Thursday, August 27, 2015

Wilmington Blue Rocks 0 at Carolina Mudcats 7 (Carolina League) - August 24, 2015


After a busy weekend watching three ballgames and a bit of golf, Monday was more relaxing as I only had a single night game to attend. It was a Carolina League matchup in Carolina, the only instance I know of where a team's location matches the league in which they play (the Washington Nationals are one where the nickname matches).



The Carolina Mudcats are based in Zebulon, a suburb just west of Raleigh, where the Hurricanes do battle. As I drove into the area in the late afternoon, I heard reports of a massive rainstorm in the area, though I saw no evidence of it in Durham, about an hour west. However, the storm did hit Zebulon hard around 4 p.m. and that, combined with school starting the next day, kept the fans away. So much so that when I approached the ballpark at 6 p.m., the lack of traffic had me fearing the game had been cancelled. Fortunately that wasn't the case, but only 722 showed up, leaving Five County Stadium (capacity 6,500, average attendance 2,970) very empty as you can see above.



The stadium opened in 1991 when the Columbus Mudcats moved here. Because there are so many minor league teams in the area, the park had to be located in a spot that did not infringe on another team's territorial rights, and Zebulon was just far enough from Durham to qualify. It is so named because it sits close to five counties, and I am a bit surprised that it has not received naming rights.



The ballpark is located just south of US 264 and quick to get to with North Carolina's liberal speed limits. There are two large parking lots on either side of the stadium; the $5 charge is one of two negative aspects here as it is too much for Advanced A ball. That's the south lot above, a few more cars arrived after I did but there was no problem getting out after the game. Please note the optimistic guy in orange hoping for cars to come to his area.



The ticket window is shown in the photo above. There were no freebies to be found on this night, though there was a $2 discount off the reserved $10 seat for some unknown reason.



Five County Stadium is quite large for this level as it used to house a AA team (also known as the Mudcats), but when they moved to Pensacola in 2011, the Carolina League's Kinston Indians came here, taking the Mudcats name. The Atlanta Braves took over the affiliation from this season; the Mudcats are the only team in the Braves system that doesn't use Braves as their nickname so there might be a change coming. Clearance merchandise at the team store only helped this theory.



More evidence of the scarcity of fans in the empty concourses below. The staff was very friendly, joking about how busy they were when I stopped to pick up a drink. One person took my order while the other took my money just so they had something to do. There were some interesting food offerings including a catfish sandwich (Mudcat is a type of catfish) but I was growing weary of stadium food and did not try anything. There is also a restaurant atop the seating bowl on the first base side known as Cattails (you can see the blue sign above) which looked like a great place to watch the game when the weather was not cooperating.



The clubhouse (green roof below) is separate from the stadium itself, so autograph hounds, a fixture at every minor league ballpark, are able to pester the players as they walk to the field. As you can probably tell, I enjoy taking pictures from on high.





It is hard to tell from the photos, but the entire reserved seating area is protected by netting, as were most of the parks on this trip. That is intolerable for such a large park and the other problem with Five County Stadium. The GA seats (above) are mostly open but so far away that it isn't worth sitting there. The whole issue of protective netting is now receiving much attention in the media and I'm afraid that the morons are going to win; soon every single park in America will force you to watch baseball through a net. I'll be posting on this shortly.



Despite the netting, the park is still a good place for a game, though I think my experience was improved by the fact that I had an entire section to myself. I would have gotten several foul balls if not for that damned net though!



There are a couple of unique touches here. First, a large water tower sporting the Mudcats name sits just north of the field, something I haven't seen elsewhere. The "Road to the Show" feature was also unusual. Some minor league ballparks try to include every former player who made the majors, but here only stars are afforded such honour. In another unique touch, they are on the fence and include Miguel Cabrera, who played 69 games here in 2003 before being promoted to Florida and beginning his stellar career.



Overall, Five County Stadium is a fun place to watch a game, oversized for its current tenant but filled with friendly staff who enjoyed the crowd, or lack thereof. If only there were more seats with a clear, unobstructed view.

The Game



It was Game Show Night!! That meant several promotions that were like game shows, but I really didn't follow along. Anyway, the Wilmington Blue Rocks (Royals affiliate) were in town to take on the Mudcats. Matthew Strahm (21st round, 2012, KC's #25 prospect) started for Wilmington while Yean Carlos Gil (below) was the Mudcats hurler.



Both pitchers were solid, with Gil particularly impressive, going 7 innings and facing just one over the minimum. Strahm gave up a 3rd inning homer to Jose Briceno but was otherwise on top of his game, striking out nine in five innings



In the 7th, Carolina sent 11 men to the plate against Blue Rocks reliever Yender Caramo, who gave up 5 hits and a hit batsman while his defense committed a couple of errors for good measure. The final blow was a 2-run single from Dustin Peterson (Padres 2nd-round pick in 2013, traded to Atlanta as part of the Justin Upton deal and now the Braves #15 prospect, above) that completed the 6-run frame as Carolina won 7-0.



Although the final was not close, this was actually a pretty good game. It is rare in the minors when both starters pitch this well and the game moved quickly, taking just 2:26. Too bad most fans stayed home.

Notes

This was my last Advanced A ballpark. I completed the California League back in 2011 and did an entire Florida State League trip in 2012, but this one took 12 years to finish. The first park I saw in this league was Lynchburg in 2003, a game in which Jose Bautista played. I plan to complete AAA and AA next year, and High A, Short Season, and the Rookie Leagues in 2017. So this blog will be going for a while yet.

Best,

Sean

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