The decision by the Cumberland County Board of Commissioners to hand operation of J.P. Riddle Stadium over to Fayetteville Technical Community College has some people in the county wondering what that means for the future of the Fayetteville SwampDogs. The SwampDogs is the summer baseball team that plays at J.P. Riddle Stadium and offers opportunities for college players to compete in a wood bat league.
One person with expertise in that area who thinks both the SwampDogs and Fayetteville’s new minor league baseball team, the Woodpeckers, can both survive is Darden Jenkins.
Jenkins runs Classic Ballpark Solutions, a company that consults with people looking to start or refurbish baseball stadiums. He’s currently working with a community that’s looking to field both a pro and college baseball team in the same community.
Jenkins thinks the main thing the SwampDogs have on their side is tradition and a loyal fan base. “They’ve been in town almost 20 years, and the last several years they’ve led their division in attendance,’’ he said. He also pointed to the many families in the community who’ve worked with the SwampDogs over the years to provide housing for the college players who’ve come to Fayetteville to play.
As for proof that a pro and college team can work in the same town, he pointed to Columbia, South Carolina, where a similar situation already exists.
“You can’t say Columbia is apples to apples with Fayetteville,’’ he said, “but it can work, and we’re going to see pretty fast if it will work here.’’
Jenkins thinks the decision by the county commissioners to give J.P. Riddle Stadium to Fayetteville Tech was a maneuver that takes the pressure off local government to have to deal with any future lease arrangement with the SwampDogs to use the stadium.
“If they put it in the college’s hands, it will be the college’s decision whether the SwampDogs continue,’’ Jenkins said. “But since the SwampDogs use college kids and FTCC is a college, it makes sense. It’s going to be an amateur baseball hub. I think there will be good synergy there.’’
Since FTCC plans to use the stadium as a training tool for its students studying professions related to field maintenance and such, Jenkins thinks it would be to FTCC’s advantage for the SwampDogs to remain and keep the stadium in use.
The stadium will be occupied by the new FTCC baseball team. If this team plays a typical community college schedule, it will be done with its season before May, when the SwampDogs would begin their season.
“The more dates they have, the more they are going to make,’’ Jenkins said of FTCC. “When I ran Jackie Robinson ballpark (in Daytona Beach, Florida), I tried to get as many games as we could. I think it’s a good experience and good for Fayetteville.’’