#21 – Kinston Indians
It was an late summer evening, September 2nd to be exact, when the Kinston Indians of the sleepy southeastern North Carolina town played their last regular season game. Now three months removed from that event, my soul has an appreciation for small town, small market ball that had yet to be understood. Partially now because of the newest mega contract of Albert Pujols and the newest ballpark behemoth in Miami, I am beginning to feel that baseball could very well lose its connection with the people and towns that make it better than just sport. Those people and places make it legendary.
However, let me begin this story by sharing how my fiancee and I almost drove 2 hours for nothing! Being the ballpark traveler and odds-player, I believed that there would be no way this game would be sold out. So we would just drive to Kinston, save a few bucks from not buying online, and pick the tickets up at the booth.
Well being the 2nd to next in line…the sign of all signs arose….
Yet, while I danced around doing my “tickets please dance”, my fiancee found a gentleman selling two tickets right by the gate! My heroine to the rescue! So off we were, to the final game of the season.
With much fanfare – we were closing out the 2011 ballpark journey at Historic Grainger Stadium, home to the Single A affiliate of the Cleveland Indians (surprised?!), the Kinston Indians.
The ballpark located inside Grainger stadium is nothing short of classic old-time America. You are greeted with old green and faded steel beams that hold the excitement within the grass’ confines for nine innings. The outside is littered with better times gone, brick work patched throughout the concrete walkways that can be seen crammed with fans. While there is nothing out of the ordinary here – that is what makes it charming. With one food stand located for home plate and the third base side, you make your way from the cozy to the open and find the only other food stall in the family section located in right field. There are no fancy shops, beer carts, or small time operations. Just baseball and its fans.
Immediately to the left was the club shop, were I purchased some great gear for 1/2 price. However, that took about 45 mins to get through the line. Meanwhile the lady was in line on the opposite side of homeplate to the right waiting in line for some grub. Well, I came out a winner and she was still there – waiting for one measly hotdog. Talk about priorities, come on fans!
Well we headed to our “seats”, which were non-existant since we had $5 General Admission tickets. This means you either sit or stand were you please. No actual chairs to speak of. But that was fine with us. The fans around us sitting and talking made it as cozy as any box suite.
After finally plopping ourselves down in the 3rd inning on a patch of unclaimed grass behind the 1st base line, we kicked back and relaxed. Well not too much relaxing though. The foul balls were just coming in hot off every batter it seemed.
You could notice how the Indians could not fit enough advertising on their outfield walls. Its almost as if they added height just for ad space. Sadly they could not find any money to fix their mascot’s legs next to the scoreboard (check it out, he’s misses his right.) And their scoreboard was simple and basic. Definitely a trademark of a small market team.
Planning on leaving during the 7th inning, we planned our escape through centerfield during the stretch since we were starving! However, the Frederick Keys had one last gift for me on the journey – a rocket shot of a foul ball headed straight for the little girl next to me! Being the always aware fan, it was no feat to simply stand up and catch it in my mid-section as it sliced. All hail the victorious hero! Yet, after most of the clapping subsided, most fans started ribbing me for my Yankees hat! One gentleman was from Boston and a fans since their original glory days of the 80s, and we had a riot telling stories for As it was all in good fun, it was really what you miss when baseball leaves small market towns.
On our way out we still swung behind homeplate. The backstop is a nicely covered area, with hard backed seats and a great press box for the minors. Many of the fans were season ticket holders. Many have been there for years. And many would have been there for years to come. One of them is Mr. Carl Long of the Negro Leagues and Kinston team from 1956. Ben’s Biz Blog has a great write up about him, check that out. And I’m sure one of them would have been my good friend’s father, would played for Kinston during the same era.
And with that we said goodnight sweet Grainger…
Thanks for a great memory and end to two seasons. As mine will continue in 2012, none will be the same until baseball is back in Kinston!