Southwest Wake News

Holly Springs will be home to Salamanders collegiate baseball team

Coastal Plain League President Pete Bock points toward the construction site for the stadium where the Holly Springs Salamanders will play starting next year. Coach Andrew Ciencin, right, looks on during a news conference on Thursday in Holly Springs.
Coastal Plain League President Pete Bock points toward the construction site for the stadium where the Holly Springs Salamanders will play starting next year. Coach Andrew Ciencin, right, looks on during a news conference on Thursday in Holly Springs. aspecht@newsobserver.com

It just so happens that a rare, spotted amphibian lives along a creek in Holly Springs.

Soon, residents will be reminded of it a lot more frequently.

Coastal Plain League baseball officials announced Thursday that the expansion team they’re launching in Holly Springs will be known as the Salamanders.

A crowd of about 50 people laughed and applauded as league President Pete Bock revealed a poster with the team’s logo: a large, gold and blue salamander hugging stylized lettering of the team’s name.

The Salamanders will be the 15th team in the Coastal Plain League, which stretches from Petersburg, Va. to Columbia, S.C. The league features collegiate players who use the 56-game schedule to hone their skills from May to August.

The Asheboro Copperheads, Edenton Steamers and Morehead City Marlins are among the other teams in the league.

The league – which moved its corporate offices to Holly Springs from Raleigh in 2009 – agreed to expand to Holly Springs last year after the town cemented plans to build the North Main Athletic Complex, a multisport stadium with 1,800 seats. The complex will also host concerts and other amateur sports.

Bock, who announced the news from the muddy stadium construction site, said the name “Salamanders” stuck out after Holly Springs resident Joel Eaton submitted it as part of a naming contest the league held earlier this month.

The name became a front-runner after league officials determined that it hadn’t been used at any level of professional baseball, league Commissioner Justin Sellers said.

League officials were then sold on the name after calling the Holly Springs staff and learning that the town is home to the Eastern Tiger Salamander.

“These guys (the salamanders) have this perpetual smile on their face,” said Heather Keefer, an environmental specialist for the town. “They’re very cute and can grow up to 18 inches long.”

The salamanders are only found in six of North Carolina’s 100 counties, according to the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources. A few years ago, Holly Springs voluntarily created a 40-acre preservation area along Middle Creek to protect them.

“Not only is the name unique to baseball, it also highlights what’s unique about Holly Springs,” Sellers said.

The team plans to unveil uniforms for the Salamanders later this year and put fan merchandise on the market before the holidays. Tickets will go on sale in the next few days, and Bock said he will soon begin recruiting host families for Salamanders players.

The league likes to encourage local residents to house players for the summer, but Bock said it’s sometimes hard to find willing families before a team’s inaugural season.

“You don’t have to transport him, and you don’t have to feed him,” he said. “Make sure he’s got a place to shower and he’ll wash his own clothes. ... It is an open-hearted thing to do.”

Host families often build a lifelong relationship with players who go on to have major-league careers, Bock said.

“They go to see Zimmerman play, they stay in touch with Verlander,” Bock said, referring to Washington Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman and Detroit Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander.

Zimmerman, who played for the Peninsula Pilots in Hampton, Va., in 2003, was named an All-Star and won the Gold Glove Award in 2009. Verlander, who played for the Wilson Tobs in 2002, was named MVP of the American League and won the Cy Young Award in 2011.

Bock also announced that he has assembled a Salamanders staff. Bock, who helped start the Durham Bulls in 1980 and once worked as the general manager of the Raleigh IceCaps hockey team, will co-own the Salamanders with Jerry Petitt, a hotel executive. .

Tommy Atkinson, who coached the Fayetteville SwampDogs in 2003 and recently worked as a scout for the Atlanta Braves, will be general manager.

The Salamanders will be coached by Andrew Ciencin, a former N.C. State player who last season coached the Forest City Owls to a 31-27 record.

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