Delmont Miller

Kinston Indians

The Kinston Indians are a minor league baseball team in Kinston, North Carolina. The team, a High-A affiliate of the Cleveland Indians, plays in the Carolina League. Professional baseball in Kinston dates back to when they fielded a team in the Eastern Carolina League. Kinston adopted the name "Indians" at the start of their relationship with Cleveland, in . They are currently one of the oldest and most successful franchises in their circuit.

History

Early years

Baseball has been popular in Kinston since the late nineteenth century, and it fielded many excellent amateur clubs. Despite this, the small city was unable to sustain a viable professional team until the mid-1920s. Earlier attempts included an aborted campaign in the Class D Eastern Carolina League in and an "outlaw league" team in and . The latter was notable for being managed by former major league pitcher George Suggs and College Football Hall of Fame member Ira Rodgers. Due to the efforts of the city's business leaders, former local amateur star Elisha Lewis, and George Suggs, the town secured a team in the Virginia League for the season.

This Class B team played in a newly renovated stadium designed by Suggs known as West End Park. Named the "Eagles", the squad had very little success against the rest of the league. Despite their lack of wins, the team was successful enough at the gate that they proved the town was capable of sustaining a professional team. Kinston stayed three years in the Virginia League and then moved on to a newly reformed Eastern Carolina League. This later affiliation would collapse along with the stock market in . Among the members of these 1920's Eagles teams was a young catcher named Rick Ferrell who would have a long playing career and even longer front office career in the major leagues. In , he became the only former Kinston player inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Another player, Frank Armstrong, eventually decided that baseball was not for him. He gave up baseball for a career in the armed services and became one of the most decorated generals in the history of the Air Force.

Coastal Plain League

Kinston was without a team for the first few years of the Depression, but by , the city found its way into the semi-professional Coastal Plain League. In , this loop became fully professional and was classified as a Class D league by the National Association. The city would stay in this league every season until it was finally disbanded following the campaign. It was as a member of this affiliation that Kinston saw many playoff appearances and two league championships (and ). Among the superior talent that entertained the fans of Kinston was a young player named Charlie "King Kong" Keller who remains within the top forty major league players of all-time in terms of on base percentage (.410).

Carolina League

For three years following the dissolution of the Coastal Plain League, Kinston found itself without a team until the owner of the Burlington Bees of the Carolina League moved his team to Kinston for the season. At the time, the Carolina League was a Class B loop with teams located in Virginia and North Carolina. The new Kinston Eagles were a Pittsburgh Pirates affiliate and featured the town's first African American ball players. In these early days of the Civil Rights Movement, the black players in the Carolina League received much verbal and psychological abuse from the largely white, Southern fan base. One of these first black Kinston ball players, Carl Long, would excel during the 1956 season and set an RBI standard (111) that would never be surpassed by any of the Kinston hitters who have come after him. The other racial pioneer for Kinston baseball was Frank Washington, a holdover from the Burlington team. Kinston's owner was an inept businessman who brought the club near bankruptcy before it was moved to Wilson in .

Kinston's re-entry into Carolina League baseball in was successful both on the field and at the turnstile. The Eagles were able to claim the first of its Carolina League crowns. At a time when Kinston's population was only 25,000, the ball club was able to attract over 140,000 fans. Part of the lure for these fans was the talent supplied by Kinston's parent club, the Pittsburgh Pirates, which included Steve Blass (17-3, 1.97 ERA, 209 K's), and Frank Bork (19-7, 2.00 ERA). Another attraction for the fans was that for the first time, the Eagles were a community owned team. The Kinston Eagles Baseball Company was a non-profit organization run by an elected eighteen man, unpaid board of directors. Profits went back into improving the stadium, promoting the team, and supplying playing equipment for the youth of Kinston. This arrangement would continue through all thirteen years of Kinston's second tenure in the Carolina League from through .

With the reclassification of minor league baseball in , the Carolina League became a High-A circuit. The Eagles would fail to win any more championships during this second period of Carolina League play, but they managed to make the playoffs following six of the thirteen seasons. The Pirates stuck with Kinston through the campaign, and the Eagles were managed by Harding "Pete" Peterson during three of those four seasons. Pete would later oversee the Pirates farm system and become the Pirates' general manager, helping to build the late seventies team that won the World Series. The Eagles became affiliated with the new Atlanta Braves during and and were managed by Andy Pafko during those years. From through , the Eagles had an affiliation with the New York Yankees, and the fans saw a lot of future all-stars pass through the city including a young Ron Guidry who would establish himself as one of the best pitchers in the American League soon thereafter.

