Over the years, Grainger Stadium has retained its status as a classic ballpark while simultaneously offering a comfortable experience for today’s fans. This trait has been evident over its history, and is as apparent as ever after the arrival of the Down East Wood Ducks (High A; Carolina League).
Grainger Stadium has a distinct history. First opening in 1949, the facility is perhaps most associated with the stretch in Kinston’s baseball heritage that spanned from 1978-2011. Over that period, the High-A Carolina League franchise that began play as the Eagles—before being renamed the Blue Jays in 1982, reverting to Eagles in 1986, and becoming the Indians in 1987—played at the ballpark.
The Indians moved after the 2011 season to take the place of the Carolina Mudcats (Class AA; Southern League) after they relocated to Pensacola. This left a void in Kinston that lasted several years until the Texas Rangers—as the result of the Carolina/California League realignment—established their own franchise at Grainger Stadium.
The result is the Wood Ducks, one of two Carolina League franchises—along with the Buies Creek Astros—to begin play in the 2017 season. As they settle into the ballpark, it is clear that the Wood Ducks have found a way to build on the strengths of Grainger Stadium while making it a facility of their own.
The look and feel of Grainger Stadium is that of a classic, no-frills ballpark. This is perhaps best characterized by its grandstand, a covered structure that features much of Grainger Stadium’s seating and offers good sightlines of the action. There are also some smaller and more recent touches that are in keeping with a more classic look, including an area down the right field line featuring a concession and restroom building, seating, and a kid’s zone.
To the credit of the Wood Ducks, they have found a way to use their branding to play up the strengths of Grainger Stadium. The placement of the team’s logo throughout the facility reminds fans that this is indeed a new era of Kinston baseball, but does so in a way that does not usurp some of the more unique features of Grainger Stadium.
Along with placing their logo in standard areas—such as exterior ballpark signs or section markers—the Wood Ducks have also incorporated their identity in a few unique locations. For instance, the concourse features the Wood Ducks logo on concrete in several locations. Along the concourse wall, fans can find fan facts about the wood duck species, and an area behind the right-centerfield wall that once featured the K-Tribe logo now sports the Wood Ducks’ branding. A water tower that looms down the left field line also features a Wood Ducks’ logo.
While the Wood Ducks’ branding has its place at the ballpark, a few other features help to modernize the facility. A new concession stand was constructed down the third base line before the 2017 season, and the addition of padding on the outfield wall also goes a long way in sprucing up the facility’s appearance.
The good news, in all of this, is that baseball is back in Kinston. The Wood Ducks may be introducing a new era of baseball and putting their own spin on the fan experience, but Grainger Stadium remains as classic as ever.