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April 14, 2012

Minor League Baseball: the Carolina League (Class A-Advanced).

Filed under: Baseball,Baseball: MiLB Class A — admin @ 7:08 pm

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2012 Carolina League



The Carolina League is an 8-team Class A-Advanced minor league in Organized Baseball, 3 levels below Major League Baseball. In 2011, the Carolina League, as a whole, drew 3,448 per game. That figure was better than the other two Class A-Advanced leagues in Organized Baseball, the California League (which averaged 2,303 per game in 2011), and the Florida State League (which averaged 1,642 per game in 2011). The Carolina League also drew better than one league in Organized Baseball which is higher-placed that it – the Southern League, which averaged 3,242 per game. {List of all minor leagues’ 2011 league-attendance-averages, along with a map of the 122 highest-drawing MiLB teams in 2011, here.}

The Carolina League traces it’s history back to 1945, when it was established as a Class C minor league with 8 teams, 2 of which were unaffiliated (or Independent). The 8 teams in the 1945 Carolina League were all based in either southern Virginia (2 teams) or North Carolina (6 teams) – the Independent team the Burlington (NC) Bees, the New York Giants’ farm team the Danville (VA) Leafs, the Independent team the Durham (NC) Bulls, the Philadelphia Phillies’ farm team the Greensboro Patriots, the Chicago Cubs’ farm team the Leaksville-Draper-Spray (NC) Triplets, the Philadelphia Athletics’ minor league team the Martinsville (VA) A’s, the Cincinnati Reds’ minor league team the Raleigh (NC) Capitals, and the St. Louis Cardinals’ minor league team the Winston-Salem Cardinals.

These days [2012], there are still 2 teams from southern Virginia in the Carolina League – the Boston Red Sox’ farm team the Salem Red Sox, and the Atlanta Braves’ farm team the Lynchburg Hillcats. But there is no longer a majority of teams from North Carolina in the Carolina League, because the range of the Carolina League has expanded north to include teams from northern Virginia (the Washington Nationals’ farm team the Potomac Nationals, based in Woodbridge, VA), from Maryland (the Baltimore Orioles’ farm team the Frederick Keys) and from Delaware (the Kansas City Royals’ farm team the Wilmington Blue Rocks); and the Carolina League range has spread south to include a team from South Carolina (the Texas Rangers’ farm team the Myrtle Beach Pelicans). Rounding out the rest of the 2012 Carolina League teams are the Winston-Salem Dash (a Chicago White Sox farm team), and the Carolina Mudcats (a Cleveland Indians farm team). These last two teams are from two areas in North Carolina which have had a long connection with the Carolina League.

The top 3 drawing teams in the Carolina League
Winston-Salem, North Carolina has had a team in the Carolina League all throughout the league’s 68-year history [up to 2012]. Here are all the names of the Winston-Salem minor league baseball teams -
Winston-Salem Dash (2009-present)
Winston-Salem Warthogs (1995-2008)
Winston-Salem Spirits (1984-1994)
Winston-Salem Red Sox (1961-1983)
Winston-Salem Red Birds (1957-1960)
Winston-Salem Cardinals (1945-1953)
Winston-Salem Twins ([pre-Carolina League teams: 1905, 1908-1917, 1920-1933, 1937-1942], 1954-1956).
Below – Winston-Salem Dash
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Photo credit above – BB&T Ballpark/visitsouth.com.

The highest drawing team in the Carolina League these days is the oldest team in the league, the Winston-Salem Dash, who drew 4,662 per game in 2011. It must be pointed out that Winston-Salem’s league-leading gate figures are pretty much the result of a brand-new stadium (their BB&T Ballpark opened in 2010), because in 2008, the Winston-Salem team, then called the Warthogs, drew 2,575 per game; and in 2009, when most every baseball fan in town, it seems, was waiting for the new ballpark to open, they only drew 901 per game (and Winston-Salem drew 4,593 per game in the inaugural season in BB& T Ballpark, in 2010).

Below – Wilmington Blue Rocks
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Photo credit above – milb.com/Frawley Stadium.
The other two teams in the league that draw over 4,000 per game are the Wilmington Blue Rocks (see above), and the Frederick Keys (see below). Unlike Winston-Salem, both Frederick and Wilmington have been drawing above 4,000 per game since at least 2005 (which is as far back that the attendance data I could find goes,here, at the Biz of Baseball.com site). Wilmington, Delaware, with a city population of around 70,000, is 21 miles south of Philadelphia, PA. Frederick, Maryland, with a city population of around 65,000, is 40 miles NW of Washington DC.
Below – Frederick Keys
harry-grove-stadium_frederick-keys_b.gif
Photo credit above – ballparkdigest.com/ballpark-visit-harry-grove-stadium-frederick-keys.

