Baseball returning to Kinston for first time since 2011


KINSTON, Lenoir County - For the first time since the end of the 2011 season, baseball is returning to Kinston and Grainger Stadium.

An agreement was reached where the Texas Rangers will field a high Class A team in the city known for years for its baseball. The team will be part of the Carolina League. It's anticipated the league will also field a newly formed team in Fayetteville, which is part of the Houston Astros.

CLICK HERE for more on the new Kinston baseball team, including the Name-The-Team contest.

Minor League Baseball announced the realignment in a press release on Monday. The two teams will replace the California League's Bakersfield Blaze and High Desert Mavericks, which will cease operation after the 2016 season.

Kinston has fielded teams in the Carolina League in 1956-57, 1962-74 and 1978-2011. Fayetteville had a team in the Carolina League from 1950-56 and also fielded a team in the South Atlantic League from 1987-2000.

"This step was taken with the best interests of Minor League Baseball, both leagues and our Major League Baseball partners in mind," said Minor League Baseball President & CEO Pat O'Conner said in a press release. "California League President Charlie Blaney, Carolina League President John Hopkins and the club owners in both leagues worked to address this important issue and I thank them for their efforts.

"We are happy that professional baseball will return to Kinston and we are pleased with the steps Fayetteville has taken to bring professional baseball back to that great city as well."

The Texas Rangers were actively looking to field a team in the Carolina League and currently have a two-year deal in place with Kinston. Work was recently done to put down new sod at Grainger Stadium. Kinston has fielded teams in the Carolina League for years and has been actively trying to get a team to return to the city.

The Carolina League currently has eight teams and wants to keep the league at an even number. Having a club in Fayetteville would open the door for the Rangers to field a team in Kinston. Both would likely play in the Carolina League, bringing the number of teams to 10.

The owners of the Texas Rangers along with the Carolina League expressed excitement about baseball returning to Kinston.

"The Texas Rangers are very happy to be bringing baseball back to the great city of Kinston and we want to thank Minor League Baseball and the Kinston leadership for helping us to make this a reality for 2017," said Texas Rangers Ownership Committee Chairman Neil Leibman in a press release. "We are excited about creating the best fan experience possible at Grainger Stadium, and we look forward to working with the city of Kinston and its residents to make it a top Carolina League franchise."

"Realignment doesn't happen often, and we are excited to be a part of this process that addresses some issues important to our industry," said Carolina League President John Hopkins. "It's flattering that clubs are making a major commitment to become part of our league, enabling us to return Carolina League baseball to an outstanding community where we have some memorable history and we look forward to selecting our 10th city in the near future."

The Fayetteville city council voted 10-0 to approve a 15-page memorandum of understanding of key terms that would allow the Houston Astros to field a Class A Advanced baseball team in the city. The newspaper reports the vote caps almost two months of negotiations.

That means the city could begin hosting baseball as early as next year. Work on a new stadium would begin shortly after and a 30-year lease would begin as soon as the team begins play at the venue, according to the newspaper.