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Pecker Checker: Fireworks in Zebulon

The Woodpeckers were in Zebulon to take on the Carolina Mudcats on Friday night.

Birds and fish were on the menu for Friday night’s road matchup.

The Fayetteville Woodpeckers were playing in their fourth game of a six-game set on the road against the Carolina Mudcats on Friday night. I picked the Friday night game because (as you may be able to tell from the title), they offered fireworks after the game. More on that later.

As I’m sure you’re already aware (except for maybe five percent of you), the Woodpeckers are the Low-A Carolina League affiliate for the Houston Astros. Of the top 30 prospects currently in the organization, four of them reside in Fayetteville for the time being. RHP Forrest Whitley (4), RHP Alex Santos (9), OF Tyler Whitaker (10) batting sixth and playing shortstop, and OF Logan Cerny (24). As always, I’ve got my eyes on an “unrated” prospect in the person of Joey Loperfido. He leads the Peckers with an .840 OPS and with a .310 batting average. As a recent graduate of Duke, I think he may rise through the system faster than the big league club may expect.

The Mudcats, meanwhile, are the Low-A affiliate for the Milwaukee Brewers, and play in Five County Stadium. They have six prospects represented. OF Jackson Chourio (3) batting second out of center, C Jeferson Quero (6), OF Hedbert Perez (9) playing left and batting third, SS Eduardo Garcia (12), OF Hendry Mendez (OF) leading off out of right, and INF Jheremy Vargas (30) batting seventh and playing shortstop. It’s notable that Carolina has zero (rated) pitching prospects with the club.

Five County Stadium, which seats 6,500 is nestled in central North Carolina, in the town of Zebulon (pop. 5,712). I arrived early (around 5:40PM) for the 7PM first pitch, in order to find good parking. When you haven’t been somewhere before, it’s best to bring cash and card. There’s nothing like having plastic only and then trying to park and they’re like, “$5, cash only.” (that’s exactly what would have happened if I hadn’t taken a little money out). It’s cash parking at Five County, and cash or credit in the stadium proper.

The park was built in 1991, and has four brick and mortar food stops, an ice cream bar, a pretty decent team shop, and several assorted food vendors sprinkled throughout. There’s nothing on the menu worth writing home about (you all know I live for that type of stuff). In fact, some of the things on the menu weren’t available. I tried for a pretzel, but they didn’t have them on hand :( I did however get a 24 oz. Yuengling.

Stiven Cruz (2-2, 4.64) got the nod for the home-town Mudcats. A six-foot-two right-hander, Cruz had collected 42 whiffs in only 36 13 innings coming into tonight’s contest. He would be facing off against Deylen Miley (2-2, 4.36), although that wasn’t announced until right before gametime. Miley entered the contest with 55 whiffs in 43 13 frames.

After finishing fourth in the CL South Division through the first half, with a 31-34 record, the Peckers boast a 2-4 second half record. Ditto for the Mudcats, who finished third in the CL North with a 34-32 first half record. Neither team was good enough to qualify for the postseason with their first-half showing, so both are hoping for a strong second-half, no doubt.

Fayetteville Woodpeckers 2, Carolina Mudcats 5 (box score)

The scoreless tie remained so until the bottom of the second inning. The Mudcats dropped a five-spot on Fayetteville with four hits, a walk, and a throwing error on catcher Freddy Guilamo. The less said about the inning the better, but it lasted just under 40 pitches. Miley’s night was already done. Edinson Batista relieved, and tossed 5 2/3 shutout innings of quality relief. Batista whiffed five and surrendered two hits and two walks, getting 52-of-79 pitches over the plate.

The 5-0 Mudcats lead lasted until two out in the Peckers half of the seventh. Whitaker endured a scary HBP that landed smack on his left elbow. After a visit by the training staff, he took his spot at first base, but not for long. Yeuris Ramirez took Carolina reliever Junior Montero deep for his sixth round-tripper of the campaign to cut the lead to 5-2.

With two gone in the bottom of the eighth, the Peckers brought in Fabricio Reina to collect the final out. Vargas took first on a walk, then Reina induced a Jesus Garcia 4-3 groundout to set up Fayetteville’s half of the ninth.

Loperfido led off the ninth with a four-pitch walk, then designated hitter Justin Williams took first the most painful way possible, by way of HBP. After two outs, Ramirez (who had just hit a homer) came up with an opportunity to be a hero, but he lined out sharply to third to end the contest.

After the game, we waited patiently for the fireworks show. They weren’t ready right away, and the crowd was really really getting into the Cha-Cha Slide (long version). Anyway, the display came off without a hitch, and I was headed for home.

So I got to another ballpark. If I win the lottery, I’ve got a loose plan to visit 150 ballparks in one year. Until then, however, I’ll just nickel-and-dime it and check them out here and there. Hey, we can’t all win the lottery. I’ll let you all know if I do, and you’re all coming with me!

Thanks for reading. I’ll check back with you next week when the Down East Wood Ducks visit Fayetteville.