- Michael Rusignuolo
Grainger Stadium – Down East Wood Ducks
Photos by Steven Burke and Michael Rusignuolo,, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.71
Grainger Stadium 400 E Grainger Ave Kinston, NC 28501
Down East Wood Ducks website Grainger Stadium website
Year Opened: 1949 Capacity: 4,100
Return Migration Down East
Historic Grainger Stadium in Kinston, North Carolina, has been a fixture in minor league baseball since 1948. Owned by the city, a dedicatory plaque identifies the structure as Municipal Stadium, but it has been called Grainger Stadium after the local prominent Grainger family who donated half the land for the ballpark and whose name you will find plastered all over the city since its inception.
The stadium hosted professional minor league baseball for 63 years before then-current tenants, the Kinston Indians, pulled up shop and moved to Zebulon as the Carolina Mudcats in 2011. It looked like minor league baseball in Kinston would never return, but the town was resilient in returning affiliated baseball back to town.
After six years of active campaigning for another team, Kinston snagged one of the two new Carolina League franchises that moved east from California and became home to the newly minted Down East Wood Ducks in 2017, the High-A affiliate of the Texas Rangers. Just before the new team moved in, the latest in a long line of renovations were undergone at the 4,100-seat park, including facility upgrades, new turf, and a new two-story pavilion in right field.
Baseball is back in little old Kinston, and Historic Grainger Stadium manages to stand out from the pack in a few ways while delivering an excellent value.
Food & Beverage 3
Grainger Stadium has the food basics covered, if without a standout or unique local offering, but an otherwise monolithic beer selection is saved by a partnership with a local brewery.
Grub is served up from three main concession stands behind home plate, third base, and first base. All three deliver mostly the same menu of ballpark standards, old and new, with chicken tender baskets ($8), Italian sausage ($7), BBQ sandwiches ($6), hot dogs ($4, regular and red hot), and Papa John’s pizza slices ($4). A combo meal will set you back $10 and get you a hot dog, drink, and chips. Occasionally, there will be food trucks let in for additional dining options, but that is only for certain Friday games.
Local microbrewery Mother Earth Brewing (MEB) Company is the official beer for the Wood Ducks, and they are the only choice except for the Budweiser family of beers. MEB beers are available at all the concessions stands, in addition to their own cart and the MEB pavilion out in right field. Domestic bottles go for $5, craft bottles go for $6, and drafts of MEB run $4. Pepsi is the non-alcoholic choice, with water or a soft drink both going for $3.50.
It would be impolite not to try the official beer for the team, so grab yourself an MEB draft and whatever cheap eats you like to pair it with, such as a traditional hot dog or red hot.
While Grainger Stadium has received many upgrades since it opened in 1948, it still retains its essence as an old grandstand ballpark. Those of you expecting a modern palace will be disappointed but outside of a few, partially-obstructed view seats due to the roof supports, there is no downside to this updated 40’s classic.
All of the reserved seats are in the covered grandstand that runs about from first base to third base behind home plate. All the seats rise up from the inner promenade, except for the box seats that make up the front part of the walkway itself. General admissions bleachers run from third base to left field, while right field has a picnic area, a small berm, a row of box seats, and ends in the two-story Mother Earth Brewing Pavilion.
A pyramid batter’s eye is in dead center, just to the left of the scoreboard and a video board in right-center. A double deck outfield wall is covered in ads (including a “hit one here” ring from a jeweler) that sits against the bucolic backdrop of trees. A predictably old-school press box sits atop of the seats right behind home plate.
Duck mascot Dewd (named from the acronym of “Down East Wood Ducks”) is the new team’s ringleader, joined by the old K-Tribe mascot Scout the dog, especially on Throwback Thursdays when Dewd gets the night off. The mascots and human helpers run the minor league classics between innings. Crowd giveaways, bat races, mascot races, and the whole playbook are on hand to keep fans watching in between the baseball action.
With $2 separating the reserved from the general admissions tickets, seating choice is all about comfort. If you want to be out of the sometimes brutal NC summer sun or potential downpours, get a seat up front in the reserved grandstand, either by home plate or the Duck’s first base dugout. If it is a mild day with no chance of rain, why not grab a bleacher or sit on the picnic hill in right field?
For a smallish town in east North Carolina, you might not expect much from Kinston, but it is surprising in a good way, with a wealth of good, non-chain eateries, some things to catch your interest outside of the game, and a decent selection of places to stay.
All food discussion in Kinston begins with King’s Restaurant, slinging the region’s finest BBQ since its origins as a 1940’s gas station cookhouse. There are four locations now, but visit the original on 70, south of downtown. This is a must when you are in town.
