FAYETTEVILLE — It’s been nearly two years since Victoria Huggins accepted an invitation by the City of Fayetteville to sing the national anthem at the groundbreaking for the town’s new minor league baseball stadium.
Then, Huggins dawned a sparkling crown to accompany the Miss North Carolina sash wrapped around her frilly red dress. Now, The University of North Carolina at Pembroke alumna lights up when recalling her short journey from “bookworm” to manager of community and media relations for the Fayetteville Woodpeckers.
“When I found out and got the phone call I tried not to be too excited,” Huggins said, remembering the advice from a professor at UNCP. “I was just so pumped and said, ‘Oh, thank you very much.’”
But after double checking to see if the call had ended, Huggins true emotions were revealed seconds later, as she adds, “I was screaming my head off with my family. It was great.”
According to Huggins, working in sports wasn’t in the gameplan after graduating from UNCP in 2015, as her background until that point involved philanthropic endeavors. But she said a little nudge from city officials was enough motivation to apply for a highly-touted position with the advanced-A affiliate of the MLB’s Houston Astros.
“It was an intense and competitive process. They looked all across the nation and I’m really honored they chose me out of all the different people that applied for this job,” she said.
“With it being a brand new ballpark, brand new team, that’s an opportunity that’s few and far in between when it comes to Minor League baseball.”
As the program director of the Woodpeckers’ official charity that emphasizes community leadership, Huggins finds herself in a prime position to uplift those in an area she’s become all-too-familiar with.
“I love this audience and this community. And being a military child, especially, that has really helped me relate to the military arm of our audience,” she said.
The St. Pauls native has taken the role in stride, leading numerous fundraising campaigns for local schools, recreation programs and charities. When she’s not lighting up retirement homes and assembly halls with her patented smile, Huggins is working with her teammates at Segra Stadium to plan specifically themed game nights like next month’s “Paint the Park Purple” promotion to raise awareness for Alzheimer’s, which was her platform while serving as Miss North Carolina.
“There’s really that strong sense of collaboration. Several different departments and people working on projects together,” she said. “So, I really appreciate that it’s not only the team that’s on the diamond, it’s the team that’s making it happen behind the scenes so that our boys can win some more Woodpeckers baseball (games).”
Moreover, Huggins relishes the opportunities to see her extended family from UNCP and feels “proud” when seeing former professors and classmates show support at games, stating, “It’s always nice to be able to give back to my home community. I love seeing them.”
Just a couple of floors up from Huggins’ front office desk, a broadcast booth serves as the new home to former UNCP assistant athletic communications director Matt Sabados who reflects on his journey from Pembroke to Fayetteville.
“It was kind of a lot of boxes being checked at the same time,” Sabados said about being named the Woodpeckers’ first broadcaster. “This is one of the better opportunities I’ve seen and I’ve been extremely excited and grateful to have it.”
After leaving UNCP last May to assume a summer role as the studio host for the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs, the triple-A affiliate for the Philadelphia Phillies, Sabados says he didn’t want to get his hopes too high even though he felt as if the Woodpeckers’ position was a “perfect” fit.
Doubt turned to certainty in March when Sabados was named the voice of the Woodpeckers, serving as the broadcaster for every game in addition to hosting live game-day previews.
The St. Louis native followed the genesis of the team in Buies Creek in 2017 and 2018 while serving as the lead broadcaster for UNCP sports where he called as many athletic events as possible. Sabados says one sport, in particular, always stood above the rest.
“In all honesty, baseball is one of my more favorite sports to broadcast,” he said curtly. “Baseball is something you can have a lot more personality with.”
Sabados’ quirky personality rang supreme on his first call with the team as he developed his now patented catchphrase: “Oh my, watch it fly,” after witnessing the team’s first home run.
When he’s not flashing his love for the game in the booth, Sabados says a typical day starts around 8:30 a.m., ironing the media relations aspect of the job. He organizes the roster, crafts game notes and creates stats print-outs for coaches and media ahead of each game.
Then around 4 or 5 p.m., he gets to the broadcast booth to prepare his notes. At 6:20 p.m., he goes live on the Segra Stadium video board for a short pregame show, followed by the radio pregame at 6:40 p.m that leads into the game.
Though grueling and sometimes marathon-like, Sabados says he enjoys the daily grind and feels he used the weekly routine at UNCP to prepare himself for this moment. Like Huggins, he added that the opportunity to see familiar faces from Robeson County invokes more life and passion into making games more enjoyable for fans.
“I saw a couple of my old associates from UNC Pembroke make their way up to a couple of games. The excitement and energy I see, even on a slower day…it’s just so fun to watch,” he said.
Donnell Coley can be reached at 910-816-1989 or by email at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter: @Sportsinmyveins.