Mudcats head for Class A Carolina League for 2012 season

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The Carolina Mudcats are going down, but not out.

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The Mudcats will field a team in the Class A-Advanced Carolina League in 2012, replacing the club that will play its final season in the Class AA Southern League in 2011.

The club, which is going into its third season with the Cincinnati Reds, announced the big move on Wednesday in a press release.

Steve Bryant, the club’s only owner in its previous 20 seasons in Zebulon, accomplished the move by selling the Double-A franchise to Florida businessman Quint Studer, who will move that team to Pensacola. In a three-way transaction Bryant bought the Kinston Indians and will move them to Five County Stadium. Bryant plans to retain the Class A franchise’s long-term affiliation with the Cleveland Indians’ organization.

“With this new setup, the Mudcats franchise is rejoining its roots in North Carolina professional baseball, as one time all teams in the state were Class A,” Bryant said in a press release “ … The Carolina League teams are close enough for our fans to be able to reach away games more easily. And given the tremendous number of top players that have come through the Indians’ farm system, we anticipate some great baseball to occur once our deal with Cleveland becomes a reality in the spring of 2012.”

The issues were financial, as the Mudcats have to travel to such faraway spots as Mobile, Ala., and Pearl, Miss., for road games. And the Southern League was making noises about requiring the Mudcats, the Northeasternmost club in the league, to fly the team to road games over 500 miles away. Only three Southern League teams — the (Sevierville) Tennessee Smokies, the Chattanooga Lookouts and the Jacksonville Suns — were within a 500-mile radius of Five County Stadium.

The most distant team in the eight-team Carolina League is the Wilmington (Del.) Blue Rocks. The CL, which was the home of the Durham Bulls whenever the franchise was in baseball from 1945-1997, provides the Mudcats with some natural rivals in the Winston-Salem Dash and the Myrtle Beach Pelicans.

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