Monday, June 5, 2017

Myrtle Beach Pelicans 8 at Buies Creek Astros 5 (Carolina League) - June 4, 2017


As I described in a previous post, two teams in the California League folded after the 2016 season, while two expansion teams were awarded to the Carolina League to begin play this year. Both circuits are Class A Advanced, so this was an easy way to eliminate two struggling franchises in Bakersfield and High Desert, and bring minor league ball back to two North Carolina towns. One new team plays out of Kinston, while the other will eventually call Fayetteville home. The reason for the delay is that a new downtown stadium in Fayetteville will not be ready until 2019, meaning the new team had to find a temporary home for two seasons. The Houston Astros took control of the franchise and decided to use Jim Perry Stadium as their abode for 2017-18.



The stadium is on the campus of Campbell University in Buies Creek, about 30 miles north of Fayetteville, and hosts the Fighting Camels during the college baseball season. It was opened during the 1940s, but an extensive renovation in 2012 makes it seem entirely new. The minor league team is called the Buies Creek Astros because there is no point in establishing a brand that will disappear next year. For the same reason, however, merchandise is a hot seller. It is rare that a team exists for just two seasons and so collectors are picking stuff up while they can.



Like most college baseball stadiums, this one is much simpler than your average minor league facility. Three sections of reserved seats behind the plate ($7), and two sections of GA benches on either side ($5). There are no ads or on-field promotions here; they are just concentrating on the baseball for now.



The single concession stand is in the back of the main building and offers cheap eats. There are a few picnic tables here that you can use to enjoy your meal.



There's also a pavilion named after Perry and his wife that was opened for this season. When the Astros play, anyone can sit up there and use it; it also provides the only shade during day games.



Perry pitched for Campbell from 1956-59 and won the AL Cy Young Award in 1970. There is a small banner commemorating this, the only history on display.



The field is a newly-installed synthetic turf with the base paths painted brown. The entire seating bowl is protected by netting, as is necessary for college games and their aluminum bats.



The Astros are third worst in the nation in terms of attendance (behind Beloit and Dunedin), but that is to be expected. Jim Perry Stadium is not designed for minor league ball with a capacity of about 700 and so the team is not trying to draw fans by the thousands.



The video board above right field was just installed and there was a ceremony before the game to honour its sponsors, a local grocery chain. It is the largest in the Big South Conference, which is where Campbell plays.

Overall, a visit here is only for those who collect ballparks and want to add this one to their list while it is in use as a minor league facility. For others, it is better to wait until 2019 and the new stadium in Fayetteville is open for business to make a trip to the area.

The Game

The Myrtle Beach Pelicans (Cubs) were in town and sent Justin Steele (5th round, 2014) to face Franklin Perez, Houston's #6 prospect and 96th overall according to MLB.com. Perez struggled a bit, giving up a run in the first on a double, groundout, and wild pitch, but Buies Creek responded with a single from Myles Straw (12th, 2015), who stole second and third and scored on a sac fly. In the third, Perez uncorked another wild pitch to allow a run to score, and he gave up a monster homer to Tyler Alamo (24th, 2013) in the fourth. He left after that, and when reliever Hector Perez gave up a 2-run shot to Eddy Martinez (a Cuban, now the Cubs #10 prospect) in the sixth, it looked like the Pelicans would cruise to victory.



Steele departed with a 5-2 lead but his bullpen let him down. Two runs scored in the 7th, highlighted by a Straw triple, and then Dexture McCall (31st, 2014) tied the game in the 8th with a solo shot. A scoreless ninth meant extra innings as the game time passed three hours, helped by very slow pace from Steele. Lightning threatened in the distance as Ralph Garza Jr. took the hill for the Astros. A leadoff single was followed by back-to-back perfectly placed bunt singles that left the Astros defense with no option but to hope the ball rolled foul. It did not in either case, and suddenly the Pelicans had the bases loaded. A passed ball on a strikeout allowed one run to score, and Alamo was intentionally walked to again load the bases. Cubs top prospect Eloy Jimenez (#8 overall, above) pinch hit and walked to score another run, and a sacrifice fly made it 8-5. Just as the final out was recorded, the rains came hard and heavy, and fans scrambled for cover. After a 45 minute delay, it was announced that the game had been suspended and Buies Creek would bat in the bottom of the 10th on Tuesday before the regularly scheduled game. A frustrating end that could have been avoided if the pitchers threw with a bit of pace.

By the way, the Astros did not score in the bottom of the 10th on Tuesday, losing 8-5. They went on to be shutout in the final two games of the series as well.

Notes

The franchise held a name the team contest, with finalists to be announced soon. It will be interesting to see if they can get national coverage on their choice, as happened with recent changes like the Binghamton Rumble Ponies and New Orleans Baby Cakes.

Next Up

Speaking of weird nicknames, I'm heading to Kinston tonight to see the Down East Wood Ducks. Check back for a recap of that tomorrow.

Best,

Sean

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