The home of the Texas Rangers’ High A affiliate in Kinston, N.C., is in the path of Hurricane Florence, and the remaining staff has taken measures at the ballpark to prevent as much damage as possible.
Down East general manager Wade Howell said that he is one of only four full-time employees still in town, and Kinston is far enough inland that the main concern is flooding from the heavy rains that have been predicted and not storm surge.
Kinston, in Lenoir County, is under voluntary evacuation orders, and as of Thursday afternoon the outer bands of the Category 2 storm had just reached town. Kinston is under a hurricane warning.
“As the crow flies, we’re 50 to 70 miles inland,” Howell said. “We’re supposed to get 7 to 10 inches of rain, so we’re just outside the 15-inch zone. It’s supposed to go west and then eventually go north.”
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The Rangers purchased controlling interest in a Carolina League team in 2016 and decided on Kinston, which formerly was home to a Class A affiliate from 1985-2011. The Wood Ducks began playing in 2017.
Leody Taveras, the No. 2 prospect in the Star-Telegram rankings of the top 10 Rangers prospects, sent the season at Down East. The season ended Sept. 3, Howell said, and no baseball personnel is currently in Kinston.
The city owns Grainger Stadium, but Howell said that the staff spent Monday putting some 500 folding chairs used for field suites into storage as well as TVs left in a hospitality area. They also transferred baseball equipment in a shed into the clubhouse.
The good news is that the ballpark has geographical advantages as it sits on higher ground. However, the Neuse River wanders through town and could be prone to flash floods, Howell said, and Kinston would also be at risk of flooding if water must be released from Falls Lake Dam in Raleigh as it was two years ago with Hurricane Matthew.
Now, the wait is on to see which way Florence moves inland later Thursday.
“If it just came straight on in, we’d just get absolutely dumped on,” Howell said. “But it’s supposed to make that move to the west, kind of when it gets here, and that puts us on the outer bands of it. If it doesn’t go west, we’re in more trouble.”