May 20, 2022
Five County Stadium (Capacity: 6,500)
Carolina Mudcats vs Down East Wood Ducks
Final Score: 8-6
Look Zebulon up on the map and you’ll immediately wonder “How?” As in, how do they have a minor league baseball team? In 1990, new team owner Steve Bryant looked to move the team from Columbus, GA to Raleigh. However, there was a rule that stated no 2 minor-league teams could be less than 35 miles from each other. So, with the Durham Bulls nearby, they took out their measuring tools and got to Zebulon to keep within guidelines. They began in ’91, along with their new stadium and a logo/nickname that was considered innovative and wacky at the time (though the “Mudcats” actually inherited that name during their last couple Columbus years). The team won two league titles during their stint in the Southern League, but it’s been almost 20 years since they’ve tasted champagne and their last playoff appearance came in 2008. The team is also now a part of the High-A Carolina League, a much better fit in my opinion (they’ve been there since 2012). Five County Stadium is their home, a refreshing break from naming rights. It’s a cool moniker, even though it’s really near the point where four counties converge. I loved the ballpark as the seating design provided a great perspective of the game throughout bowl.
Prestige Ranking: 3 out of 5
Zebulon is a tiny town of 6,000 in Eastern North Carolina. It is a bit of a stretch to call it a suburb as Zebulon sits a good 20 miles east of Raleigh (and generally outside of the Triangle). However, it is starting to grow as evidenced by some construction and development around town. Zebulon’s restaurant offerings are limited, but Southland Steakhouse is highly recommended (I loved it) and so is Olde Raleigh Distillery and their excellent bourbon. There’s really nothing to do in town and the ballpark itself is in the middle of nowhere about three miles to the east.
Location Ranking: 2 out of 10
Accessibility / Parking
You’ll see a couple corporate production buildings before finding the stadium sandwiched between two large gravel parking lots. US-264 is the highway that provides access and that road connects to Raleigh to the west and I-95 to the east. Exit 21 is right by the stadium, however getting back on that road after the game was a royal pain. The lot I used meant I had to make a left onto Route 39 and that road does not have a stoplight or stop sign. Making matters worse were the Police that blocked the road off for the nearby post-game fireworks and then retreated to their cars instead of helping direct traffic. Thanks guys.
Accessibility / Parking Ranking: 7 out of 8
Entrances at the side of the building mean that the introduction is rather meh to the ballpark. Not that the exterior design is intriguing at all as it consists of an off-white faux brick with several cutouts looking into the guts of the concourse. Siding and roofing are colored green and there is no ballpark name on the outer walls.
Exterior Ranking: 4 out of 10
There is a lot of concrete and gray color in the concourse as the covered area is framed by the underside of the stairs that go up the seating bowl. Walking space is average and while a packed house would make for an uncomfortable time around here, that won’t be the case when attending a game. Even though there are stairs (and a lot of them) to get to the main seating, sections of the field are viewable from the concourse and there’s a few spots where they’ve put tables. Overall, it’s old but adequate. Once the concourse ends near each base, it opens up to the outside with walkways to the bleachers.
Concourse Ranking: 3 out of 5
I was happy to see a little Carolina touch here as you could get a Catfish Sandwich and a Pork BBQ Sandwich (not sure if it was Eastern-style with the vinegar-based sauce). Adult beverages are excellent as the Mudcats have their own beer thanks to nearby Mythic Brewing which created Five County Lager. Deep River Brewing has their own offerings, as does Olde Raleigh Distillery with their “Mudcats Smash”, a mixed drink featuring their bourbon, strawberry puree and lime juice.
