After a 17-year absence, Minor League Baseball is back in Fayetteville.
North Carolina's sixth-largest city, best known as the home of Fort Bragg, last hosted a team in the form of the Cape Fear Crocs. That South Atlantic League entry played at J.P. Riddle Stadium, which is still in operation as the home of the summer collegiate Fayetteville Swampdogs.
But on April 18 a new chapter of baseball history began as the Carolina League's Fayetteville Woodpeckers played the first game at their brand new home of Segra Stadium. The facility, which seats 5,200, has an intimate feel and many of its design and gameday production elements are a nod to the region's strong armed forces presence (Fort Bragg is the world's largest military installation). The Woodpeckers' red and black color scheme, incorporated throughout the ballpark, is a nod to the Fort Bragg-based U.S. Army Special Operations Command. Red and black also are the colors of the red-cockaded woodpecker; as a result of dedicated conservation efforts, Fort Bragg is home to the second-largest red cockaded woodpecker habitat in the world.
The Woodpeckers, Class A Advanced affiliate of the Houston Astros, are owned by the Astros organization. The franchise spent the past two seasons as the Buies Creek Astros, playing on the campus of Campbell University while the new ballpark was being constructed. Segra Stadium was built at a cost of approximately $40 million, with $14 million contributed by the Astros. The area immediately surrounding the ballpark's Hay Street location is very much a work in progress. On the third base side of Segra Stadium is an under-construction parking garage and Hyatt hotel. On the other side sits the historic Prince Charles Hotel, which is being converted to an apartment complex. These buildings completely overshadow the ballpark itself, as evidenced by the photo below. For the time being, the crane (from which a Woodpeckers flag hangs) looms over the facility and constitutes a large portion of the view from the outfield concourse.
I attended three Woodpeckers games, from May 1-3. Prior to the May 2 game against the Lynchburg Hillcats, community and media relations manager Victora Huggins gave me a 360-degree, two-level tour of Segra Stadium. The highlights of that tour with Huggins, Miss North Carolina 2017, can be seen below:
Video: Touring Fayetteville Woodpeckers new Segra Stadium
Although Segra Stadium is very much a downtown ballpark, the view from beyond home plate is more arboreal than metropolitan.
A railroad track is located between the outfield concourse and the row of trees seen in the above photo. Trains that use this track often transport troops and miltary cargo.
An Amtrak station is located along the third base side, with the platform just beyond the ballpark's boundaries. Trains are therefore very much a part of Segra Stadium's gameday ambience, as they rumble by on both tracks at sporadic intervals.
Trains are merely one aspect of a very loud and lively ballpark setting. The Woodpeckers keep a party atmosphere going from start to finish, with music playing at nearly every opportunity. Sound effects and audio clips are heard between nearly every pitch, and between-inning entertainment rarely occurs on the field. The team instead makes heavy use of its videoboard in left-center field and runs most of its between-inning contests from the stands or atop the dugout. I had the opportunity to participate in one of the Woodpeckers' more unique mid-inning endeavors, "Fish or Not a Fish."
But the Woodpeckers are, of course, far more focused on fowl than fish. The Bird's Nest team store offers the wide variety of gear one would expect from a newly established Minor League entity. A big seller, at least in the early going, has been the Seth Beer shirt being worn by the gentleman in the photo below. In addition to having an eminently marketable surname, Beer was the Astros' top pick in last year's Draft and their ninth-ranked prospect.
As for beer of the liquid variety, the Woodpeckers sell it not just in cups and cans but also bats. (A full report on the team's concession items can be found here).
Segra Stadium's unique atmosphere, both amped-up and intimate, is encapsulated by the Woodpeckers' postgame fireworks displays. The ballpark, wedged as it is in a tight location and surrounded on two sides by railroad tracks, does not allow for a traditional pyrotechnics show. There's no choice but to set up in the center of the outfield and let 'em rip; the end result is a team making the best use of its surroundings and doing so boldly.
Stay tuned for more articles on Ben's visit to Fayetteville, as well as subsequent visits to see the Lynchburg Hillcats and Richmond Flying Squirrels. His next trip takes place in June.