KINSTON, N.C. Five years after the Kinston Indians’ departure for Zebulon, professional baseball is back in business at Grainger Stadium. But before the Kinston team can take to the historic field in the 2017 season, it needs a name and it’s giving fans a chance to submit team names until Friday, Sept. 2.Minor League Baseball announced Monday the Texas Rangers have entered into a 12-year agreement with the City of Kinston to provide a team, which the Rangers will own, to play at the town’s storied Grainger Stadium. The Kinston club is slated to begin play in April of 2017.Team names, which can be submitted through Sept. 2 on KinstonBaseball.com, have already started flood in. After hosting an event at Grainger Stadium for the fans on Thursday, BJ Murphy, the mayor of Kinston, said that more than 500 names had already been submitted. Although he’s not sure exactly how many people showed up, he knows the hungry fans, in true N.C. spirit, consumed over 1,400 hot dogs and cold Pepsis.Kinston and the Rangers have invested roughly $1.6 million in Grainger, the second-oldest stadium in the Carolina League, with features such as wall padding, upgrades to existing field houses, and cosmetic updates to the ticket booth, entrance area and concession area.”We really want to focus on the safety of our players and secondly the experience for the fans,” Murphy said.Born and raised in Kinston, Murphy told the North State Journal just exactly what baseball means to his eastern N.C. town of roughly 22,000 folks.”Baseball in Kinston has been a family tradition for decades,” Murphy said. “From youth baseball players being the bat boys for the pro teams to having Little League games to seeing Scout dance on top of the dugout. Baseball has been a big part of our culture and identity in Kinston for a long time.”Kinston may not be the only N.C. area expecting a baseball reinvigoration. According to MiLB, Fayetteville is under consideration for a second Carolina League club expansion site, saying the city has made steady progress toward a stadium that would see play beginning in the 2019 season.”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 John Hopkins, Carolina League president. “It’s flattering that clubs are making a major commitment to become part of our league, enabling us to return Carolina League baseball to two outstanding communities where we have some memorable history.”The two teams will replace the California League’s Bakersfield Blaze and High Desert Mavericks, both of which will cease operations at the end of the 2016 season. The two clubs were the league’s lowest-attended teams.Murphy says his town has been proactively seeking a new relationship with MiLB since day one after the Indians left. He says Kinston has entertained one or two offers for a wooden bat league at the collegiate level of play, but ultimately decided that pursuing Class-A baseball was in the community’s best interest. To Murphy, the new team, whatever it ends up being named, is bigger than Kinston.”Although the historic Grainger Stadium is located in Kinston, this is going to be a regional team,” Murphy said.
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