On or just off main drag Queen Street downtown, there is the Chef & Farmer (award-winning, locally sourced, American cuisine [diner only]), the Boiler Room Oyster Bar, Lovick’s Cafe (comfort food), and the Hawk’s Nest Cafe & General Store (old-time comfort food). And if none of that tickles your fancy, down on 70 east of the original King’s is The Baron & The Beef steakhouse.
There is a decent selection of things to do before and after the game in town. The historic or nautically minded will enjoy the CSS Neuse Civil War Interpretive Center, racing fans can check out the action at the Kinston Drag Strip, kids will like the Lions Water Adventure, and those looking for some out-of-door fun can try the Exchange Nature Center.
There is a healthy selection of hotels, even in little Kinston. Right by the park is the Mother Earth Motor Lodge, a little south on 258 are the Country Hearth Inn, the Red Carpet Inn, a Quality Inn, and a Hampton Inn, and a little to the west on 70 are a Holiday Inn Express and an America’s Best Value Inn.
On paper, it looks like the Wood Ducks aren’t a great draw, but digging deeper, you find a dedicated and active fan base that is happy to support a team back in their town after an unwanted absence.
While the Wood Ducks sit in the bottom third of the popular Carolina League attendance, they are a steady draw in this small town with long ties to minor league baseball. While they average about a half-capacity stadium per game, the comfy old park never feels empty.
And that is also because the local fans are loud and into the game. Many still sport K-Tribe gear from their long association with Cleveland that ended at the start of the decade, especially on “Throwback Thursdays” when the team plays as the Indians for certain games. There are families just coming for a night of entertainment to be sure, but these are harder-core baseball fans than you will find in an average minor league park.
Kinston is located a bit off the beaten path, about twenty minutes or so down state road 70 from I-795. The park itself is just off the main drag through town, county road 58 (a.k.a. North Queen Street).
There’s no mass transit to speak of in Kinston, so driving is about your only way to go. Getting to Kinston will involve driving there, likely from the Raleigh-Durham Airport about two hours to the northwest, although Greyhound and Amtrak both have stops in town.
Parking is free and located in lots that surround the park. With the stadium only a block or two from the main road in town and route 11, the traffic coming in and out isn’t bad at all.
There is one main entrance to the park, in the gate behind home plate. The season ticket holders get their own special entrance, but the gate staff quickly and efficiently gets everyone inside, so it isn’t much of an issue.
Getting around the park is easy. One main promenade runs around the park seating area from the outfield along the bottom of the seating bowl. A large plaza at the entrance and another walkway run outside the seating area, joining up at the end of the grandstands.
Return on Investment 5
Whatever else you might say about the Wood Ducks, they really deliver on the minor league baseball promise of an affordable night out for families, with low prices across the board in addition to even more money-saving specials.
Seating is straightforward and cost depends on the day of the week. There are three types of tickets: box seats (season ticket holders only – right by the field), reserved seats (seats on the grandstand), and general admission (bleachers and other open areas). From Sunday to Wednesday, it is $6 GA/$8 reserved, on Thursday, it is $8/$10, and on popular Fridays and Saturdays, it is $10/$12.
All the food is under $9, except for the $10 combo. Heck, bottled craft beers are only $6. Parking and programs are free, so you can’t do much better there.
In addition to these already stellar prices, there are various “dollar days” throughout the week, slinging out dollar hot dogs, dollar tacos, and the ever-popular dollar beer nights (Bud, not the craft MEB).
For a relatively new franchise in a very historic park, the Wood Ducks do better than average with the extras.
The team store is located behind home plate under the grandstand, and in addition to serving up Ducks gear, the ceiling is painted as a duck pond, one of the little details that help add atmosphere to the place. Wood duck facts are also plastered on plaques found all around the park.
There is a small kids play area is located in right field by the MEB pavilion, and the guest services desk is located in the entrance plaza to sign up for in-game fun. Dedication plaques for the stadium and the renovations are located in the main grandstand on the concession stand by first base, and the press box is dedicated to Delmont Miller, the former scoreboard operator.
Overall, there are just a lot of little things, such as the free scorecards with a raffle ticket you get on the way in, the low-tech strikeout board the broadcasters make by taping up “K”s to the press box window, and the universally friendly and helpful staff that help contribute to the ballpark’s setting.
While in a small town and just delivering the basics on food, Grainger Stadium stands out in most other ways, especially delivering on a family-friendly, cheap night of entertainment in a historic ballpark.