During the 1970s the popularity of minor league baseball reached its lowest point and the attendance in Kinston fell to only 30,000 for the season. The city needed a revival of interest, and the Expos were turned to for help. The young Montreal franchise boasted a strong farm system with a lot of talent. So much talent in fact, that they decided to experiment with having two High A affiliates. Instead of dividing the players evenly between the two High A teams, the West Palm Beach club ended up with all the best men while the newly renamed Kinston Expos had to make due with castoffs. The Kinston team soon found itself overmatched among its Carolina League rivals. The Expos fell to last place and attendance fell to only 27,000 for the year. Montreal declared their experiment a failure and withdrew from Kinston following the season. With no major league sponsor and very little fan support, Kinston withdrew from the league.

Former airline pilot Ray Kuhlman brought minor league baseball back to Kinston by investing in a Carolina League franchise in the late seventies. The renamed Kinston Eagles flew unaffiliated their first season back in the circuit in . By the next campaign, they were associated with the Toronto Blue Jays. Toronto stayed with Kinston for seven years, and the team eventually took on the Blue Jay name. Kinston did not win any championships during the Blue Jays years. Kuhlman and his wife ran the team themselves and oversaw steady annual increases in attendance each year. They brought a string of marketing ideas that have taken hold and remain to this day. These included increased promotional days, fireworks displays, the introduction of Kinston baseball cards, an increase in branded souvenir merchandise, the establishment of the Kinston Professional Baseball Hall of Fame, and the hiring of a team mascot. Also attracting fans was a collection of future major league stars including Tony Fernández, Fred McGriff, and Cecil Fielder.

Following the season, the Blue Jays dropped Kinston as a franchise, and professional baseball in the city seemed to be in doubt once again. There was talk of moving the franchise to Charles County, Maryland, but the city remained in the Carolina League with an independent ball club that took on the Eagles name. proved to be disappointing in the standings and at the gate, and talk of a move was renewed, but ownership secured an affiliation with the Cleveland Indians during the off season. For more than twenty years, Cleveland and the KTribe, as they have come to be known, have enjoyed a successful partnership which has produced sixteen playoff appearances and five Carolina League championships (, , , and ). The value of the team has risen along with its onfield success. In , Kuhlman sold the team for one hundred thousand dollars. The franchise was sold in for two hundred twenty five thousand, and it was sold again in for seven hundred fifty thousand dollars. The team's value in was estimated at one and a half million.

Six figure attendance totals became the norm throughout the 1990s and into the new century. General Manager North Johnson fostered closer bonds with the mayor's office and helped create the Mayor's Committee for Professional Baseball in . Dedicated to increasing season ticket sales and promoting ties with businesses, the committee accomplished much in a short span of time. Attendance increased by nearly twenty thousand in and by more than twelve thousand the following year. By , the number of fans through the turnstiles topped 100,000 for the first time since . Although a new ownership group purchased the franchise in , continuity in the day-to-day operations has been maintained through general manager North Johnson, and front office mainstay Shari Massengill who took over the reins in . Ties with the local government also remain strong, as prospects for the start of a second century of baseball in 2008 look all but assured with new renovations to the ballpark and a renewed affiliation with Cleveland.

The Kinston Indians are currently managed by Chris Tremie, a former major league catcher. Their current General Manager, Shari Massengill, and former Assistant General Manager, Jessie Hays, made up the only all-female General Manager/Assistant General Manager team in the Minor Leagues. Although Hays has departed for the 2008 season, her replacement, Janell Bullock, is also female.

In , the Indians won the Southern Division crown for both halves of the year, but they lost in the first round of the playoffs to the wildcard team, the Salem Avalanche. It was the seventh season in a row that they made the post season which is a new Carolina League record formerly held by the Burlington Bees (-). It was the second time a Kinston team has accomplished this feat. The Kinston Eagles of the Coastal Plain League also made it to seven post seasons in a row (-). It was announced in June 2008 that Kinston's player development contract with Cleveland has been extended through the 2010 season.

