By Austen Brennan
Campbell University is playing host to the Buies Creek Astros, a Carolina League Class A-Advanced affiliate of the Major League Baseball club, the Houston Astros. The team will be in Buies Creek and bear its name for the next two seasons while their new permanent home is built in Fayetteville.
Having a minor league team in town is a new and exciting prospect for Buies Creek and Campbell University. News is spreading quickly about the arrival of professional baseball in the Harnett County area with the aid of Campbell’s digital marketing. “I heard about it all throughout our online media,” junior Geena Squartino told the Campbell Times at the gates of the Astro’s home opener on April 6. Others, like Mrs. Stephanie Barton and her boys, also in attendance for Thursday’s game, heard about the Astros through word of mouth in addition to the social media posts.
Just as new and exciting for the Astros is the field they’ll be wowing crowds on. Jim Perry Stadium is now an all-turf playing surface, thanks to an intensive renovation project that, according to the Fayetteville Observer, began in December of 2016. “I’ve never played a full season on turf,” Outfielder Kyle Tucker replied when asked what he thought of the new field. “In the box, I always pick up dirt in between at-bats,” he continued, noting how different the turf was from what he’s used to playing on. Tucker was a little concerned about how it could affect his baserunning, noting that “I might get a little roughed up” diving or sliding on turf. The Astros’ pitching staff, however, expects that the new surface will work to their advantage. “This turf’s a little bit interesting,” right-hander Alex Winkelman said. “I played quite a bit in college on turf and turf is usually hoppy and pretty quick, but this turf plays pretty slow, which is great for the pitchers. Turf plays fair, and it’s an equalizer.”
The team is happy to be at Campbell. Head coach Omar Lopez told reporters at the Astros’ Media Day press conference that “compared to other ballparks we’ve played in, this [Campbell’s facilities] is awesome,” and that his team had “everything we need.”
Tucker, a first-round draft pick in 2015, has “really enjoyed” being in the Creek, and pitcher Riley Ferrell described it as having a “hometown feel.” Players and coaches described their new home as a marked improvement from their previous venue in Lancaster, California, both regarding the ballpark and the surrounding area. Winkelman siad that it was “fun to be back” in the college atmosphere.
The talent of the Astros is heralded as top-notch; Tucker is a hot prospect, expected to rise quickly through the minor leagues system. “He’s one of the top guys in our organization,” Lopez told reporters during his Media Day interview. This isn’t surprising, given that Tucker is the younger brother of Houston Astro Preston Tucker, a star outfielder at the University of Florida who is currently playing AAA ball for the Fresno Grizzlies. Ferrell, a right-handed pitcher out of TCU boasting an impressive ERA, was also a high draft pick, going in the 3rd round in 2015. Straw, a 12th Round pick from St. Johns River Community College in Florida, had a solid first full season in 2016, and expects everyone on the team to “perform at the top level.”
Because of this, fans of baseball in the Creek expect a much faster-paced and more polished game from their new tenants; “I think it’ll be two steps up!” said young fan Tyler Barton outside the Astros’ home opener, comparing pro-baseball to the college games he’s seen. Astros Outfielder Myles Straw said that “everybody’s good, they’re all going to make the plays,” and each game will feature the best players on each team, and from around the country. On top of Campbell’s winning baseball team, the community now has an even higher-caliber show in town to fill the recently renovated Jim Perry Stadium.
The Astros’ presence in Buies Creek is a historic opportunity for the town and for Campbell. “I think it’s going to do great things for our school,” Squartino informed the Campbell Times. Though they won’t be a permanent fixture at Campbell, the impact of the Buies Creek Astros will certainly be a lasting one.
Opening day for the Astros
By Matthew Sokol
Opening Day is an experience like nothing else in the world, and the first game in franchise history for the Buies Creek Astros lived up to the hype—a 5-3 victory over the Winston-Salem Dash. The Buies Astros play in the Carolina League. In two years, the franchise will be playing in Fayetteville after the new stadium is built.
Even if you wanted a general description of what kind of fans came out to the game, it would be very hard to do. The fans ranged from local Harnett County residents to Campbell students, faculty and staff all just trying to enjoy some baseball at Jim Perry Stadium. There was no rain present, but the weather was a bit chilly as the game crept into the later innings. Once the clock struck 6 p.m., the gates opened and fans started to pour into the stadium. The concession stand was open, and the various media members, including Greg Barnes from ABC 11, were on the field taking in the electricity in the air.
The Campbell University pep band played the national anthem before the start of the game. They were situated right behind home plate, and played the national anthem. Right before the teams took the field, the legendary Campbell alum Jim Perry threw out the ceremonial first pitch on the mound in the place named after him. Right at 7:01 p.m., the first pitch was thrown by the Astros starting pitcher Akeem Bostick, and the rest of the night was history. Campbell University professor Meredith Williams was at the game with her two sons, and excited is an understatement to describe their anticipation for the opening day game.
“It is huge, and we have been looking forward to this game ever since they announced it,” said Williams. “To have minor league baseball in Harnett County, especially in Buies Creek is a big deal. This is my 12th year at Campbell, and this was not on my radar; I just never expected it.”
Campbell students got into the game for free with their student ID. One of these students is senior Ryan Holloman who is the SGA senior class president. Holloman was happy to be out at the ballpark to catch the Astros start their season.
“It is a good day for baseball [with the opening day for the Astros], and it is a big event for Buies Creek, along with Campbell University,” said Holloman. “With minor league baseball here in Buies Creek in our hometown; it is great for students to come out to this big event like opening day. It is also great to get some Buies Creek merchandise.”
The stands in Jim Perry Stadium were filled with a lot of supporters, and that didn’t go unnoticed by the Astros. Manager Omar Lopez was surprised by the wide support shown by the home crowd.
“It is amazing [with the crowd for opening day], and I wasn’t expecting the crowd tonight,” said Lopez. “When we had the introduction on the field before the game, the fans started clapping, I thought that was great. Even though it is not a big ballpark, the stands are going to be packed every single game here which is amazing.”
The starting catcher Christopher Correa went 3-4 on opening day, scored one run and also knocked in a run. Correa specifically remembers some of the students cheering from the stands during the game; Correa appreciated the support of the hometown fans.
“I thought it was really nice for the fans to come support us with the first home game, even though it was a bit chilly,” said Correa. “All of the fans came out, and the stands were packed. I even heard some of the fans who were students that were chanting ‘Let’s go Astros,’ and I heard that; it was a great atmosphere.”
The Buies Creek Astros started off the season on the right foot, and the fans got to witness history made at Jim Perry Stadium.