We have a name for the newest High-A Carolina League team, as the Houston Astros affiliate will be playing as the Fayetteville Woodpeckers, in a choice team management says should resonate in the local fan and military communities.
The franchise has been playing at Campbell University as the Buies Creek Astros after joining the Carolina League in 2017, when two teams were shifted from the California League. After setting up shop in North Carolina, the franchise embarked on a name-the-team contest, with an initial round generating some 40 serious submissions. After eliminating some of these names for various reasons, a final slate of Fatbacks, Fly Traps, Jumpers, Wood Dogs, and Woodpeckers went to the voters.
“The fan vote was for Woodpeckers, and it was our favorite as well, so we consider it a joint decision,” said Woodpeckers team president Mark Zarthar. “It was also submitted often in the initial round.”
The Woodpeckers name is also specific to the greater Fayetteville area, referring to the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker, one of the initial species named when the Endangered Species Act of 1973 was passed. Once plentiful in Fayetteville and North Carolina, numbers of the red-cockaded woodpecker dwindled until city and Fort Bragg officials took measures to preserve habitats and apply best practices to boost the population. The Fort Bragg changes were extensive, as training grounds were shifted and nesting habitats marked to diminish impacts on the red-cockaded woodpecker. The actions taken by Fort Bragg leadership was particularly effective, Zarthar said, earning it an award from the Pentagon, a model spread across 30 states. Today, the area is home to the second-largest population of endangered red-cockaded woodpeckers.
“You can now see them throughout the base,” Zarthar said. “They are a small bird, but very resilient, and they are vital to the ecosystem.
“We see similarities with the city of Fayetteville,” he added. “It’s a smaller city when compared to Charlotte or Atlanta, but important, as we’re home to the world’s largest military installation,” comprising some 275,000 personnel.
One other factor was in play in selecting Woodpeckers: the branding aspect.
“Looking at Major League Baseball, some of the most popular brands are Orioles, Cardinals and Blue Jays, and they sell a lot of merchandise,” Zarthar said. “We chose black and red as a tie to the woodpeckers, and we think they will be accepted well here because the military’s special forces sports the same colors.” Indeed, the U.S. Army Special Operations Command, which is headquartered at Fort Bragg, carries the same colors on its insignia.
“The Houston Astros have found the perfect location for our Class A Advanced affiliate in Fayetteville, North Carolina,” said Astros President of Business Operations Reid Ryan. “The All-American feel of the city, its support of our nation’s military and its economic development make it a great environment for the championship-caliber baseball we will bring to the Fayetteville community.”
Big Year for Fayetteville
The team announcement is the next step on what’s sure to be a big 2019 for Fayetteville, as the opening of a new $37.8 million ballpark is seen as the lynchpin of the continued revitalization of the downtown area.
“Downtown Fayetteville is a much safer and cleaner place than in the past,” Zarthar said. “As we planned, we looked at places like Durham, where a ballpark served as the anchor of a larger development downtown.”
As part of that development, Prince Charles Holdings is spearheading a $110-million plan that includes the renovation of the Prince Charles Hotel, 84,000 square feet of office space, a hotel, residential and retail.
“We are blessed to have Prince Charles Holdings as part of this project,” Zarthar said. “We’re lucky enough to have partners believing in this ambitious vision from the start. And so far everything is moving ahead.”
The new ballpark is slated to open in March 2019, with a capacity of 5,292 (3,600 in the bowl, 331 on the club/suite level, 150 in a party deck, 364 on the berm, 231 SRO), six suites, four concourse suites, and a group seating area that can be divided into six different areas. Also on tap: a right-field bar, a home-plate bar, a kids’ zone next to the berm,
For Zarthar, the creation of the ballpark and team is the highlight of a career that began in commercial real estate and then a stint as the Global Head of Sports Marketing for Anheuser-Busch InBev, focusing on long-term sponsorships with sports teams. One of those teams was the Astros, a relationship that saw him named team president earlier this year.
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