ZEBULON, N.C. (WNCN) – Carolina Mudcats owner Steve Bryant loves the game of baseball.
“You know – you walk in a ballpark and it’s magical,” gushed Bryant. “The green grass, the concessions, the smells there’s something about it.”
Bryant’s passion for the game was cemented when he decided to purchase his own baseball team, thus becoming a member of a unique crowd.
“It has to be someone who’s not smart enough to know when to quit,” Bryant said.
That trait in Bryant was never more apparent than when, after buying the Columbus (Georgia) Astros, the new owner ran into a bit of trouble.
Bryant planned to move the team to Raleigh having in place a lease where the current PNC Arena now sits. The owner of the Durham Bulls at the time, Miles Wolff, was having none of that arrangement and wanted to protect his business, which brought in thousands of fans from Raleigh.
“And they produced this 35-mile rule that basically kept us out of Raleigh,” Bryant said of a decision by the minor leagues that supported the Bulls. “This is the one spot in Wake County and it’s within 1,500 feet of Johnston County that would allow the baseball team to be in Wake County.”
So in 1991 the Carolina Mudcats came to be and moved to Five County Stadium, sitting on the most eastern side of Wake County on a 55-acre tract that used to produce tobacco.
The rural setting has had an effect on the franchise. The team averages 3,000 fans a night but Bryant believes it would be double that number had his team been able to play in Raleigh.
“We’d probably be doing five or six thousand people every night,” Bryant said.
But Bryant believes the Mudcats can flourish in their current location. Getting to Five County Stadium is not exactly an adventure.
“We’re 17 minutes from downtown Raleigh,” Bryant explained. “If people would come out just one time, then we’ll be fine.”