These days, Raleigh and baseball are two words rarely muttered in the same sentence, but that wasn’t always the case.
In 1900 Raleigh got it’s first professional baseball team, The Raleigh Senators. After switching leagues a couple 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 Deveaux 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 Devereaux Meadows was home to a The Raleigh Capitals.
During that span, the capitals were affiliates for to a few MLB teams. According to the N&O’s Josh Shaffer, it housed farm teams for the Mets and Pirates. Walter Magazine also adds that there was a brief time in which the Capitals were also a Class-B team for the Boston Red Sox.
But Raleigh’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, but 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 so did baseball in Raleigh.
In the early 1970s, the Capitals went under (and eventaully merged with the Durham Bulls) and the field was left abandoned. By the late ’70s, the field was in such disrepair that the city eventually tore it down to build parking for garbage trucks. In 2012, they moved those trucks, but baseball never returned.
Today, Deveaux 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. But no baseball.
The funny thing about all of this is that when you research Raleigh’s baseball history, most of it begins and ends with Deveraux Meadows, but the sport isn’t dead here. In fact, baseball is alive and well in the Triangle.
Despite not having a single MLB team within 270-miles and despite the fact that 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.
Meanwhile, youth baseball is thriving in North Carolina, anchored by West Raleigh Baseball Club (who produced MLB All-Star Josh Hamilton.)
Proof of baseball’s influence in the city and the state is in the talent it’s produced.
Along with Hamilton (who was the 1st overall pick in 1999), all-stars Brandon Phillips and Chris Archer both hail from the Raleigh area.
And it’s not just Raleigh, in fact, 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 major names hailing from North Carolina.
And it’s not like this state production of talent is new. Hall of Famers Catfish Hunter, Luke Appling, Enos Slaughter, Gaylord Perry, and Hoyt Wilheim all are from North Carolina.
Whether or not Raleigh and North Carolina want to admit it, baseball is in their DNA.
With MLB set to expand, and the gap between Washington DC (The Nationals) and Atlanta (The Braves) being the biggest without MLB on the eastern seaboard, it’s time that we revisit our roots and open our arms to America’s game once and for all.