Exploring the Hidden History of Baseball in North Carolina & its Capital City
These days, North Carolina and baseball are rarely muttered in the same sentence, but that wasn’t always the case. Back in the early to mid-1900s baseball was a much bigger part of this region’s makeup.
A look at Raleigh’s baseball history
In 1900, Raleigh got its first professional baseball team, The Raleigh Senators. After switching leagues a couple of times, the Senators were renamed the Red Birds before folding after the 1902 season.
From 1908 to 1932 Raleigh had teams come and go, (the Red Birds…again, and then The Nats), all associated with different leagues.
Then in 1938, a ballpark was built on the land between what is now N. West St. and Capital Blvd, known as Devereux Meadows.
While the field was never much to look at, it did provide the backdrop for a fair amount of Raleigh baseball history. From the mid-’50s to the late-’60s the stadium at Devereux Meadows was home to The Raleigh Capitals.
During that span, the Capitals were affiliates to a couple of MLB teams. According to the N&O’s Josh Shaffer, it housed farm teams for the Mets and Pirates.
But Devereux Meadow’s biggest claim to baseball fame was the fact that it was a stopping point for one of the best hitters in baseball history, Carl Yastrzemski.
Yastrzemski was elected into the MLB Hall of Fame as an 18-time all-star, 7-time gold glove winner, over 3,000 hits and was the first player in American Leauge history to eclipse the 400 home run mark. He is the Red Sox all-time leader in RBIs, runs, hits, singles, doubles, total bases, and games played. However, before all that, when he was just 19 years old, he was biding his time in Raleigh.
Here is an excerpt on Yazstrzemski from Shaffer’s article:
“It didn’t take a connoisseur of baseball to know he was great,” said Raleigh attorney Robert McMillan, now 92. “I saw him play one time on second base. He turned a double play I’ve never seen equaled. It was a hot line-drive off of second base, and he back-handed that ball while he was still in the air. A feat of athleticism the equivalent of David Thompson.”
Of course, Yazstrzemski eventually moved on, and eventually so did baseball in Raleigh.
In the early 1970s, the Capitals went under (eventually merging with the Durham Bulls), and the field was left abandoned. By the late ’70s, the field was in such disrepair that the city finally tore it down to build parking for garbage trucks. In 2012, they moved those trucks, but baseball never returned.
Today, Devereux Meadows is in a state of change. Bars and restaurants are starting to line N. West St, and Capital Blvd. is in the middle of a redesign. The land where the ballpark stood is a part of that redesign, and will soon become a passive park for residents to use. Sadly, however, there will be no baseball.
The funny thing about all of this is that when you research Raleigh’s baseball history, most of the stories begin and end with Devereux Meadows. However, as we mentioned, baseball in the capital city predates that park and there actually is a whole other story to be told.
In the early 1900s, baseball was growing in popularity in the African-American community, especially down south. Prior to the segregated leagues that began getting started in the 1920s, there were local mill teams that were springing up all over North Carolina. These leagues were getting started in Wilmington, Raleigh, and Asheville and were being funded by a growing African-American business class.
Unfortunately, these North Carolina leagues would end up not getting as much attention as the national Negro Leagues that became popular in the North and Midwest, but it wasn’t about talent. The leagues here were ripe with talent, but they were less structured. Their records are hard to find because there were rarely game summaries or box scores reported from the games.
There is record, however, of two Raleigh teams from the early 1920s, one called the ‘Black Star Line’ (named after a shipping company owned by popular activist Marcus Garvey) and ‘the other was The Raleigh Tar Heels.’
These teams played in semi-pro leagues that were usually owned and funded by preachers or business-owners in the African-American community. The games became community events with the crowd often dressed in their Sunday best.
These leagues continued to grow and morph between the 20s and the early 50s. A few years after Jackie Robinson finally broke the Major League color barrier, North Carolina teams began to integrate as well.
While the African-American leagues in NC never found the popularity that others across the country did, North Carolina was always seen as a talent-rich area when it came to baseball.
Today, despite not having a single MLB team within 270-miles and although our local cable providers black out both the Orioles’ and Nationals’ broadcasts because of territory disputes, this area still plays and loves America’s pastime.
Fans flock to Durham to watch The AAA Bulls, who are constantly Top-10 in attendance in all of the minor leagues.
Youth baseball is thriving here, with West Raleigh Baseball Club leading the way (they produced MLB All-Star Josh Hamilton.)
In fact, the area has recently produced some pretty big names in the past 10 years. Josh Hamilton (who was the 1st overall pick in 1999) along with all-stars Brandon Phillips and Chris Archer all hail from the Raleigh area.
And it’s not just Raleigh, the state as a whole has produced some of the top names in Major League Baseball over the past century.
Madison Bumgardner (Hickory) is a 4-time All-Star and World Series MVP. Corey Seager (Charlotte), Ryan Zimmerman (Washington), Wil Myers (High Point) were all named Rookie of the Year in their first seasons. Add in Kyle Seager, Carlos Rodon, Alex Wood, Adam Warren, Cameron Maybin, Dustin Ackley, Tim Federowicz, Lonnie Chisenhall, Greg Holland, and Tyler White, and you have a lot of notable names hailing from North Carolina.
This type of state-produced talent isn’t new. Hall of Famers Catfish Hunter, Luke Appling, Enos Slaughter, Gaylord Perry, and Hoyt Wilheim all are from North Carolina. And did you know that Babe Ruth hit his first professional home run in Fayetteville? Yep, it’s true.
Whether or not Raleigh and North Carolina want to admit it, baseball is in their DNA.
With MLB likely to expand, and the gap between Washington, DC and Atlanta being the biggest without MLB on the eastern seaboard, it’s time that we revisit our roots and open our arms to the national pastime once and for all.
**We know there is more baseball history in this city and more stories that haven’t been told. If you have a baseball story or if we left out anything please reach out. We’d love to add to this story.