On the Road: Ending in Zebulon

To see all my posts from my May 13 visit to the Carolina Mudcats, click HERE. To see all my posts from my May 2016 Carolinas Road Trip, click HERE. To see all my “On the Road” posts, click HERE. If interested in seeing posts covering a visit to a particular team, search for that team’s name in the blog search bar (it’s to your right).

A couple years ago, I delivered a presentation at the Minor League Baseball Promotional Seminar entitled “From Albuquerque to Zebulon: Another Season on the Road in Minor League Baseball.” I took a little artistic license with that title, however, as I had never actually been to Zebulon. It took me until May 13, 2016, to get to Zebulon, last in the Minor Leagues alphabetically and the last stop on my Carolinas road trip.

“Zebulon?” you may be saying to yourself at this juncture. “I’ve never heard of a team from Zebulon.”

Well, theoretical you, this is because the team in question carries the geographically indeterminate name of Carolina Mudcats. The Mudcats play in Five County Stadium, with Wake, Franklin, Nash, Johnston and Wilson being the North Carolina counties in question (the ballpark is located in Wake County, while Franklin, Nash and Johnston are all within 1,500 feet). Part of the reason the team is located here is because it is just outside the territorial rights of the Greensboro Grasshoppers and Durham Bulls.

Too much text without an image is deadly in this blogging game. So here’s a picture of Five County Stadium as it looked when I arrived there in the early evening of Friday, May 13.

001The ballpark has undergone many changes since it first opened in 1991, after the Mudcats relocated from Columbus, Georgia. Eric Gardner, the team’s general manager of operations, later sent me a series of photos that help to illustrate these changes.

1992

FiveCountyStadiumArial1992

1996

FiveCountyStadiumJune1996Arial2004 (following extensive 1999 renovations)

NIKOLAUS(C)Copyright 2003

It was 90 minutes before game time, and already the ballpark was bustlin’ with marching bands and clapping fans…

005…and lots of scouts. Lots and lots of scouts. They were planning on staying a while.

002On the inside, things were more sedate.

006The Mudcats were way ahead of the times when it comes to safety netting. For nearly the entirety of the park’s existence, the netting has extended from foul pole to foul pole. (Note, also, the iconic Mudcats water tower beyond left field.)

008

The netting isn’t as obtrusive as it would be at most Minor League parks, as the majority of the seats are on the upper level.

012

You really don’t see stadiums like these much anymore. “Layers upon layers” it says in my notes, and that sums up the general feel. Because it was built incrementally, it has a Frankenstein’s monster vibe to it.

To wit: This is the view from the new left field party deck, which hadn’t yet opened when I was in town.

013

The pathway beyond left field is a good spot to get autographs, as well as a good spot to gain perspective on just how large outfield billboards are.

016

This is the view from the second level, which illustrates that those from Zebulon and its surrounding areas like to drive white pickups.
020

On the upper level, one can get a meal at full-service restaurant “Cattails.” This establishment opened in 2005 and is open during all games as well as special events.

023

021

In the Mudcats’ front office, an actual mudcat (aka “catfish”) resides in a large tank.

010There are also two ponds on site, and Gardner told me that catfish reside therein.

“There was a bus driver who pulled a 17-pound catfish out of the pond using a hot dog as bait, while the teams were taking BP,” he said. “No one believed him, so he caught it again the next day.”

As for how the team came to be called the “Mudcats,” and how their iconic logo came about … well, that’s a story in and of itself. A story that, recently, I wrote. Check it out HERE.

Carolina_Mudcats_960_gzqntauj_wc944fqfMeanwhile, I’ll be hard at work on the next two posts in this Zebulon zaga. Stay tuned, please.

***

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz

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