wood serves as the Campbell football and basketball PA announcer, but this was his first chance to be calling out the names of potential future big leaguers.
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"It shows how much this place has grown," Wood said.