Below: franchise and league shifts of teams in the Carolina League between the 2011 and the 2012 seasons…
carolina-mudcats-II_kinston-to-zebulon_zebulon-to-pensacola_b.gif
The Greater Raleigh/Durham area has one team currently in the Carolina League – a new team, the second incarnation of the Zebulon, NC-based Carolina Mudcats, who took over the Kinston, NC-based Kinston Indians’ spot in the Carolina League after the 2011 season. [Zebulon, NC is 18 miles east of Raleigh, NC.] The Carolina Mudcats dropped down a level, from being a Double-A level Southern League team (in the Cincinnati Reds’ farm system), to being a team in the Class A-Advanced Carolina League (as a team in the Cleveland Indians’ farm system). This was implemented by the Carolina Mudcats taking the league-place of the Kinston Indians, who are now defunct (the Kinston Indians were the lowest-drawing team in the Carolina League, drawing 1,780 per game in 2011). The franchise that was the Carolina Mudcats (I) of the Southern League (1991 to 2011) moved to Pensacola, Florida to become the Pensacola Blue Wahoos, in 2012. ['Pensacola Blue Wahoos' (en.wikipedia.org).]

Bull Durham and it’s connection to the 1987 Carolina League
At one time there were 2 teams from the Greater Raleigh/Durham area in the Carolina League – the Durham Bulls and the Raleigh Capitals. The Durham Bulls still exist…they moved up a couple levels to Triple-A baseball, and have been in the International League since 1998, where they flourish as the top minor-league affiliate of the talent-loaded Tampa Bay Rays’ organization. The Durham Bulls were a Carolina League team from the league’s establishment in 1945 to 1967, and were re-established from 1980 to 1997, then made the aforementioned jump up to Class AAA. This second incarnation of the Durham Bulls, circa the mid-to-late-1980s, was concurrent with the filming and release of the classic film Bull Durham (1988), which was the brainchild of ex-minor league baseball player Ron Shelton, who wrote the screenplay and directed the movie. Sports Illustrated called Bull Durham the greatest sports movie of all time. {Here is the official site for Bull Durham at MGM.com.}

While Shelton never actually played in the Carolina League {Ron Shelton minor league stats at baseball-reference.com}, he did have a 5-year career in the Baltimore Orioles organization, playing in the Appalachian League, the Texas League, the California League, and the International League. He retired from baseball during the 1972 player strike. Cut to around 14 years later, and Shelton began writing what would become the screenplay for Bull Durham as he took a meandering road trip through North Carolina. He then went back to Los Angeles and wrote the screenplay for Bull Durham in a 12-week period (I am guessing that this occurred in 1986).

Shelton at this point had 2 filmed screenplays to his credit (including The Best of Times (1986), which starred Kurt Russell and Robin Williams as former high school footballer players), but Bull Durham was his directorial debut. Many of the scenes in Bull Durham are reconstructions of incidents, anecdotes, and general characteristics of the minor league baseball world which Shelton encountered as a minor league ballplayer. The character of the veteran catcher called “Crash” Davis (played by Kevin Costner) was named after a former MLB and Carolina League player named Lawrence “Crash” Davis {his Wikipedia page, here}. The baseball-groupie/seductress/ “Church of Baseball” proselytizer character played by Susan Sarandon in the film, Annie Savoy, was so-named because minor league ballplayers often called the groupies that hung around the ballparks “Baseball Annies”. But the Annie Savoy character was not a shallow groupie, she was a pretty deep thinker…via the IMDB.com site, here is the great soliloquy Annie has in the film, on why baseball is a better religion than any of the other established religions. Incidentally, the “Nuke” LaLoosh character (a cocky young phenom pitcher), played by Tim Robbins, which is so instrumental to the greatness of the film, was set to be played by Anthony Michael Hall, until Shelton put his foot down and threatened to leave the project unless Robbins got the role.

