Thursday, June 8, 2017

Road Trip:Buies Creek

The latest road trip features several people,several towns,several ballparks and lots of fun.
I'll be splitting each stop into a different post over the next few days,but they might not be consecutive as I have a lot of inbox buildup and one never knows when news breaks...

The first stop was Buies Creek NC,a small town that makes Hagerstown look like Washington DC and best known for being the home of Campbell University,one of the smaller Division I athletic schools in the country.
We left around nine in the morning and arrived at Campbell early in the afternoon with only a stop at Ralph's BBQ,a buffet filled with Southern BBQ (a North Carolina specialty) and other local delicious items.
Ralph's was a excellent stop and if in the area,Ralph's should be on your radar-make sure you use the house sauce,a vinegar sauce with some peppery taste tossed in....
The Landucci's (Fred and Michael) along with Doug Hopkins were in one car with another car with Derreck Chupak and Brandon Diehl skipping Buies Creek and another person as well.
We would meet up with that party in Durham later in the day in part two of our recap.

Jim Perry Stadium was named after the former pitcher,who won 215 games in the bigs,won the 1970 Cy Young award along with being the older brother of Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry.
The stadium holds just 1,000 people,which I would guess makes it the smallest stadium in professional baseball,but it was the best stadium available for the Carolina League,which expanded by two teams for the 2017 season and one of them was awarded to Fayetteville,NC,which is building a new stadium for the team.
The problem was that Fayetteville didn't have a facility good enough to play in for two years.
Enter Campbell and Buies Creek with Jim Perry Stadium and in return for the Houston Astros installing new artificial turf and a state of the art scoreboard,the two year deal was struck.
This situation made Buies Creek one of my two "Must Have's" to check off my stadium list with a later trip to Augusta GA,who are in their last year in their current stadium.

We arrived around 3ish for a 6 PM game (better early than late) and we were greeted by a team employee,who welcomed us and allowed us to go and look around the stadium.
I was impressed by the tiny,yet immaculate park and when looking at the new turf,you could actually see the "steam" coming off the turf on a humid,yet not beyond what I would guess as normal humidity for the area.
Very few teams in the minors use turf anymore (the only one that I know of currently using turf are the West Virginia Black Bears,Short Season Pittsburgh),but it makes sense for college teams that have to play games in late February and into March/April and need to get games in that just couldn't be played on a natural surface.
We watched BP and got a few players to sign that came out very early,but mainly just enjoyed the laid back atmosphere of Buies Creek.
There were a few small table with umbrellas and we sat watching the field,enjoying the scenery and company.
Prices on food and drink were super low compared to other places and the other guys took advantage of that fact.
Me? I'm still cutting back,so I took it as easy as possible (actually,I wouldn't eat after Ralph's until the next morning's breakfast),but the prices were right,if you needed a bite or a swig to beat the heat.

The team being such a temporary tenant didn't add a team store,they just used a small trailer for various souvenirs (it brought to mind Pulaski Va and last years visit!) and we did buy a team set.
I hadn't planned on buying one since Buies Creek had already made their one visit this season to Frederick,but since we could work on it while there and it was the first ever team set,I decided to work on one,despite the top prospect in the Astros system,outfielder Kyle Tucker having just been promoted to AA Corpus Christi,a few days before.
Tucker,a powerhitting outfielder,was one of the more impressive prospects that I've seen so far this season and will likely be the Astros most asked about young player as the trade deadline nears and the Astros begin to scan the market for potential upgrades for a playoff run.
Doug Hopkins did almost all of the work on the Astros,although I did call some numbers out to him.
The Astros had far less access than the visiting team,so we had to be much faster in figuring out who was who when they walked by.

As much as I wanted to work on Buies Creek,the visiting Carolina Mudcats (High A Milwaukee) were more important to me.
The Carolina League had once had the best schedule in baseball as you could count on the teams like clockwork-they came to town in order three times and then the season ended.
But as often happens in business,someone decided to fix what wasn't broken and ruined the whole thing.
Carolina hit Frederick twice in the first month and then would not return,so the recent release of the top 100's put all the pressure on me to knock the three players on Carolina out on this trip.
Corey Ray was easy as he's one of the nicest players I've met in years and he signed after finishing batting practice.
Ison Diaz doesn't seem to like signing as much,but he did sign his top 100 and another card.
Diaz hates when his name is mispronounced "I-Son" rather than the correct "E-Son",so I made sure I got that part correct.
Trent Clark was the final Top 100 player to get and I didn't think I was going to get him as when I asked he stepped into the dugout.
I began to shuffle cards and evaluate how best to get another shot,when Michael,who was right beside the dugout,shouted to me "Give me your cards,he's coming back".
Clark was indeed coming back,but there were a few kids in front of me,so I handed the cards off to Michael,who was able to get them to Clark for the signature.

With the most important cards finished,we had to prepare for the run to Durham to meet up with Derreck and Brandon,so we watched an inning or so before the "run TO the Bulls",but I wish we could have spent more time in Buies Creek.
Perhaps we can make a run there next year in the Astros final season there and be able to settle in and enjoy a game.
I liked the cozy park and small community that much and I'm hoping that maybe Buies Creek could land an Appalachian League team down the road for their community as a payback for their help and cooperation in a time of need for the minors.
Thanks to the Astros and their terrific team of employees for extending kindness and help for our visit.
When you consider the work involved for any temporary and imperfect situation,their employees are doing a great job in making things go so smoothly.

Next road trip stop will be our time in Durham,which is the plan unless something breaks in the Ohio State search for a new basketball coach or I decide to clean the overflowing inbox!

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