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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
|Eastern Carolina||D||6-12||Loyd K. Wooten||DNF|
|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||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||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|
|Expos||Carolina||High-A||Montreal Expos||38-93||Jack Damaska|
|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|
|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|
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.