A scene from Bull Durham, which you can see here
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Image credits above – Orion Pictures/MGM via Trelvis68 at youtube.com [see the video clip, here]. logoshak.com. amazon.com/Durham-Jersey-Crash-Davis-Baseball/dp/B002YY2DLE.

In Bull Durham, the team, the fictional 1987 Durham Bulls, and the real-life Durham Bulls’ ballpark of the time, are two of the primary features of the film. [Durham Athletic Park (1926-present, not in use today/Wikipedia page, here.] The teams in the film wear the actual uniforms of the real-life teams in the 1987 Carolina League (and not just the Durham Bulls uniforms, but also the Peninsula White Sox, the Winston-Salem Spirits, the Salem Bucs, etc. are the real 1987 uniforms of those teams). The only place where Bull Durham lacks versimilitude is that, in the film, teams from another actual minor league, the South Atlantic League of 1987, play against the Durham Bulls, which would never happen in real life (such as, in the scene above, where the Durham Bulls were playing the [now-defunct] Fayetteville Generals, who were a South Atlantic League team from 1987 to 1996). Not that that detracts at all from the film, it’s just that, as a baseball geek, I felt duty-bound to point that out.

Bull Durham filming locations‘ (IMBD.com).

Here were the teams in the 1987 Carolina League -
North Division
Team (with Affiliation):
Salem Buccaneers PIT
Hagerstown Suns BAL
Prince William Yankees NYY
Lynchburg Mets NYM

South Division
Team (with Affiliation):
Kinston Indians CLE
Winston-Salem Spirits CHC
Peninsula White Sox CHW
Durham Bulls ATL

Here is where the 1987 Carolina League teams/franchises are today, and what those teams are named today:
In the 1987 Carolina League, there was 1 team from Maryland –
Hagerstown Suns (still an MiLB city as of 2012, having moved over to the Class-A South Atlantic League in 1993).

In the 1987 Carolina League, there were 4 teams from Virginia -
- Lynchburg Mets (still a Carolina League city as of 2012 – today known as the Lynchburg Hillcats).
- Peninsula White Sox (Hampton, VA; no minor league team there today [2012], but the franchise still exists…the Peninsula Pilots moved north to Wilmington, Delaware in 1993, where the Wilmington Blue Rocks still exist as a Carolina League team).
- Prince William Yankees (franchise started as Alexandria (VA) Dukes (1978-80; 1982-83)/ moved to Prince William (VA) (1984-98)/ moved to Woodbridge (VA) today the franchise (from 1999 to present) is known as the Potomac Nationals).
- Salem Buccaneers (still a Carolina League city as of 2012 – today known as the Salem Red Sox).

In the 1987 Carolina League, there were 3 teams from North Carolina -
- Durham Bulls (still exist as a Triple-A team in the International League [since 1998].
- Kinston Indians (went defunct after 2011, franchise moved east to become Carolina Mudcats (II) (est. 2012 as a Carolina League team).
- Winston-Salem Spirits (still a Carolina League city as of 2012 – today known as the Winston-Salem Dash).

Here is a Q&A with Ron Shelton, by Richard Deitsch at SI.com, ‘Ron Shelton Q&A‘.

Here is a very comprehensive interview of Ron Shelton, by John Zelazny, at eightmillionstories.com, ‘Ron Shelton: From the Red Wings to BULL DURHAM‘.
_

Photo and Image credits on the map page -
Frederick Keys/ Harry Grove Stadium, here2play.wordpress.com.
Lynchburg Hillcats/ Calvin Falwell Field, littleballparks.com.
Potomac Nationals/ G. Richard Pfitzner Stadium, bing.com/maps.
Wilmington Blue Rocks/ Daniel S. Frawley Stadium, bing.com/maps.

Carolina Mudcats/ Five County Stadium, skyscrapercity.com thread, ‘Little Ballparks‘.
Salem Red Sox/ Lewis-Gale Field at Salem Memorial Baseball Stadium, “the basebal travele…” at panoramio.com.
Myrtle Beack Pelicans/ BB&T Coastal Field, bing.com/maps.
Winston-Salem Dash/ BB&T Ballpark, visitsouth.com.

I used this list, from Ballparkdigest.com, ‘2011 Baseball Attendance by Average [350 minor league baseball teams' 2011 average attendances]‘. Thanks very much to the Ballparksdigest.com site for the comprehensive attendance data.

Thanks to the contributors to the pages at en.wikipedia.org, ‘Minor league baseball‘; ‘Carolina League‘.

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