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O’Conner: We’re working to return pro ball to Kinston

Kinston IndiansThe Kinston Indians (High Class A; Carolina League) may be moving to Zebulon after the end of the season, but MiLB President Pat O’Conner and team owner Cam McRae say they’re working to bring in a replacement team, perhaps as early as next season.

Kinston is one of the those markets you want to love and embrace. Despite its size, Grainger Stadium is a gem and you can’t beat the small-town North Carolina atmosphere. McRae says he sold the team to cash out on behalf of the team’s 70+ owners; he sold to Steve Bryant, who is moving the franchise to Zebulon as a replacement for the Carolina Mudcats (Class AA; Southern League), which will be playing in Pensacola next season.

At the time of the sale, McRae said he would be pursuing a replacement team with a clearer ownership structure, and by all accounts he has. Trouble is, there doesn’t seem to be any available Class A franchises in the leagues playing in North Carolina: the South Atlantic League and the Carolina League. Carolina League President John Hopkins held out the possibility of two other High Class A teams shifting to the Carolina League, but we don’t see it happening any time soon. While there may be one team owner in the California League willing to look at a move/sale, there’s probably not two at this time. And we’ve not heard whisperings of any Florida State League teams on the market. And we’re not entirely sure there are two markets for two teams in the Carolina League footprint, either.

Much of what happens in Kinston will depend on other teams and their potential needs — i.e., the Frederick Keys (High Class A; Carolina League) and their ballpark situation. The Keys appear to be staying at Harry Grove Stadium; if the city had decided to negotiate with the independent Atlantic League for a lease instead, the Keys would be looking for a new home. At this point they’re not. O’Conner acknowledges the difficulties in an interview with the local paper:

“The reality is that the moving parts are going to determine when opportunities are presented,” O’Conner said. “I can tell you this: that (Hopkins and McRae) and my staff are committed to seeking opportunities and identifying opportunities. Whether or not they’ll pan out and whether or not they fit is part of a process.”

As a last reort, McRae held out the possibility of a summer-collegiate Coastal Plain League teams setting up shop at Grainger Stadium. Probably wouldn’t be the worst move in the world, but certainly a consolation prize if you’re looking for a Class A team instead.

RELATED STORIES: Carolina League to expand in 2012 by two teams? Probably not


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