Ninth annual Freedom Classic events begin Friday
Freedom Classic Chairman Scott Alston, left, and Assistant Chair Andy Spence chat during preparations for this year’s event, which begins Friday night. Photo by Bryan Hanks / Neuse News
EDITOR’S NOTE: Neuse News is the official media sponsor of the 2019 Freedom Classic at Historic Grainger Stadium. Be sure to visit neusenews.com all weekend for all the scores, stories and behind-the-scenes action from the Navy and Air Force teams!
If you’re a baseball fan in Kinston and it’s late February that means one thing: It’s time for the Freedom Classic.
The ninth annual Freedom Classic — a three-game baseball series between the Air Force Academy and the Naval Academy — starts Friday night at Historic Grainger Stadium. The first pitch for Friday’s game is scheduled for 5 p.m., while Saturday’s game begins at 2 p.m. and Sunday’s is at noon.
Gates open two hours before game-time each day – and area fans have learned to expect to get to Grainger early to see flyovers and the pomp and circumstance before every game.
This year is no different: Saturday’s flyover will be provided by F15E Strike Eagles from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, while Sunday’s will be by the popular Bandit Flight Team.
There will also be patriotic pregame ceremonies for each game, including a large American flag (provided by WoodmenLife) for the National Anthem, military appreciation and other activities. All seats (except for box seats) for the games are $5 each for adults, $3 each for veterans, active duty military, military dependents, senior citizens over the age of 60 and students. Children who are 3-years-old or younger get in for free and fans can purchase a three-day pass for $10.
Freedom Classic Chairman Scott Alston said although there is a threat of rain this weekend, he’s anticipating all three games will be played.
“It’s going to be a great weekend of baseball,” Alston said. “Air Force and Navy is a big rivalry … and we’re hoping it’s going to be like all the Classics we’ve had in the past.”
Freedom Classic Assistant Chair Andy Spence played baseball for Kinston High School and for the Kinston American Legion Post 43 team, so he’s familiar with the stadium and the Classic.
“We want everyone to come from the community and support this weekend so we can keep this going,” he said. “I’m anticipating great baseball that’s going to be very competitive; it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Before the first pitch on Friday, though, there’ll be an opportunity for area fans to meet and greet the teams. A luncheon, emceed by Neuse News Editor Bryan Hanks, will be held at the Kinston Country Club at noon on Friday. Air Force head coach Mike Kazlausky and Navy head coach Paul Kostacopoulos, along with the senior captains for both squads, will be at the event.
Tickets for the luncheon are $10 each, are available at the door and includes the opportunity to meet the teams. For more information, contact Kevin Zoltek at 252-521-3302.
One of the most eagerly-anticipated events is the annual Freedom Classic banquet, which is Saturday at 7 p.m. at King’s Restaurant; this year’s guest speaker is Grainger High School and Duke University football legend Leo Hart. Tickets are $20 for adults, $15 for students; for more information about the banquet, call 252-939-3332.
There’s a lot of activities for the Navy and Air Force players and coaches in only a three-day period, but it’s something they look forward to every year.
“By far, our Kinston trip is the best trip of the year,” Kazlausky said. “We are always impressed with the level of support the city of Kinston shows us. Kinston treats these young men the way they should be treated – with respect and dignity – and it’s appreciated.”
Kostacopoulos agreed with his coaching counterpart.
“It’s always been a great experience for us,” Kostacopoulos said. “The folks in Kinston are always so welcoming. It always makes for a good weekend of college baseball.”
USAA is the title sponsor for the Freedom Classic again this year. Along with Neuse News, other key sponsors for this year’s tournament include Harvey Fertilizer, WoodmenLife, Lidl, Affordable Care, Carolina Implants, Chick-fil-A and White & Allen.