Grainger Stadium

The Kinston Indians, and all the Kinston teams since 1949, have played their home games at Grainger Stadium located at 400 East Grainger Avenue in Kinston. The original structure was built by architect John J. Rowland in 1949 at a cost of one hundred seventy thousand dollars inclusive of everything except the land. One hundred fifty thousand dollars of the money was raised by bond issue. The stadium is owned by the city and leased by the team. A dedicatory plaque identifies the structure as "Municipal Stadium," but it has been called Grainger Stadium since it was first built. Recent ownership has begun to refer to it as "Historic Grainger Stadium" due to its age relative to other fields in the Carolina League. It is currently the second oldest stadium in the circuit. The name Grainger comes from its location on Grainger Avenue as well as its use early on by Grainger High School. Grainger is a prominent old family name in Lenoir County.

Annual Awards

Each year, usually on the weekend of the last home games, the Kinston Indians present awards to those deserving. The team MVP Award was named in honor of "Cap'n Pat" Crawford. Crawford was a longtime Kinston resident who made it to the major leagues with the St. Louis Cardinals during the Gashouse Gang era.

Steve Olin was a right-handed submarining relief pitcher for Kinston who had moved up to the Cleveland Indians. He was killed in a boating accident during spring training of 1993 in Winter Haven, Florida. The boat he was in struck a pier, killing him and fellow reliever Tim Crews and seriously injuring Bob Ojeda. Kinston's annual award for Pitcher of the Year was named in his honor.

The award given each year to the player who had to overcome the greatest adversity in his career was named in honor of Tex Drake. Drake was one of the batboys for the Kinston Blue Jays starting with the season. On the last day of the campaign, he found out that he had Hodgkin's Disease which had advanced to all four stages. The club president, Gary Fitzpatrick, arranged for Drake to work as a batboy for the last three home games of the Toronto Blue Jays season. Once back in Kinston, Drake was able to overcome his cancer through chemotherapy and return to his duties on the field.

The Kinston player who best represents good sportsmanship is given an award named for Steve Gaydek. Gaydek was a former member of the club's Board of Directors who became a lifelong fan of Kinston's baseball teams. He attended every home game for over twenty years even though he lived over thirty miles from the ballpark.

Lewis B. "Mac" McAvery was the head groundskeeper from to his death in . In honor of his accomplishments, the team established an award in his name to be given to the individual who has done the most to "preserve and enhance" professional baseball in Kinston.

Mascots

The Indians' mascot is a dog named Scout. Scout can usually be found in an Indians jersey and baseball cap, but has also been known to don a Superman t-shirt or an aloha shirt depending on the antics he is performing. Scout replaced an earlier Native American mascot who was named Tom E. Hawk. Although Tom E. Hawk no longer greets fans in person at the ballpark, he can still be seen in several of the official logos on much of the team merchandise. His broadly smiling visage is very reminiscent of Cleveland's Chief Wahoo.

During the days when Kinston was a Toronto Blue Jays affiliate, the team had a bird mascot named B.J.. manager Dennis Holmberg once resorted to dressing up in the mascot's costume so that he could return to the dugout undetected after being ejected from a game. For the season, the Blue Jays had a dozen teenage girls, known as the Golden Corral Lady Jays, in the stadium. This experiment only lasted the one season.

Local baseball personalities

  • Chris Hemeyer: Hemeyer is the radio voice of the Indians as well as the host of Tribe Talk. Tribe Talk is an interview television program shown on local public access stations in southeastern North Carolina. Besides interviewing team members and staff, the show also has highlights of recent Kinston games. First run episodes air once a week during the season. Tribe Talk is currently in its third season of production.
  • Team Mamas: Anne "Mama" Robinson and Evelyn "Mama" Kornegay are local residents of Kinston who have hosted players during their stay in Kinston. Mama Robinson hosted players for the first eleven years of the current franchise (1987-1997), while Mama Kornegay has taken over the duties since. Although only a few of the team members live in the house at any one time, the homes have become popular gathering places and a home away from home for the club. Prior to the current arrangement, players had some difficulty establishing a stable environment in which to live. In his autobiography, Ron Guidry relates how his rented mobile home was sold out from under him while he was gone on Reserve duty. David Wells tells similar stories of being bounced around from place to place during his time in Kinston.
  • Delmont Miller: (born March 30, 1966): Miller is the longtime scoreboard operator for the Indians. His humorous first inning chatter and "shout-outs" prior to each "KTribe" game have become a tradition at Grainger Stadium. Recognizing the popularity of Delmont with both the fans and the players, the Kinston front office has held special "Delmont Miller Nights" the past few seasons and have built promotions around his unique personality. His twenty plus year career at the stadium has spanned several ownerships and even major league affiliation changes. Prior to becoming the scoreboard operator, he was the clubhouse assistant for the Kinston Blue Jays. His first name came from his father's love of Del Monte brand peaches.
  • The Smeraldos: Robert Smeraldo and Robert Smeraldo Jr. are the longtime father/son clubhouse managers for the ballclub. The senior Smeraldo has entered his fifteenth season of tending to the home clubhouse while his son takes care of the needs of the visiting team in their clubhouse.

