New owners plan to move Down East Wood Ducks out of Kinston

Plans call for the team to be relocated to Spartanburg

Kinston’s minor league baseball team, the Down East Wood Ducks, will be relocated to Spartanburg, South Carolina, for the 2025 season. (PJ Ward-Brown / North State Journal)

On April 8, 1949, Grainger High School beat Tarboro High 5-4 in the first baseball game held at Kinston’s Grainger Stadium.

Several teams have called the historic building home over the past seven-plus decades, and the latest, the Down East Wood Ducks, planned to hold a special ceremony on April 8 of this year, to commemorate the 75th year of Grainger Stadium.


It rained. The game ended up getting called off, and the anniversary was instead celebrated a little over two weeks later.

Once again, reality is raining on Kinston’s baseball history, as the Wood Ducks are preparing to depart for Spartanburg, South Carolina, leaving the city without a minor league franchise for the second time in the last dozen years.

The Texas Rangers announced last week that the two North Carolina-based minor league franchises the team owned were both being sold.

The Wood Ducks and the team’s High-A franchise, the Hickory Crawdads, are both being sold to Diamond Baseball Holdings, a subsidiary of Endeavor which now owns more than 20 minor league teams across the country, including the Iowa Cubs, Memphis Redbirds, Oklahoma City Dodgers and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Railriders.

Endeavor, an entertainment conglomerate, created Diamond Baseball Holdings in 2021, and the organization has been aggressive in acquiring properties over the last two years. Hickory and Down East are the sixth and seventh teams acquired by the organization since March.

“The Texas Rangers are excited to enter into this agreement with Diamond Baseball Holdings,” said Neil Leibman, Texas Rangers president of business operations and chief operating officer. “We thank the staffs of the Crawdads and Wood Ducks for their outstanding efforts during our ownership, and we look forward to continuing our close relationship with both affiliates going forward. Pat Battle, Peter Freund, and the rest of the DBH team will be great partners to the Rangers organization through our ongoing affiliation with both clubs, and we have great confidence in their stewardship.”

A statement from DBH welcomed the two teams, saying, “We are thrilled to welcome the Crawdads and Wood Ducks to the DBH family. Thank you to the Texas Rangers for entrusting us with the continuing success and growth of both of these clubs. We look forward to our partnership with the Rangers organization.”

That partnership will include relocation. While there are currently no plans to move Hickory, reports surfaced almost immediately — later confirmed by all parties — that the Wood Ducks would be moving to Spartanburg.

The city is building a 3,500-seat stadium as part of a $250 million downtown renovation.

That’s more than 600 shy of the capacity of the team’s current home. Kinston also underwent a series of upgrades to the turf, parking, lighting and seating at Grainger Stadium that were estimated to cost around a million dollars when the Wood Ducks returned baseball to the region.

Down East continued Kinston’s long baseball tradition. The city has hosted a minor league team, on and off, as early as 1908. The Kinston Eagles played for much of the 1920s, featuring future Hall of Famer Rick Ferrell. The Great Depression caused the team to fold, but the Eagles returned in 1934, playing every season until 1952. The team then folded, only to return for two seasons in 1956. After a four-season absence, the Eagles once again took the field in 1962, playing every season until 1973. Over those early years, Kinston represented several MLB teams, including the Pirates, Braves, Yankees, Expos and Senators. Notable Eagles included Yankees outfielder Charlie “King Kong” Keller, Atlanta Braves coach Leo Mazzone and Cy Young Award winner Ron Guidry, as well as future NFL quarterback Jay Schroeder.

After another three-year absence, the Eagles returned as a Blue Jays affiliate, briefly renaming the team the Kinston Blue Jays. That affiliation gave the city its second future Hall of Famer as 2023 inductee Fred McGriff played briefly in Kinston.

In 1987, Kinston affiliated with Cleveland and was known as the Kinston Indians for the next 25 years, representing the longest period of stability in Kinston minor league baseball history. Among the players to come through Kinston included Hall of Famer Jim Thome and All-Stars Manny Ramirez, Albert Belle, Charles Nagy and CC Sabathia.

In 2012, the city found itself on the wrong end of a multiteam shuffle, with Kinston getting sold and moved to Zebulon to replace the Mudcats franchise that was moved to Florida. For the first time since 1976, Grainger went dark to minor league baseball and remained so until Down East returned, as part of another multiteam shuffle, in 2017.

The move is expected to occur as early as 2025, and the Rangers and DBH both confirmed that the current front office staffs of the Crawdads and Wood Ducks would remain intact.

The move brings baseball back to Spartanburg for the first time since 1994, when the franchise — known as the Spartanburg Phillies for more than 30 years — left for Kannapolis, although nearby Greenville has had a team since then.