It’s official: the Bakersfield Blaze and High Desert Mavericks are leaving the California League at the end of the 2016 season, replaced by two new teams in the Carolina League.
The two new Carolina League markets still need to be determined, but one of the new teams will for sure be placed in Kinston, N.C., under Texas Rangers ownership. Kinston’s Grainger Stadium formerly served as the home of Carolina League clubs from 1956-57, 1962-74 and 1978-2011.
“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 statement. “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.”
Still to be determined: the location for the second Carolina League club, with Fayetteville, N.C. the leading contender. Fayetteville officials are negotiating a new-ballpark agreement with the Houston Astros for a 2019 opening. The club would play in a temporary location until the ballpark is completed.
“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. “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.”
“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.”
“As a league we worked diligently to explore alternatives to realignment, but the lack of alternatives combined with the importance of this project to address broader issues within Minor League Baseball led us to help facilitate this realignment,” added California League President Charlie Blaney.
“It is with great regret and reluctance that the Mavericks are one of two teams being contracted from the California League, as the Mavericks would prefer to remain in Adelanto as members of the California League,” said High Desert owner Dave Heller. “The uncertainty of the future, stemming directly from the City of Adelanto’s effort to lock us out of a ballpark for which we have a binding legal contract, creates too much uncertainty for next season and beyond. That uncertainty is simply unacceptable to the team, the other members of the California League, the Texas Rangers and Minor League Baseball. As a result, this unfortunate action had to be taken.”
“Baseball has had a long and wonderful history in Bakersfield,” said Bakersfield owner D.G. Elmore. “I am sorry to see it come to a close.”
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