November 7, 2009
The Big Rock board of directors welcomed the new "Marlins" collegiate team Thursday, November 5th at Big Rock Stadium located adjacent to Rotary Park in Morehead City, NC.
The following is a copy of the article from the Friday edition of the Carteret County News Times:
Marlin plans unveiled
Published: Friday, November 6, 2009 3:05 PM EST
MOREHEAD CITY — On a cloudless Thursday afternoon during a day more fit for the spring thaw than an upcoming November freeze, the Morehead City Marlins summer collegiate wood bat baseball franchise was introduced to Carteret County during a press conference to show off the team’s logo and uniforms.
The new team, which will feature amateur collegiate baseball players and a minor league type atmosphere, is still under construction, much like the Big Rock Stadium in Rotary Park that the club would call home.
Morehead City Manager Randy Martin is under negotiations with Buddy Bengel, vice president of the Marlins, to finalize a contract between the two parties to make the team and deal official.
But with Morehead City Mayor Jerry Jones on hand to issue an official town welcome to the franchise and Coastal Plain League President Pete Bock in attendance announcing the Marlins as the league’s 15th club, only certain details need to be ironed out as far as a finished contract.
“We are in the final stages of negotiations with the town,” said Mr. Bengel. “I think we will have a deal coming real soon with an announcement to immediately follow.”
One of the most pressing issues the city and team are discussing is the size and capacity of the grandstands, which will be built in part with funds from a $175,000 donation from the Big Rock Foundation.
O’Neal Field, named for V.J. “Puck” O’Neal who donated $100,000 to the city for the purchase of the land for the structure back in 2004, has already been completed and was covered in lush green grass as a large contingent of fans and local dignitaries looked on.
“It has been a long process,” said Mr. Bock on bringing a team to Morehead City. “But once we got the ball rolling, and I give Randy Martin a lot of credit in working with us in getting this project moving forward, we knew Morehead City would be a great market for us and have a great franchise. We knew it was a good baseball area, and we look forward to being here.
“When Randy came to Thomasville, where we have a team, for the American Legion state playoffs, I met with Randy and told him we would love to commit to putting a franchise in Morehead City. The New Bern team was in a dormant state, but I told him that the league itself would put a franchise in Morehead City if that doesn’t work out.”
But things appear to be working out well as the Marlins’ 2010 schedule is already out and the first home game for the club is set for Friday, May 28, when Morehead City plays host to the Fayetteville SwampDogs, one of the team’s South Division opponents.
The Coastal Plain League is one of the top collegiate summer leagues in the nation and has franchises in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia.
“Major league baseball (MLB) works with us tremendously,” said Mr. Bock. “Our league is a lot like the Cape Cod League. They have been around almost 100 years and get great players. This is our 13th season in 14 years, and our quality of play continues to improve and the MLB ranks us right behind the Cape Cod League as the second-best summer college league.
“And there are 27 leagues all together, albeit in different levels. We had 115 kids drafted out of league and the quality of play is outstanding. We have had scouts tell us it is the equivalent of a high single A minor league team.”
Another key announcement made Thursday was that of new head coach Jay Bergman. Mr. Bergman brings a wealth of Division I college coaching knowledge with more than 40 years of head coaching experience. Mr. Bergman has coached at the University of Florida and the University of Central Florida, where he was the man in charge for nearly 30 years. The Golden Knights baseball stadium was named in his honor when it was built in 2001.
“I can’t even begin to explain how excited we are to have a coach with coach Bergman's background,” said Bengel. “Rare wouldn’t even be the word to describe a guy with Jay’s credentials coaching in this league. He has over 1,200 Division I wins, has coached guys drafted in the MLB first round and the stadium in Central Florida is named after him. He will be running our camps and helping area youth learn and draw from his more than 30 years of experience with the game. We couldn’t be more excited.”
But the team will need more than a top-talent coach to be successful. And that is where the heart and soul of the league comes in, in the amateur college players.
“The same thing someone would see at a minor league game, you would see here,” said Mr. Bengel. “The reason I would bring a kid here is because I think they are good enough to play at the next level. These kids are here because they love to play. They are not paid, so they are here to make the next level and play on a professional level.
