03/24/2008 10:00 AM ET
Carolina League preview
Keys, Indians look to defend previous success in 2008
By Steven Conley / Special to MLB.com
The 2008 Carolina League season promises to be an exciting one, with eight teams vying for the coveted Mills Cup. Although the defending-champion Frederick Keys and the Kinston Indians have each claimed two of the last four titles, six different teams have been crowned champion since the 2000 season. With several hot prospects expected to make stops here in 2008, fans can anticipate some hotly contested divisional races.
The fun won't stop with the action between the lines, as fans can expect a wide variety of entertainment at parks around the league. From racing presidents and fireworks shows to tributes to Family Guy and the Big Lebowski, baseball fans young and old are sure to find something that tickles their fancy.
Here's a team-by-team look at what you can expect in the Carolina League in 2008:
2007 Results: 64-74; Carolina League champions
2008 Manager: Tommy Thompson
Things to look forward to: As the Keys defend their second Carolina League Championship in three years, fans have more to look forward to than just a winning ballclub. Throughout the course of the season, there will be a postgame fireworks show after each weekend night game, with 25 shows in all. ... Each Tuesday night at Harry Grove Stadium is Guaranteed Win Night. If the Keys lose, each fan's ticket will be good for any Monday through Thursday home game. ... Also in 2008, if any Keys player hits for the cycle one lucky fan will take home a brand new bicycle.
2007 Result: 87-52; first and second-half Southern Division titles.
2008 Manager: Chris Tremie
Things to look forward to: The Indians have won two of the last four Carolina League Championships and finished with a winning record in each of the last seven seasons. ... Outfield prospect Nicholas Weglarz should see extended action with Kinston in 2008 after batting .276 with 23 homers and 82 RBIs for Class A Lake County last season. ... Third base prospect Jared Goedert also figures to see some time with the Indians this season, after hitting .364 with 16 home runs and 51 RBIs with Lake County in 2007. Goedert was promoted to Kinston last May, where he hit .256 with four homers in 35 games but missed some time due to a shoulder injury. ... The Indians will welcome Star Wars characters to Grainger Stadium on April 19, where they will be roaming the concourse during the game. ... June 19 is NASCAR Night at the ballpark, where Jeff Gordon's #24 car will be on display and one fan will win two tickets to a NASCAR Race. ... There will be eight fireworks shows at the park during the season, including Opening Night on April 4, Memorial Day on May 31 and on the Fourth of July.
2007 Results: 55-82
2008 Manager: Jeff Branson
Things to look forward to: The weekend of June 13-15 will be 'Turn Back the Clock Weekend' at Calvin Falwell Field, as the team honors the 1983 Carolina League Champion Lynchburg Mets. The 1983 squad featured future New York Mets stars Lenny Dykstra, who stole 105 bases and won league MVP honors that year, and Dwight Gooden, who won 19 games and had 300 strikeouts. The Hillcats will wear replica Lynchburg Mets jerseys and caps the entire weekend and game worn jerseys will be auctioned off to fans after Friday night's game. The first 1,000 fans to enter the ballpark on Friday will also receive a vintage Lenny Dykstra figurine, and the first 1,000 fans to the park on Sunday will receive a Gooden figurine. A postgame fireworks show will light up the sky on Saturday, and fans are asked to turn back the clock themselves and put on their best 1983 style outfits the entire weekend.
Myrtle Beach Pelicans
2007 Results: 59-80
2008 Manager: Rocket Wheeler
Things to look forward to: There won't be any shortage of talent on display in Myrtle Beach in 2008, as several top prospects are expected to spend significant time with the club. ... Outfield prospect Gorkys Hernandez figures to start the year with the Pelicans after hitting .293 with 50 RBIs and 54 stolen bases and capturing the Midwest League MVP for West Michigan in 2007. ... Tyler Flowers, a first-base prospect who hit .298 with 12 homers, 34 doubles and 70 RBIs for Class A Rome in 2006, drew rave reviews from Atlanta skipper Bobby Cox at Spring Training and is expected to continue his ascent up the organizational ladder with the Pelicans in 2008. ... Also to look forward to in 2008, the Pelicans will host the 2008 California League-Carolina League All-Star Game on June 24 at BB&T Coastal Field.
2007 Results: 69-68
2008 Manager: Randy Knorr
Things to look forward to: Knorr brings a winning pedigree to the manager's seat. The former big-league catcher owns two World Series rings as a member of the Toronto Blue Jays' squads of 1992-93. ... The month of July promises to be an exciting one at Potomac's Pfitzner Stadium, as Potomac Hospital sponsors a Fourth of July Weekend Fireworks Extravaganza. ... On July 4 and 5, the American Fireworks will light up the stadium with back-to-back fireworks nights. ... Also on July 5, the Washington Nationals' Racing Presidents Series will make its second appearance at the ballpark as Teddy Roosevelt will take on team mascot Uncle Sam.
2007 Results: 79-60
2008 Manager: Jim Pankovits
Things to look forward to: Pankovits, the 2006 Carolina League Manager of the Year, is six wins shy of becoming Salem's all-time winningest manager. He has 155 wins in two seasons with the Avalanche. ... Koby Clemens will make the move to catcher at Salem this season after spending the past three seasons at second base. ... Jordan Parraz, MiLB.com's preseason Organizational Player of the Year for 2008, figures to spend a good deal of time in Salem. The outfield prospect set career highs in home runs (14), RBIs (76), doubles (28) and stolen bases (28) with Class A Lexington in 2007.
Wilmington Blue Rocks
2007 Results: 75-62; second-half Northern Division title.
2008 Manager: Daryl Kennedy
Things to look forward to: The BlueRocks' new theme for 2008 is 'It's Showtime,' where every home game will feature a different theme. Fans won't want to miss Family Guy Night on April 7 at Frawley Stadium, where they can look forward to plenty of clips from the hit show on the scoreboard throughout the game. ... What better way to spend an evening at the ballpark than by paying homage to the Big Lebowski, bowling and white russians? Celebrate everything Lebowski on August 4. ... August 18 is Guilty Pleasure Night at Frawley Stadium, where fans can get some dirt on their favorite players, who will reveal some of their guilty pleasures.
2007 Results: 64-74
2008 Manager: Tim Blackwell
Things to look forward to: John Shelby Jr., the White Sox's second-round pick in 2006, is quickly moving up the ranks and will man his natural position of second base for the Warthogs in 2008. Shelby hit .301 with 16 homers, 35 doubles, 79 RBIs and 19 steals in his first full season as an outfielder with the Class A Kannapolis Intimidators. ... May 10 is Bark in the Park Night at Ernie Shore Field, where fans are encouraged to bring their lovable canines to the ballpark. Entry fees for each dog will be $2, with proceeds going to benefit the Forsyth Humane Society. ... August 9 at the ballpark is Zooperstar Night, where fans will be entertained by the likes of Harry Canary, Cow Ripken, Jr., Snail Earnhardt and Shaquille O' Seal.
Steven Conley is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.