Season by season results

Year Name League Level Affiliation Record Manager Playoffs
Eastern Carolina D 6-12 Loyd K. Wooten DNF
Robins E.C.B.A. outlaw ? Jim White
Highwaymen E.C.B.A. outlaw ? Suggs/Rodgers
Eagles Virginia B 52-80 Johnny Nee
Eagles Virginia B 69-83 Johnny Nee
Eagles Virginia B 56-75 Konnick/Hauger
Eagles Eastern Carolina D 55-59 Bennett/Walters
Eagles Eastern Carolina D 46-71 Clarence Roper
Eagles Coastal Plain semipro 36-24 Bunn Hearn Lost League Finals
Eagles Coastal Plain semipro 41-26 Bunn Hearn League Champs
Eagles Coastal Plain semipro 40-32 Herschel Caldwell Lost League Finals
Eagles Coastal Plain D St. Louis Cardinals 32-65 Bess/Taylor
Eagles Coastal Plain D St. Louis Cardinals 60-50 Tommy West Lost in 1st round
Eagles Coastal Plain D St. Louis Cardinals 65-59 Henry/Lucas/Herring Lost League Finals
Eagles Coastal Plain D 63-60 Sothern/Aerette Lost League Finals
Eagles Coastal Plain D 42-77 McHenry/DeMasi
Eagles Coastal Plain D 67-56 Frank Rodgers Lost League Finals
Eagles Coastal Plain D Atlanta Crackers 74-65 Steve Collins League Champs
Eagles Coastal Plain D 80-59 Steve Collins Lost League Finals
Eagles Coastal Plain D 74-64 Steve Collins Lost League Finals
Eagles Coastal Plain D Boston Red Sox 70-68 Wally Millies Lost League Finals
Eagles Coastal Plain D 79-47 Wes Livengood Lost in 1st round
Eagles Coastal Plain D Detroit Tigers 76-47 Wayne Blackburn Lost in 1st round
Eagles Carolina B Pittsburgh Pirates 66-87 Paepke/Taylor
Eagles Carolina B Washington Senators 5-15 Pete Suder DNF
Eagles Carolina B Pittsburgh Pirates 83-57 Pete Peterson League Champs
Eagles Carolina High-A Pittsburgh Pirates 77-66 Pete Peterson Lost in 1st round
Eagles Carolina High-A Pittsburgh Pirates 79-59 Pete Peterson Lost in 1st round
Eagles Carolina High-A Pittsburgh Pirates 72-71 Bob Clear
Eagles Carolina High-A Atlanta Braves 76-63 Andy Pafko Lost in 1st round
Eagles Carolina High-A Atlanta Braves 60-75 Andy Pafko
Eagles Carolina High-A New York Yankees 62-75 Bob Bauer
Eagles Carolina High-A New York Yankees 74-68 Gene Hassell Lost in 1st round
Eagles Carolina High-A New York Yankees 72-65 Alex Cosmidis
Eagles Carolina High-A New York Yankees 83-52 Gene Hassell Lost League Finals
Eagles Carolina High-A New York Yankees 73-64 Gene Hassell Lost League Finals
Eagles Carolina High-A Co-op 68-69 Gene Hassell
Expos Carolina High-A Montreal Expos 38-93 Jack Damaska
Eagles Carolina High-A 57-77 Leo Mazzone
Eagles Carolina High-A Toronto Blue Jays 67-69 Duane Larson
Eagles Carolina High-A Toronto Blue Jays 69-69 Dennis Holmberg
Eagles Carolina High-A Toronto Blue Jays 72-68 John McLaren Lost in 1st round
Blue Jays Carolina High-A Toronto Blue Jays 76-59 John McLaren
Blue Jays Carolina High-A Toronto Blue Jays 62-76 Clark/Ault
Blue Jays Carolina High-A Toronto Blue Jays 71-69 Doug Ault
Blue Jays Carolina High-A Toronto Blue Jays 64-73 Grady Little Lost in 1st round
Eagles Carolina High-A Co-op 60-75 Dave Trembley
Indians Carolina High-A Cleveland Indians 75-65 Mike Hargrove Lost League Finals
Indians Carolina High-A Cleveland Indians 88-52 Glenn Adams League Champs
Indians Carolina High-A Cleveland Indians 76-60 Ken Bolek
Indians Carolina High-A Cleveland Indians 88-47 Brian Graham Lost League Finals
Indians Carolina High-A Cleveland Indians 89-49 Brian Graham League Champs
Indians Carolina High-A Cleveland Indians 65-71 Dave Keller
Indians Carolina High-A Cleveland Indians 71-67 Dave Keller Lost in 1st round
Indians Carolina High-A Cleveland Indians 60-78 Dave Keller
Indians Carolina High-A Cleveland Indians 81-56 Gordon Mackenzie League Champs
Indians Carolina High-A Cleveland Indians 76-62 Jack Mull Lost League Finals
Indians Carolina High-A Cleveland Indians 87-53 Joel Skinner Lost League Finals
Indians Carolina High-A Cleveland Indians 69-71 Mako Oliveras
Indians Carolina High-A Cleveland Indians 79-58 Eric Wedge Lost in 1st round
Indians Carolina High-A Cleveland Indians 68-69 Brad Komminsk
Indians Carolina High-A Cleveland Indians 89-51 Brad Komminsk Lost in 1st round
Indians Carolina High-A Cleveland Indians 74-65 Ted Kubiak Lost League Finals
Indians Carolina High-A Cleveland Indians 73-66 Torey Lovullo Lost in 1st round
Indians Carolina High-A Cleveland Indians 88-50 Torey Lovullo League Champs
Indians Carolina High-A Cleveland Indians 76-64 Luis Rivera Lost League Finals
Indians Carolina High-A Cleveland Indians 85-54 Mike Sarbaugh League Champs
Indians Carolina High-A Cleveland Indians 87-52 Mike Sarbaugh Lost in 1st round
Indians Carolina High-A Cleveland Indians 72-66 Chris Tremie

