KINSTON -- A drive to Durham, a visit to Wilson or watching a Single-A minor league game in Kinston or Zebulon.
From Greenville, there at no shortage of nearby baseball day trips.
The closest is in Kinston, where Grainger Stadium sits off Highway 11 South and East Grainger Avenue as the home of the Down East Wood Ducks. The Wood Ducks, who also go by unique nicknames of the DEWDs or the Woodies to the most knowledgeable of fans, are the high Single-A affiliate of the Texas Rangers of Major League Baseball.
Most players in Single-A are young in their professional careers and eager to show off their skills. Grainger Stadium, which was built in 1949, provides a unique arena for this developmental stage of pro baseball.
“We try to market to all of eastern North Carolina and we are the closest professional team to most folks in the Greenville area, and there is a longstanding history here,” Down East Wood Ducks vice president Wade Howell said earlier this summer. "Really the unique thing about Kinston and coming to see our place is we are the smallest market in all of professional sports. Kinston is the smallest market that has a professional sports team, from hockey to baseball or anything else.
“This ballpark is an older, smaller park, and a lot of people come and will like that atmosphere. … We want people to come and watch a game here and kind of adopt us as their minor league team, and hopefully there are promotions and things like that where somebody can find something that fits with what they want."
Those promotions range from family nights to Christmas in July to bringing dogs to the game and thirsty Thursdays.
Some people in eastern North Carolina know that Grainger Stadium was home to the Kinston Indians from from 1986-2011. Pro baseball returned to the stadium in 2017 with the Woodies, who have kept the stadium mainly in its original form except for a new-look addition last year of the Mother Earth Pavilion in the right field corner that sells local beer and provides lounge and party seating.
“We have our main older grandstand and have obviously added some bleachers and then the Mother Earth Pavilion, but aside from that, it’s kind of an old-school feel and you could say like a smaller version of Fenway Park (in Boston) and that intimate feel and the close grandstands kind of right on top (of the field)," Howell said.
Also in the Single-A Carolina League are the Carolina Mudcats, who play in Zebulon. Five County Stadium is a spacious venue equipped with a Cattails Restaurant for a premium club level experience during games.
The Durham Bulls are the Triple-A affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays. In addition to the natural accents present at their stadium from the 1980s movie "Bull Durham," players for the Bulls are one step away from being in the major leagues.
The North Carolina Baseball Museum is in Wilson, where in the summer the Wilson Tabs of the college wooden-bat Coastal Plain League play at Fleming Stadium.
Regardless of the level of baseball, teams all over the state and the country use marketing and promotions to attract fans during summer months.
“We’ve done fan surveys and found that fans really like items that they can wear,” Howell said of promotions and giveaway nights. “We have done a lot of jerseys and caps and stuff like that. … Also any T-shirt giveaway people really like."
Because of trades and personnel moves made by the Texas Rangers in recent years, the Wood Ducks were equipped with a talented roster to begin this season and their first-half record of 50-20 was second-best in Carolina League history and the best this year in all of the minor leagues for the first half of the season.
The team's first-half championship guaranteed that the Woodies will host playoff games again this year in September, although some players from earlier in the season already left Kinston when they were called up to Double-A to advance their development. The Wood Ducks will be looking to take the Carolina League championship for the second time in three years, having already won in 2017.
“It’s a little tougher to have rivalries,” Howell said of minor league baseball compared to college or other sports leagues. "Our players come from all different backgrounds and they may know some of the guys on the other team, but they may not. You have hopes that the team is going to play well, but also knowing what that means from a minor league standpoint is when they do, the end result is guys develop and perform well and move up to the next level and hopefully all the way to the majors to become really good productive players for a long time.”
IF YOU GO- Grainger Stadium
Seating capacity: Around 3,000.
Cost of single-game tickets: $7-11.
Hot dog: $3.25.
Contact Ronnie Woodward at firstname.lastname@example.org, 252-329-9592 and follow @RonnieW11 on Twitter.