Take easy escapes to see minor league baseball hit homers across Carolinas

The road to the big show for aspiring Major League Baseball players runs not only through Myrtle Beach, but in many towns across the Carolinas.

Minor League Baseball puts on its own show with memorable entertainment and affordable family outings full of memories to bring home. 

Myrtle Beach Pelicans fans going in the next month to North Carolina’s Triad or Triangle areas for a getaway, maybe for a major concert tour or to visit friends or family, might like to work in an away game to root for the Birds. The Pelicans, playoff bound in the Carolina League for the seventh straight season, will travel to the ballparks of the Winston-Salem Dash, Buies Creek Astros – based north of Fayetteville and one of two new teams in the Carolina League this year – and the Carolina Mudcats, based in Zebulon, just a few miles east of Raleigh.

Aiming for an unprecedented third straight Mills Cup Championship title, the Pelicans, in their third year as the Class-A Advanced affiliate for the reigning World Series champion Chicago Cubs, also will roll out their own welcome wagon at TicketReturn.com Field. Kristin Call, senior director of marketing, rounded out the rest of the regular season: 

The Salem (Va.) Red Sox – in this Boston Red Sox farm club’s only visit to Myrtle Beach this year, Aug. 3-6 – as well as the Mudcats Aug. 11-13 and Aug. 25-27, and the Down East Wood Ducks – the other new league entry this year, from Kinston, N.C., where pro baseball bats had not cracked since 2012 – Aug. 22-24. (Buy tickets at 843-918-6000, 877-918-8499 or www.myrtlebeachpelicans.com.)

The Pelicans – honored by Stadium Journey for the past six years in a row as providing one of the “Top 100 Stadium Experiences” – entertain many tourists who make a game part of their vacation, as well as fans of other Major League parent clubs’ teams that visit. Check out folks in the seats sporting cheer gear such as a Cleveland Indians cap or jersey when the Lynchburg (Va.) Hillcats are the guests.

Just in North and South Carolina, 16 minor league teams play. For the closest franchise to Myrtle Beach, head down to the Holy City, home of the Charleston RiverDogs

Dave Echols, the team’s president and general manager, said like Myrtle Beach, Charleston is a “destination city” and that in the past decade or so, the percentage of business from tourism at Joseph P. Riley Jr. Park, seated scenically along the Ashley River, has grown steadily.

“It’s part of our marketing plan and our philosophy,” Echols said. “Tourism has become part of our game-day crowd.”

Starting with the RiverDogs’ affiliation shifting from the Tampa Bay Rays to the New York Yankees in 2005, Echols said, apparel touting the Bronx Bombers – and their historic, archrival Boston Red Sox – became commonplace in the stands.

Echols said he realizes the Lowcountry is “Atlanta Braves country,” however “from the standpoint of tourism and fans,” with so many RiverDogs fans relocating or visiting from New York and New England, “they’re bringing their passion for baseball with them.”

Minor league ball also brings other benefits on which Echols elaborated. They include seeing rising stars, where a handful of guys playing in Charleston just “3-4 years ago” have made the varsity this season, amid a youth movement that has helped propel The Pinstripers back toward playoff contention.

Also, attending a game in the minors, “you get a sense, a feeling that everything’s within reach,” Echols said.

“Whether it’s the pricing, the proximity to the players on the field, or the overall atmosphere,” he said, “all that feels like it’s just an arm’s length away.”

If you go

Carolina League (Class A-Advanced – www.carolinaleague.com)

— Buies Creek Astros (Houston Astros), regular season home games through Sept. 4 – including 7 p.m. Aug. 29-30 and 11 a.m. Aug. 31 against Myrtle Beach – at Jim Perry Stadium (home of the Campbell University Fighting Camels), 76 Upchurch Lane, Lillington, N.C. 910-814-1459 or www.buiescreekastros.com.

— Carolina Mudcats (Milwaukee Brewers), home games closing with a series against Myrtle Beach – 7 p.m. Sept. 1, 5 p.m. Sept. 2, 6 p.m. Sept. 3, and noon Sept. 4 – at Five County Stadium, at U.S. 264 and N.C. 39, In Zebulon, N.C., east of Raleigh. 919-269-2287 (CATS) or www.carolinamudcats.com.