“These guys come here, and I expect nothing but the best from these kids, and I let them know that when they come, they are to be model citizens. As part of their contracts, they have to do community service and will be out at different events signing autographs and meeting fans. I want them to be a face in this community.”
And Mr. Bengel has firsthand knowledge of how a player should act as a member of the Coastal Plain League. He was a former player in the league, and in addition to running the River Rats franchise, owned by his mother Sabrina Bengel, he has spent the past seven years playing professionally in various leagues, most recently in Italy where he was a left-handed pitcher. But Mr. Bengel is undecided on his playing status for next year as he wants to see the Marlins grow and succeed and is considering retiring from baseball to work fulltime with the club.
“The Coastal Plain League is one of the top leagues in the country,” said Mr. Bengel, “so we are a very desirable place for kids to come. We have some of the top talent and are in a great region right in the heart of ACC and SEC country. I do a lot of our recruiting and have handed that over to Jay now, and he will handle most of it from here on. We have kids from every region of the country coming here. We have some high-profile kids, some of whom have been drafted in the past, and really hope to have that continue.”
At the press conference, Mr. Bengel was unable to release the names of any players the ball club had been in contact with but hinted at announcements in the near future.
And once those players are announced, they will have to be housed, which is where Morehead City comes in.
“Our host program was the envy of the league in New Bern,” said Bengel. “We had a waiting list of families that wanted to host a player. I want that same thing to happen here. Part of that was because of how much the kids bring to the community and how much fun it is to host a player. The city has been extremely supportive of us, and we couldn’t be happier. We will have a meeting later about what a host family is, what they do and the perks that go along with hosting a player.”
In addition to bringing in a high level of baseball and a professional team-like atmosphere to the Crystal Coast, city officials hope the new stadium and team will provide plenty of revenue for the town and its outlying areas.
“I visualize a big economic boost,” said Mayor Jones. “The economy is down a little bit, but if you look at all the people showing up today, the spirits are high, and we are getting interest from other teams and players that want to hold tournaments here. And when all this comes together, it is going to start bringing people into Carteret County that will spend money in our restaurants and shops and will be a big boost.”
The stadium will also offer a boost to its first resident, the American Legion Post 46 senior team, which will call Big Rock Stadium home beginning in May.
The Post 46 Senior Hurricanes have been a successful club in its own right, winning a state championship in 2006 and finishing in the upper echelon of Eastern North Carolina for years.
While two teams might call Big Rock Stadium home, scheduling won’t be a problem, according to Mr. Bock because the majority of the Coastal Plain League teams share a home with area American Legion clubs.
“There is not a big problem once things are organized,” said Mr. Bock on working with the Post 46 team. “Our schedule is already out and has been since the first of October for next year. Legion does their schedule in March or early spring and will have our schedule in hand, so working around that is not a problem. We typically don’t practice and the Legion teams do.
“From our standpoint, our college kids have already played a full season and are coming to us ready to play. That eliminates some time on the field. It is just a matter of working around the schedule. And the Legion kids playing today are going to be some of our kids next year playing in this ballpark. And that is what we want, so we are involved heavily in the Legion programs.”
The Senior Hurricanes have played at West Carteret High School for years, and the Junior Hurricanes Canes will continue to play at West.
Although the surroundings won’t translate to more wins, the stadium will offer multiple benefits for the Senior ’Canes and all three of the thriving American Legion programs in the county.
“This is going to create excitement,” said American Legion Post 46 Athletic Director Steve Chalk. “They are going to be playing on a nice ball field. We have had one of the nicest facilities in our area to play over at West Carteret. But this is a nice world-class facility, and the kids will be excited and maybe play here one day as a Marlin.
“We are excited from a league standpoint because we have a lot of tournaments in the planning stages. One tournament for sure that is coming, thanks to Brooks Jernigan, is an eight-team high school Easter tournament. And we are putting in a bid to host the 2011 American Legion state tournament.”
The Easter tournament, which will begin April 5 with a welcoming banquet featuring a guest speaker, followed by a home run derby and base running competition, will be the first event held in the completed Big Rock Stadium.
All three local high schools — West Carteret, East Carteret and Croatan — will participate, as well as four other North Carolina teams (Pinecrest, Richmond County, Mooresville and Northwoods) and one team from South Carolina (Chester High School). The event will feature four games a day for three days.