TABLE NOTES:

  • The record for the 1938 team above were the actual wins and losses for that team. An ineligible player scandal caused the league office to award or take away wins and losses from teams based on their violations of the rules. The "official" adjusted record at the end of the season was 64-45.
  • DNF = Did Not Finish season.
  • Sources

No Hitters

Current roster

The 2008 Carolina League season is now over. Minor league teams do not maintain rosters during the off-season. A new roster will be assigned by the parent club during spring training.

See also

Bibliography

Autobiographies and biographies

League histories

  • Chrisman, David F. (1988). The History of the Virginia League. Maverick Publications. ASIN B0006EQIN8.
  • Gaunt, Robert (1997). We Would Have Played Forever: The Story of the Coastal Plain Baseball League. Baseball America, Inc.. ISBN 0-945-16402-5.
  • Holaday, J. Chris (1998). Professional Baseball in North Carolina: An Illustrated City-by-City History, 1901-1996. McFarland & Company, Inc.. ISBN 0-7864-0532-5.
  • Johnson, Lloyd, and Miles Wolff (eds.) (1997). The Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, second ed.. Baseball America, Inc.. ISBN 0-963-71898-3.
  • Sumner, Jim L. (1994). Separating the Men From the Boys: The First Half-Century of the Carolina League. John F. Blair. ISBN 0-895-87112-2.

Newspapers

  • - Issues for the 1908 season do not exist. Issues for all other seasons are available on microfilm at Lenoir Community College.

Official sources

  • - Programs are also referred to as yearbooks.

  • various editors (1956-present). Carolina League Record Book. Baseball America. - Over the years, this publication has also been known as Carolina League Media Guide and Record Book and Carolina League Directory and Record Book

Footnotes



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