By Tony Castleberry
The Daily Reflector
Friday, September 2, 2011
KINSTON — A legitimate but daunting question looms for the hundreds, sometimes thousands, of people who have regularly been going to Kinston Indians baseball games at Grainger Stadium.
How will you spend your summer nights next year?
It’s a query K-Tribe fans and employees likely have been avoiding, but no longer can since the Indians, a Kinston institution for 49 years, will play their final game in Grainger, which opened in 1949, tonight.
“This is my family, (and) it’s going to be gone,” said Lori Cahoon, who works in the ticket office but has held various jobs with the K-Tribe for 20 years.
The Kinston franchise was sold late last year and will be moving to Zebulon’s Five County Stadium next season to play as the Carolina Mudcats, taking Kinston’s place in the High-A Carolina League. The current version of the Mudcats is moving to Pensacola, Fla., and will play in the Double-A Southern League.
A sellout crowd is expected for tonight’s home finale against the Frederick Keys. While the Indians are in the thick of a tight battle with Winston-Salem for the Southern Division second half title, the realization that there won’t be any more Indians games in Grainger probably will overshadow the outcome of tonight’s contest.
“With Hurricane Irene coming in, the Indians leaving kind of got lost in the shuffle,” said Kinston mayor B.J. Murphy, who is planning to attend tonight’s game. “I hate they’re leaving. … This community loves pro baseball and loves the Kinston Indians. I expect there will be a lot of people there, a lot of families, a lot of military and you’ll see a lot of peanuts and Pepsi.”
For season ticket holders Jerry and Carol Brophy, going to K-Tribe games has been a significant part of their summer routines since the late 1990s. The couple has made the drive from New Bern to Grainger and back for all but two home games this season.
The Brophys were still without power on Wednesday night thanks to Irene, meaning Grainger was possibly even more a refuge than it otherwise is for the diehard baseball fans.
“They’re the home team,” Carol Brophy said of the Indians as final pregame preparations took place prior to Wednesday’s game. “We may live in New Bern, but they’re the home team.”
When asked what their plans were after the last out of tonight’s game is recorded, Jerry Brophy said after a short pause, “We don’t know.”
One thing the Brophys said they did know is that even though Kinston’s team is moving about an hour and 15 minutes northwest to Five County, they’ll attend as many Mudcats games as they can next season.
Cahoon said even if another team plays in Grainger in 2012 — which seems an unlikely scenario at this point — it won’t be the same. In addition to her interactions with the players on a professional level, Cahoon has built personal, lasting relationships with many Kinston players over the years, even referring to them as her “little brothers.”
Losing that part of her extended family is a fact Cahoon, and probably many others, will have to come to grips with, even if they don’t want to.
“I guess I’m trying to push it out of my mind that this is it,” a teary-eyed Cahoon said. “The guys form a bond with us down here because they know that once they make it up higher, they can’t trust people. … When they call (after making it to the big leagues) saying, ‘Lori, I made it. I made it,’ I’m in tears for them.’
“These guys are my heart.”
Contact Tony Castleberry at firstname.lastname@example.org or 252-329-9591.