The Carolina League is adding two teams in 2017, and we know now the name of one of them: the Down East Wood Ducks.
The Wood Ducks, Class A Advanced affiliate of the Texas Rangers, will play at 67-year-old Grainger Stadium in Kinston, North Carolina. The franchise will be joined next season by another North Carolina addition to the Class A Advanced Carolina League, a Houston affiliate slated to operate out of Fayetteville.
The "Down East Wood Ducks" name was announced Wednesday afternoon. "Down East" refers to the larger coastal plains community from where the team hopes to draw many of its fans. "Wood Ducks," meanwhile, triumphed over Eagles, HamHawks, Hogzillas and Shaggers in a "Name the Team" contest announced in September.
The Wood Ducks logo, designed by San Diego-based Brandiose, is scheduled to be unveiled Nov. 30. Wood Ducks, renowned for their colorful plumage and a favorite among hunters, are prevalent in the region. Wade Howell, the team's general manager, said he feels the name is "a fit for us."
"People here are very familiar with Wood Ducks," said Howell, who spent the past five seasons as the Texas Rangers senior director of media sales. "Twenty-four hours after hatching they jump right out of their nests, ready to take on the world with a can-do spirit. And they have the sharpest claws, so there's a little fight and spunkiness to them as well. I think that's on par with the players in High-A -- they're still beginning their career and life as professional baseball players, and they're ready to take on the world, too, making progress toward their ultimate goal of playing Major League Baseball."
Grainger Stadium first hosted Carolina League Baseball in 1956, and did so consistently until the Kinston Indians departed for Zebulon, North Carolina, following the 2011 season (that team is now the Carolina Mudcats). Throughout the stadium's long professional history, all of the teams playing there included "Kinston" in the team name. The Down East Wood Ducks represent a clear break from that tradition.
"Our purpose is not to ignore Kinston; it's to pull people in," said Howell. "We want more and more people to feel included, to think 'This is my team now.' And we want those people to come to Kinston, to stay in its hotels and eat in its restaurants. We want to be a part of a weekend in Kinston, which has become a destination and not just a place to pass through."
He continued, "And when you think 'Down East,' you think of the beach and a fun, family environment. That's what goes on with us at a baseball game. So there's a lot of connection there to the Down East tradition."
Howell described Wednesday's naming announcement as a "little get-together of city officials and sponsors," a purposefully modest event within a community still recovering from the effects of Hurricane Mathew. (In the wake of this natural disaster, both the National Guard and the Red Cross used Grainger Stadium as a base for their operations.)
"We're a business, and what kind of business operates without a name?" said Howell. "We want to get the information out there and let people follow us through our website and social media platforms. But we think the logo looks great, and look forward to showing it to our fans on November 30. Christmas should be a good opportunity for some unique Wood Ducks gifts."
Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MiLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz.