Saturday marked the final game in the long association of Kinston North Carolina and their advanced Single-A Carolina League team the Kinston Indians. The K-Tribe as they were affectionately known was sold in a deal to replace the AA Southern League Carolina Mudcats who are moving to Pensacola Florida. While it is unknown when, if or in what form professional baseball will return to this small Eastern North Carolina town. Most people are hoping for another Single-A team to take up residence in Historic Grainger Stadium which received a major facelift at the expense of the city to demonstrate their commitment to keeping baseball a part of the town. There are rumors and speculation but nothing official yet. The visit of both the President and Vice President of Minor League Baseball to the town this year gives me some measure of hope that they will bring a team to Kinston next year.
The K-Tribe gave their faithful at Historic Grainger Stadium a memorable final season advancing to the Mills Cup Championship series after winning the Southern Division of the Carolina League for the 11th time. I have been following the team since my first tour at Camp LeJeune in 1999 and have made periodic visits to see the Indians between then and my reassignment to the Naval Hospital Camp LeJeune last October. This year I made sure that I attended as many games as I could knowing that it was the last season for a team that I had come to love.
As I began attending I met some wonderful people. One gentleman, Rick Holder gave me some of his season tickets on games that he knew that he could not attend. I came to know former Negro League and Carolina League pioneer Carl Long and his wife Ella, as well as my friends Toni and Jerry, Anna and Rocky, Lori, Cara and Jennifer. There were the players that I was able to spend time with, the off field staff and the K-Tribe General Manager Benjamin Jones. His predecessor in the job was Shari Massengale, the first female GM in the Minor Leagues.
The team allowed me to throw out the first pitch and when I was interviews and filmed for the Department of Defense sponsored Real Warriors campaign which features how military personnel deal with PTSD. That was a special night. I was also in Kinston shorty after Hurricane Irene struck, the town was hit hard and even Chief Tom A. Hawk in right center field was damaged.
Granger Stadium is a special place. The grounds crew which has won 5 awards for best field in the league in the last 10 years may win yet another this year. The people are good people and good fans. Though the K-Tribe did not win a final Mills cup they have contributed much to the town and the town to them.
Early on I decided that I would attempt to chronicle as much of the season in photos as I could. Since I took well over 1500 photos this year these are just a small portrait that I hope will help people remember this last season of K-Tribe Baseball.