— Winston-Salem Dash (Chicago White Sox), home games through Aug. 27 – including 7 p.m. Aug. 14-17 against Myrtle Beach – at BB&T Ballpark, 926 Brookstown Ave., Winston-Salem, N.C. 336-714-2287 (BATS) or www.wsdash.com.

— Down East Wood Ducks (Texas Rangers), home games through Aug. 27, at Grainger Stadium, 400 E. Grainger Ave., Kinston, N.C., north from West Vernon Avenue (U.S. 70 Business/U.S. 258 Business). 252-686-5154 or woodducksbaseball.com.

South Atlantic League (Lower A – www.southatlanticleague.com)

— Charleston RiverDogs (New York Yankees), home games through Aug. 31, at Joseph P. Riley Jr. Park, on Lockwood Drive, north of U.S. 17, along the Ashley River. 843-577-3647 or riverdogs.com.

— Columbia Fireflies (formerly Savannah Sand Gnats, through 2015 – and still a New York Mets affiliate), home games through Aug. 31, at Spirit Communications Park, 1640 Freed St., Columbia. 803-726-4487 (HITS) or www.columbiafireflies.com.

— Greenville Drive (Boston Red Sox), home games through Aug. 31, at Fluor Field, 945 S. Main St., Greenville. 864-240-4528 or www.greenvilledrive.com.

— Greensboro Grasshoppers (Miami Marlins), home games through Aug. 31, at First National Bank Field, 408 Bellemeade St., Greensboro, N.C., north of Interstate 85. 336-268-2255 or www.gsohoppers.com.

— Hickory Crawdads (Texas Rangers), home games through Sept. 4, at Crawdads Stadium, 2500 Clement Blvd N.W., Hickory, N.C., across from Hickory Regional Airport, near U.S. 321, off Interstate 40, Exit 123. 828-322-3000 or www.hickorycrawdads.com.

— Kannapolis Intimidators (Chicago White Sox), home games through Aug. 27 at Intimidators Stadium, 2888 Moose Road, Kannapolis, N.C. 704-932-3267 (FANS) or intimidatorsbaseball.com.

<bullet>Asheville Tourists (Colorado Rockies), home games through Sept. 4 at McCormick Field, 30 Buchanan Place, Asheville, N.C. 828-258-0428 or theashevilletourists.com.

— Augusta GreenJackets (San Francisco Giants), home games through Sept. 4, at Lake Olmstead Stadium, 78 Milledge Road, Augusta, Ga. 706-922-9467 (WINS) or www.greenjacketsbaseball.com.

International League (Triple A – www.ilbaseball.com)

— Durham Bulls (Tampa Bay Rays), home games through Aug. 27, at Durham Bulls Athletic Park, on Blackwell Street, off the Durham Freeway (N.C. 147). 919-956-2855 (BULL) or www.durhambulls.com.

— Charlotte Knights (Chicago White Sox), home games through Sept. 4, at BB&T Ballpark, 324 S. Mint St., Charlotte, N.C. 980-207-0079 or www.charlotteknights.com.

Appalachian League (Rookie Class A – www.appyleague.com)

— Burlington Royals (Kansas City Royals), in, home games through Aug. 28, at Burlington Athletic Stadium, 1450 Graham St. Burlington, N.C., north off Interstate 40/85, Exit 145. 336-222-0223 or www.burlingtonroyals.com.

Coastal Plain League (collegiate summer league – www.coastalplain.com)

Teams include:

— Florence RedWolves, home games through Aug. 6, at Cormell Field at Sparrow Stadium, at Francis Marion University, 4500 E. Palmetto St. (U.S. 76/U.S. 301 Business), just east of Florence Regional Airport. 843-629-0700 or www.florenceredwolves.com.

— Wilmington Sharks, home games through Aug. 7, at Buck Hardee Field at Legion Stadium (also home of Wilmington Hammerheads pro soccer team), 2149 Carolina Beach Road (U.S. 421), Wilmington, N.C., south from U.S. 17 Business, east from Cape Fear River. 910-343-5621 or www.wilmingtonsharks.com.

— Fayetteville SwampDogs, home games through Aug. 7, at J.P. Riddle Stadium, 2823 Legion Road, Fayetteville, N.C. 910-426-5900 or www.goswampdogs.com.

— Savannah Bananas, home games through Aug. 6, at Grayson Stadium (rebuilt in 1941), 1401 E. Victory Drive, Savannah, Ga. 912-712-2482 or thesavannahbananas.com.

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