Sunday, June 2, 2019

Wilmington Blue Rocks 1 at Fayetteville Woodpeckers 2 (Carolina League) - June 1, 2019

There are three new minor league ballparks this season but only one is close enough to me so a weekend trip can easily be taken. That would be Segra Stadium in Fayetteville, home of the Woodpeckers, the Carolina League affiliate of the Houston Astros. This franchise moved from California in 2017 and played two seasons in Buies Creek while their new digs were being constructed in downtown Fayetteville. The center of town is Market House (below) and the ballyard is just a couple of blocks north of here.

I flew down to Raleigh and drove the final 90 minutes to Fayetteville, avoiding the 540 toll road that would cost me $15 or more with rental car fees. You can find free parking along Hay Street or just south of the Market House on Person and spend a couple of hours exploring the quaint streets downtown. There are plenty of breweries and eateries in this area, with Huske Hardware House and Lake Gaston being the two I tried, while a local told me that Bright Light Brewing is the best.

The main problem with the new stadium is that the surrounding area is not yet complete, so there is only one entrance, which is a gravel path from Hay Street to the first base gates. Metal detectors are in place (sad for this level of baseball) which means long lineups when the crowd is big, which it was on this day. I had to wait nearly 15 minutes to get in, the longest ever for a minor league game. You can see the lineup below. That wasn't the only annoyance; ticket prices do not include taxes, so a $15 seat costs $16.05.

Beside the main entrance is a large sign that has a deeper meaning when you realize the history of the town. Fayetteville is home to Fort Bragg, where many Vietnam soldiers were housed before and after the war, leading to it being called Fayettenam, which some residents still use today. I'll avoid commenting on how that particular war ended but note that the underlying meaning refers to supporting the troops in general.

Just inside the first base gate is one of the more intriguing and educational displays I have seen. Babe Ruth began playing professionally here in 1914 and was given his nickname for being so young and naive. A nice piece of baseball trivia that is well documented.

Like all new minor league ballparks, this one has something for everyone, a result of the owners canvassing the country looking at what worked elsewhere. In right field is a full service bar called Healy's that is actually open during some non-game days, despite not having a structure of its own. It also stays open after the game for a couple of hours with big TV screens should you want to watch something. There is also a deck with foosball, cornhole, and a stage for live music. I'll have to come back sometime to enjoy it fully.

As I wandered back around the concourse from right field, I took several shots from different angles.

There are some chairs in the outfield near Healy's that are looking straight at the setting sun, so keep that in mind if you like to sit in the outfield. Also note that 1970s on the scoreboard; it was 70s night which meant a lot of music that I listened to as a kid.

It also meant the Woodpeckers were wearing special retro jerseys that were based on the old orange and yellow striped Astros jerseys but in Woodpecker colours. That's mascot Bunker modelling the look.

There are lots of unique food options here, but I had eaten at Huske Hardware House beforehand, so did not try anything.

Other than a beer of course. Selection is quite good, with 22 oz. drafts from Foothills going for $9 in a souvenir cup. There are also large beer bats (I was told they are 24 ounces, but they looked bigger) that cost $18-20 but can be refilled for less.

There are standing areas along the concourse with tables on which you can rest your drink or scorecard. If I return, I would choose this option with a GA ticket.

Below you see the upper deck that is mostly suites, but the leftmost section is actually open to everyone. There is a staircase just behind and the section is mostly empty so you can sit here for an inning or two.

This is the view from that section.

Continuing around the open concourse towards left field, you can see one of those standing tables to the right of the photo below.

Looking back along the left field line. you can see the structure that is under construction in the background. This is going to be a retail area with a hotel and parking garage as well.

There is a berm in left field, with bullpens just beside it.

The view from the walkway above the berm.

Closer to center field is a series of rocking chairs which require a ticket to sit in during the game.

The view from center field, with the entire park structure shown.

And the view from directly behind the plate. I usually like clear shots but there were 500 or so Girl Scouts being paraded around and I didn't want to wait. I hope they all got ballpark badges.

Overall, I was very impressed with Segra Stadium, once I got inside. Obviously they need to work on their entrance setup on busy nights, but with so much construction going on, this could take some time. If you are there for a weekend, try to get there a bit earlier to get inside as soon as gates open because you will want to spend time enjoying everything this park has to offer. I hope to return when the area is completely finished and see more of the town as well.

The Game

Wilmington (KC) was finishing up a 4-game series and sent lefty Daniel Lynch (below) to the hill. Lynch was the 34th overall pick last year and is already KC's #2 prospect. His mound opponent was Brett Conine (11th, 2018), who had already been called up from Quad Cities and sported a career ERA of 1.96.

A pitchers duel was expected, but Lynch allowed a run in the first when Colton Shaver (39th, 2017) doubled home Jacob Meyers (13th, 2017). It was Lynch's first run given up in 22.1 innings, but he wouldn't have much chance to improve his stats after that as he was pulled in the second inning with apparent arm discomfort.

Conine meanwhile was sharp, striking out 12 in 6 innings. His replacement was Leovanny Rodriguez, who gave up the tying run in the 8th when MJ Melendez (2nd, 2017, KC's #4 prospect) tripled home Dennicher Carrasco.

The Wilmington bullpen had been stellar on this 70s night, with Robert Garcia (15th, 2017) coming out in the bottom of the 9th having already pitched 2 scoreless frames. He faced Scott Schrieber (9th, 2018), who quickly ended things by launching a 1-2 offering deep over the left field fence. Woodpeckers win!

That's them celebrating above while a Wilmington coach walks back to the locker room. A very good game that featured a few future major leaguers. My player to watch is Conine, who is not a prospect at this point but who should be on the Astros radar by now.


After the third inning, there was a touching presentation. A young girl named Hailey Keller was celebrating 5 years of being cancer free after being diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia at 18 months. She stood at home plate while Bunker pretended to throw a pitch, with the PA announcer providing the play-by-play. Hailey swung and drove the ball deep to center field, rounding the bases while high-fiving the players and coaches who were standing on the baselines.

Dubbed Home Run for Life, this was one of the best things I have seen in all my travels. Check out the video and try not to cry.



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