Food Ranking: 5.5 out of 8
Five County Stadium is different in a good way as the main seating around the infield is an upper deck of sorts with the first row starting 20 feet off the ground. This leads to a great perspective and sightlines are even better as you go higher thanks to a seating bowl that is at a steep angle. 12-14 rows make up each section of red chairs, which are spacious and generally comfortable. The only obstruction I found was in the first row as the railing gets in the way of the field. Also, because the shape is not curved (rather done like this: \_/), Sections 209 and 212 are pointed down foul territory at a somewhat awkward viewing point. Underneath this primary deck is another area of seating as 5-6 rows of field-level sections surround the field, extending down the line halfway into the outfield. This is intimate thanks to the overhang and nearness to the ground and unique dugouts that seem to be almost in the seats. It is the best area to perhaps seek some shade during day games as the lack of cover elsewhere is disappointing. There are also two sets of bleachers beyond the bowl, which do at least feature green chairs on the aluminum base. These sections feel unnecessary. Luxury seating is done well as behind the top row is a set of luxury suites, bookended by an indoor lounge and picnic party pavilion. The left field corner also features a group space option. As for the view, it is rather unassuming in the outfield, except for one key feature. It’s the water tower in left, which is synonymous with the image of Five County Stadium. It is designed as a baseball with the seams and team script, while “Zebulon” is written vertically down the pole.
Interior Ranking: 12 out of 14
The board in left-field is really sharp and provides great video. The problem is they hardly use it to show any video. Outside of a couple field shots for in-between inning stuff, I jotted down a note that I never saw a game replay. The during batter image is fine with necessary stats and info, they just put some ads on there which makes it blend in with permanent ads on the outfield wall. Another issue is that the number of outs were often incorrect. Thankfully, the other line score display in right field was correct. That simple set-up interestingly used Christmas colors for the score in each inning.
Scoreboard Ranking: 2.5 out of 4
Outside of the water tower, there is not much team related throughout the ballpark. There are a couple cute signs here or there (“No Fishin’), along with a dedication plaque or two. However, team and player achievements are completely absent.
Displays Ranking: 1 out of 6
Tickets are $12 – $16 and that’s about what I would expect for the Mudcats and comparable with other nearby Carolina League teams. Parking though is $5. Food prices are ok with a Hot Dog costing $4 and a Cheeseburger running $7. Beer was on the high side with a minimum charge of $9.
Cost Ranking: 7 out of 8
It’s your typical minor-league crowd with unrelated chatter throughout the game. As the home side made a rally, there were no pre-batter cheers of encouragement, however they did get loud after each run scored and the place had many standing with arms raised when Carolina finished the walk-off win.
Atmosphere Ranking: 6 out of 14
It’s tough to draw well given location and competition (Durham Bulls), plus the Mudcats are generally far from the sporting consciousness in the Triangle. However, there is still some appeal given it is easy to get to and you don’t have the hassle or expense seen in Durham. Won’t really draw the 20-somethings, but the families will come. On this night, which came with post-game fireworks, there only were about 1,000 people on hand. The Mudcats trend towards the bottom of the league in attendance as they’ve seen a gradual drop-off through the years. On the plus side, opening night had a good draw with nearly half the park filled.
Fan Support Ranking: 3 out of 8
Mudcats is another way of saying Catfish….Michael Jordan hit his first professional home run at Five County Stadium….The ushers and game-day employees were all very friendly here. Too bad I can’t say the same about the Front Office.
It was an erratic start for Carolina pitcher Jefferson Figueroa as he had no control, yet somehow escaped with just giving up one run and two walks. He was pulled after three innings and the Wood Ducks eventually built a 3-2 lead. A 3-run eighth inning made the lead look insurmountable, especially as the Mudcats got down to their final out with no one on base. Then, a double, another double, a walk and a single and things became very interesting with the lead cut in half. A pitching change brought in Jackson Leath to try and get the final out and it appeared that would happen as Jackson Chourio hit an easy comebacker to the mound. Incredibly, Leath botched the simple toss to first! The bases were now loaded and it seemed this was possible for Carolina to win. Very next pitch, Hendry Mendez hits a grand slam around the foul pole! Probably the craziest finish to a game that I’ve ever seen live as the Mudcats won 8-6 with the players going bonkers around home plate as Mendez was drenched in ice baths.