BUIES CREEK — Professional baseball makes its debut in Harnett County Thursday night.
Yes, you read that right.
The Houston Astros’ High-A Minor League club, formerly the Lancaster (Calif.) Jethawks, will be the Buies Creek Astros for the next two years before moving into their more permanent new stadium in downtown Fayetteville. The club held its first practice at the newly renovated Jim Perry Stadium — home of Campbell University’s squad — on Tuesday and made time for more than a dozen media members there to meet the team and manager Omar Lopez.
Lopez said he was impressed with his team’s temporary home.
“You know, everywhere I go, I expect the worst,” he said. “But it’s better here. It’s really not bad at all. Compared to where we’re coming from [Lancaster, a small city on the edge of the Mojave Desert] and other places we’ve played, this place is awesome. Nice field, indoor cages … everything we could want.”
Fans will get a chance to see future Major Leaguers, especially early in the season. The top prospect is 20-year-old outfielder Kyle Tucker, taken as the fifth overall pick in the first round of the 2015 MLB draft straight out of high school. Tucker has 12 home runs and 102 RBI in two seasons in the minors, and according to the Houston Chronicle, is expected to move up to AA by the summer.
Tucker, a lanky 6-5, 188-pounder from Tampa, Fla., talked a lot about being a part of a winning organization and his focus heading into the season in his time with the media. Asked about Jim Perry Stadium’s all-turf field (the only dirt is on the mound), he laughed.
“In the batter’s box, in between pitches, I always pick up dirt and rub it in my hands,” he said. “I can’t do that here. I guess I’ll have to bring some dirt in my back pocket. Or maybe I’ll just walk to the mound and grab some.”
Buies Creek opens the season Thursday night against the Winston-Salem Dash. See their full schedule (and find ticket information) here.