KINSTON, NC (WITN) The Down East Wood Ducks have their home opener at Grainger Stadium tonight.
The team will host the Winston-Salem Dash at 7 p.m.
The game signifies the return of professional baseball to the historic stadium after the Kinston Indians left in 2011. The Texas Rangers signed a 12-year contract to play at Grainger Stadium last year.
The team started renovating the stadium last year, with plans to improve the home and visiting clubhouse, weight room and concession stand. The City of Kinston is investing $1.625 million in the stadium.
The first 4,000 fans at tonight's game will receive a magnet with the team schedule on it. Snuggles the Wood Duck will be at the stadium for opening night, and fans will get the chance to take a photo with her.
There will also be fireworks after the game.
The Down East Wood Ducks open the season on the road this Thursday and have their home opener at Grainger Stadium next Monday, April 10th.
Crews were out Monday putting the final touches on Grainger Stadium before an exhibition game with Mt. Olive that got rained out.
Kinston-Lenoir County Parks and Recreation Director Bill Ellis says, "We've re-coated the parking lot and re-striped it. We've added some additional parking along the right field line that we can park about 250 additional cars, so we're just looking for large crowds and for people to come out and enjoy themselves and have a great time.
Ellis says that additional parking will be where the Saltwood product building used to be.
He hopes the new concession stand and picnic area, the updated team gift shop, and the Wood Duck's signage that can be seen all throughout the stadium, will only get fans more excited for the upcoming season.
Ellis says, "Kinston's the smallest market in professional baseball for a full season team so it makes it sort of special from that standpoint and then I think all of eastern North Carolina realized when the Indians left what we lost."
Kinston Mayor BJ Murphy says the team is already engaging with the local business community and he hopes that trend will only continue.
Murphy says, "Baseball's been synonymous with the city of Kinston for about nine decades. It's going to have a major impact on our hotels, our restaurants, the coffee houses."
Ellis says all of these changes are just part of phase one. They will also be adding 12 foot fans in the grandstand area for those hot summer nights and are also hoping to either add another concession area or even possibly a full bar along the first base line.
Ellis says they'll be conducting surveys throughout the season to get a better idea of what fans would like to see done at Grainger Stadium.