01coverUAC040319001Anticipation for the return of baseball to Fayetteville has been steadily building for more than a year. That wait is finally coming to an end. As announced last November, the team has a name: The Fayetteville Woodpeckers. As of this month, they’ve got a place to play: the brand-new Segra Stadium in downtown Fayetteville. And in the coming weeks, they’ve got two big kick-off events: A chance to check out the new stadium April 13, followed by the Woodpeckers’ first home game April 18. Get ready for a shift in this community that’s something to cheer about — and maybe celebrate with a hot dog and cold beverage. 

Fayetteville Fans First Look: Saturday, April 13 

The public is invited to explore downtown’s new $40 million Segra Stadium at a free unveiling and ribbon-cutting event, dubbed Fayetteville Fans First Look, from noon-3 p.m. The stadium features natural grass, a 360-degree concourse, a 25-by-70-foot LED scoreboard, six luxury suites, four field boxes, a premium club level, an outdoor party deck, a kids zone and a seating capacity of 4,700. 

The city of Fayetteville, owner of the ballpark, collaborated with the Woodpeckers to create and organize this event. “We are the lead (on this event), just as the Woodpeckers are the lead for the opening game,” said Kevin Arata, communications director for the city of Fayetteville. 

“We want to show off this great new stadium that we’ve built. We’ll have volunteers from around the city in place to point people in the directions of where they can go and what they can see.” 

Fayetteville Mayor Mitch Colvin will kick things off at noon with a ribbon-cutting followed by brief remarks. 

Then, Arata said, attendees will be able to go into the batting cages and locker and equipment rooms, along with the concession areas, the outfield bar, the kids zone, the clubhouse area and more. 

“For those of us, like myself, who are not clubhouse ticket-holders or box ticket-holders, this will be a chance to get up in those areas and see them firsthand,” he said. “This will be a looksee that people won’t otherwise get. It’s not often that you get to go into the locker room of a minor league baseball stadium.” 

Mark Zarthar, president of the Woodpeckers, described the Fayetteville Fans First Look as an open house of sorts. Visitors will get to sample a variety of food and beverage options that will be offered at the ballpark on game days, too, he said. 

“Our right field bar is our most prominent concession area; it’s called Healy’s,” Zarthar said. “We’ll have a variety of food and beverages out there, including 24 different draft beers on tap, as well as corn hole, foosball and big-screen TVs. We’ll have a stage with live music and lounge furniture. That’s going to be the coolest party area at the ballpark. It will be open on game days as well as some non-game days.” 

He described left field as being the family- and kid-friendly area. Along the first baseline and third baseline will be the rest of the concession options. “We will have a home plate bar that focuses on a variety of craft beer,” he said. “We will also have ... options such as barbecue, burgers and Mexican, and a variety of other cuisines.” 

The Woodpeckers drew upon local inspiration in creating themes for and naming the different food areas. For example, the station behind home plate is called 82nd and Hay. Sherwood Steaks is named after Sherwood H. Hallman, a World War II veteran who received a Medal of Honor. “He’s an example of someone who is relevant to Fort Bragg,” Zarthar said. 

The right field bar, Healy’s, is named for John “Mac” Healy, local owner of Healy Wholesale Company. “(Healy Wholesale Company) played a prominent role in our stadium being developed and bringing to life the beer concept at the ballpark,” Zarthar said. 

The Fayetteville Woodpeckers retail store will also debut at the First Look. Zarthar said it is one of the largest stores of its kind in minor league baseball, based on square footage. “You’ll be able to purchase merchandise as well as tickets at the Fans First Look,” he said. “There will be a variety of hat concepts, replica jerseys, T-shirts, golf polos, fishing shirts — anything you can imagine, we will have.” 

First Woodpeckers home game: Thursday, April 18 

At 7 p.m., Thursday, April 18, the sun will begin to set — but downtown Fayetteville will be lit up with bright stadium lights and filled with fans ready to cheer their team on. The Fayetteville Woodpeckers will take on the Carolina Mudcats for their first home game of the season. 

The Fayetteville Woodpeckers are the Class A Advanced minor league affiliate of the Houston Astros, the 2017 major league baseball World Series champion. The Woodpeckers spent their last two seasons playing as the Buies Creek Astros in Campbell University’s Jim Perry Stadium, and their transition to Fayetteville brings professional baseball back to town for the first time in 17 years. 

The last minor league baseball presence here was the South Atlantic League’s Cape Fear Crocs, which moved to Lakewood, New Jersey, following the 2000 season. 

The Woodpeckers’ new moniker was chosen by Fayetteville citizens via a “Name the Team” contest launched in April 2017 that was followed by an invitation to vote on a favorite out of the top five entries. The Woodpeckers beat out the other top four name suggestions: Fatbacks, Fly Traps, Jumpers and Wood Dogs. 

And now that the Woodpeckers are here, they’re here to stay. The Astros signed a 30-year lease, indicating their investment in the long-term success of Fayetteville. “We are here; we’re committed,” said Zarthar. “It’s not necessarily just about baseball. It’s about providing a shot in the arm for downtown Fayetteville.” 

Said Fayetteville City Councilman William “Bill” Crisp, “(In) 30 years, we can expect the Astros to be interwoven into the fabric of Fayetteville’s economic development.” 

March 20, the team announced details of its official team charity, the Fayetteville Woodpeckers Fund, and its associated Fayetteville Community Leaders Program. The FCLP, functioning at the core of the charity fund, will help guide the team’s investment of time, energy and resources in the areas of supporting local youth sports and military service members and their families. 

Fayetteville Woodpeckers Fund plans involve investing more than $100,000 into the community this season. Projects include replacing the Massey Hill Buddy Baseball Program field, which was destroyed by Hurricane Matthew; sponsoring 15 youth baseball and softball teams across all seven Fayetteville Parks and Recreation youth sports zones; and partnering with the military nonprofit Rick’s Place to, among other things, send 50 military children to summer camp. 

“The Astros are a very successful major league baseball business,” Crisp said. “However, when you examine how they mesh in communities where they have minor league teams, you will find they are not solely about making money, but they give back to the communities. 

“They could have imported someone to head their community relations, but they hired a local lady, Victoria Huggins. (She) is local, and I remind you she was/is Miss North Carolina for last year.” 

“The other thing to point out,” said Arata, “is there are only 70 home games across the entire year. The rest of those days, (the stadium) is open for other events. The opportunities for what you can do in the stadium are kind of endless.” 

He added that the stadium’s and the Fayetteville Woodpeckers’ presence have already acted as an incentive for other businesses and entities to invest in this community. He listed the decision of private investor Jordan Jones to revive the historic but previously dilapidated Prince Charles Hotel as a prime example. 

Ticket prices to Fayetteville Woodpeckers games start at $9, which Arata pointed out is comparable to the cost of a movie ticket. “This is about involving all of the community,” Zarthar said. “We wanted to … ensure that as many people can afford to attend a game as possible.” 

Zarthar suggested that fans follow the Woodpeckers on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to stay up to date and involved. Visit www.fayettevillewoodpeckers.com for a full 2019-20 schedule, to purchase tickets and to learn more. 

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