Minor League Baseball announced Monday that the Carolina League will expand to 10 franchises next season with the addition of a franchise in Kinston, N.C., and another at a location to be determined, likely Fayettville, N.C. The MiLB office made the announcement in conjunction with the news that theCalifornia League's High Desert and Bakersfield franchises will be contracted
at the end of this season. Both the California League and the Carolina League are high Class A-affiliated leagues. “This step was taken with the best interests of Minor League Baseball, both leagues and our Major League Baseball partners in mind,” Minor League Baseball President & CEO Pat O’Conner said in a press release. “California League President Charlie Blaney, Carolina League President John Hopkins and the club owners in both leagues worked to address this important issue and I thank them for their efforts. We are happy that professional baseball will return to Kinston and we are pleased with the steps Fayetteville has taken to bring professional baseball back to that great city as well.” Shortly after the announcement, the Rangers issued a release stating they had purchased a controlling interest in the Kinston franchise and will have their high Class A affiliate play there in 2017 at Grainger Stadium. Kinston most recently was the Indians' affiliate from 1987-2011 before that franchise moved to Zebulon, N.C. and became the Carolina Mudcats. “The Texas Rangers are very happy to be bringing baseball back to the great City of Kinston,” Rangers chairman Neil Leibman said in a press release. “We want to thank Minor League Baseball and the Kinston leadership for helping us to make this a reality for 2017. “We are excited about creating the best fan experience possible at Grainger Stadium, and we look forward to working with the City of Kinston and its residents to make this a top Carolina League franchise.” The history of professional baseball in Kinston dates back to 1921. “Baseball has been synonymous with Kinston for many decades,” Kinston mayor B.J. Murphy said in a release. ” We are very grateful to the Texas Rangers organization for bringing professional baseball back home to historic Grainger Stadium, where folks from all over eastern N.C. will enjoy America's favorite pastime once again.” While the other Carolina League franchise has not been officially announced, the city of Fayetteville, N.C. recently approved a memorandum of understanding
toward the construction of a new ballpark that would be ready for play in 2019. The Astros are expected to move their affiliate to Fayetteville and play at a temporary site in 2017-18 before moving into the new downtown ballpark. Jeremy Aagard, general manager of the Fayetteville Swampdogs of the Coastal Plain League, had no reaction to a potential move by professional baseball back into the summer collegiate team's market. The Swampdogs play at J.P. Riddle Stadium, where a South Atlantic League franchise played from 1987-2001.
"We’ve been proud to offer families affordable entertainment for the last 16 years in the city," Aagard said, "and we will to continue to do so."