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A Day at the Park: Fayetteville Woodpeckers

The Fayetteville Woodpeckers split a day-night doubleheader on Thursday.

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of eyewitness reports on the Astros A affiliate the Fayetteville Woodpeckers by TCBer Kevin Kraczowski. If you’ve never experienced minor league baseball you’re missing out. Here’s one man’s birdseye’s view of the future Astros. Welcome, Kevin!

The Fayetteville Woodpeckers played a pair of games on Thursday night...

but this story starts on a Tuesday. It was a warm spring night in Fayetteville, NC on which I found myself checking out Segra Stadium, the home of the Houston Astros minor league Single-A affiliate, the Fayetteville Woodpeckers.

Before you make the trip to Fayetteville, it’s important that you realize Segra Stadium is a no-cash proposition. From parking on the street to the beer, the snacks, and the souvenirs, everything is debit or credit. Don’t do what I did on my first trip to the park and take $100 out because you know the kids will want everything. Your money, it seems, is not welcome here. Progress, I guess. Don’t bring paper, do bring plastic.

Until recent years, minor league feeder systems had between six-and-11 affiliates each. That changed with the recent reorganization of affiliates. Since the start of last season, each club has five stateside affiliates (plus a club or two in the Dominican Summer League). The Woodpeckers represent the Low-A level, with three intervening levels of competitive ball between them and the major leagues.

Of the 30 top Houston Astros prospects, three of them call Fayetteville their “baseball home” for the time being. Right-handed starting pitcher Alex Santos (10), outfielder Logan Cerny (25), and fellow outfielder Tyler Whitaker (11). This isn’t to say that some of the other prospects won’t eventually make it to the major league level, it’s just that these three are expected to progress sooner.

When I first arrived at the ballpark just prior to two hours before first pitch, they were just bringing out the tarp. Severe thunderstorms in the forecast had made an appearance, and the club was going to do their best to protect their ballfield.

Ultimately, the game was postponed due to rain, and rescheduled for a seven-inning doubleheader on Thursday. It looked like I’d have to wait for another day.

The Second Attempt (game one)

Fayetteville Woodpeckers 2, Kannapolis Cannon Ballers 1

With most games scheduled to start throughout the season sometime between 6-ish and 7:30-ish, the first game started at 4:30 PM with a quite-a-bit-less-than-full-house. With an estimated 350 or so guests in the park for the first pitch, the National Anthem was not performed. The ballpark seats 4,786. It filled out later rather than sooner, with an announced crowd of 3,214.

Deylen Miley got the start in the first contest. With 24 strikeouts in his first 13 innings of the season, I was expecting him to blow the doors off of Cannon Ballers hitters. The aforementioned Cerny was batting second and playing in left field, while Whitaker had the cleanup spot and played right.

With no score after two innings, Miley already had four strikeouts and hadn’t surrendered any baserunners. After a perfect third (but still no score for either side) Bunker stopped by for a visit. As soon as Bunker came by, Peckers number nine hitter Freddy Giulamo went deep to left-center for a 1-0 lead for the good guys.

With the small lead, Miley kept his perfect game going until a meaningless two-out single in the top of the fourth. The runner was stranded when Miley induced a can-of-corn from DH Colby Smelley.

Bottom four would see Fayetteville double their advantage with a Kenedy Corona solo shot. Reliever Jayson Schroeder allowed a one-out single in the sixth to shortstop Wilbur Sanchez, who then stole second and third base on consecutive pitches. Sanchez scampered home on a wild pitch before the plate appearance was over to halve Fayetteville’s lead and do away with any thought of a combined shutout.

Schroeder allowed another one-out hit in the sixth, this time a double. He then buckled down and whiffed the final two batters to earn a six-out save, his first of the season. Miley finished with seven strikeouts against a pair of base hits and zero runs in five frames. Joey Loperfido and Yeuris Ramirez each collected a pair of hits to lead the good guys’ offense.

Second Game

Fayetteville Woodpeckers 0, Kannapolis Cannon Ballers 3

Santos got the ball for his turn in game two. Cerny remained in left and continued to bat second, while Whitaker remained at the cleanup spot, but relocated to shortstop.

For his part, Santos has a mid-90s fastball and a high-70s slider (both graded at 55), along with a 50-grade changeup. After each team made it through two innings without hits, Santos showed a little moxie after allowing the leadoff hitter in the third to reach second (on a single and a steal). The following hitter, Misael Gonzalez, hit a chopper back to Santos. Santos collected the ball on one hop, spun around, froze the runner on second, then easily lobbed the ball to first for the first out. One pitch later, he got his second out with an infield popup. After a walk and an unfortunate wild pitch put runners on the corners, he got out of the frame unscathed with a harmless fly into right.

The Ballers struck first with a one-out fourth inning solo home run into left-center field, courtesy of Wilfred Veras, his third. Kannapolis added a pair when Gonzalez hit a two-out, two-run single later in the inning for a 3-0 lead.

In the meantime, White Sox prospect Cristian Mena, a 19-year-old out of Pimentel, Dominican Republic, took a no-hitter into the seventh inning. Two outs from glory, he surrendered a single to Cody Orr, who then took second on a wild pitch. It was the only offense the Peckers could muster for the game.

Ballpark Refinements

They got like, 40 different Woodpeckers hats for sale in the concession shop, and Ms. Laura has “like 90 percent of them.” Although she works for the team as an usher, she said “they” get most of her money anyway. That sounds a lot like working at Walmart.

Not only does Ms. Laura own most of the hats for sale at the team-store, she knows probably 80 percent of the people in the stadium (closer to 100 percent of season ticket holders). I watched her greet (no exaggeration) a dozen people in like, 10 minutes, by name, and with a warm hug for each.

Segra has six different beers on tap, burgers, hot dogs, pretzels, and even a bar where they serve slightly harder-than-beer beverages (for those so inclined). Emily, over at Sgt. Stubby’s Hot Dogs, suggested I try the pulled-pork nachos. She reckoned that was the most “Fayetteville-est” thing they had on the menu. I tried a Carolina Dog instead. That’s a hot dog loaded with mustard, chili, and slaw. For game two, I pulled the trigger on the pulled pork, and was not disappointed. The only thing I would have given more thought to was the activity of actually typing on a laptop with my fingers covered, COVERED, with bbq sauce, cheese, and pulled pork. Truly though, it was a fate that I both deserved and would repeat if given the chance. Don’t cry for me, Argentina. It was TOTALLY worth it.

Anyway, the only thing better than seeing your team win is seeing your team win twice. Although the Peckers were only half successful, there are far worse ways to spend six hours. Segra Stadium is, to put it simply, delightful.