Shelby’s secret exposedPublished 10:44am Tuesday, March 27, 2012
Williamsport….Omaha; those two towns are synonymous with amateur baseball.
While the former is famous for annually hosting the Little League World Series and the latter known for rolling out the red carpet every year for the College World Series, there’s one other city hoping to one day to become iconic with teams participating in post-season baseball tournaments.
And that city is right here in North Carolina.
This past weekend I made the trip to Shelby, the seat of Cleveland County located southwest of Charlotte, to attend the annual North Carolina American Legion Baseball Hall of Fame Banquet. There, one of our local Legion officials, Johnnie Ray Farmer, was among the four newest members of this statewide Hall of Fame.
Founded in 1967, the North Carolina American Legion Baseball Hall of Fame is unique. Our state is only one of three nationwide to pay honor to those who have either participated and excelled while playing Legion ball or have expended time, money and expertise to allow young men under the age of 20 hone their baseball skills.
As a member of Ahoskie American Legion Post 102, Johnnie Ray was a major “mover and shaker” to reestablish Legion baseball at the local level back in 1996. He works hard behind the scenes to help raise the money it takes to operate two Legion baseball teams (Junior and Senior squads) and also serves as the secretary and treasurer for both clubs. At home games he is the voice of Post 102, serving as the game announcer and operates the scoreboard from the press box.
The long trip to Shelby was worth the drive….other than listening to my traveling companion Randy Whitaker, Bertie High School’s baseball coach and former coach of Post 102, snore during many of his long naps and a mysterious wake-up call from the motel’s front desk at 6 a.m. Sunday. I wouldn’t have missed Johnnie Ray’s special night and can chalk up that trip as one of many special events I’ve covered as a newspaper reporter for 30-plus years.
I even got to meet a man who perhaps provided a safe path for my father to walk during World War II. Also inducted into the 2012 Hall of Fame class was Otha Edward Joyner of Rocky Mount. Now age 92, Mr. Joyner was a tank commander at the Battle of the Bulge. My father was an infantryman in that same battle…both serving under General George Patton.
Last year, Shelby became the permanent home of the American Legion Baseball World Series. That annual event had been conducted at various sites nationwide. However, national Legion officials saw the need to find a permanent site for its post-season event.
Pardon the pun, but the City of Shelby and Cleveland County stepped to the plate and knocked one out of the park to land this prestigious event. Thanks to corporate donations – with Lowe’s Companies, Inc. leading the way – and 500 hardy volunteers, an old minor league ballpark in Shelby was transformed into a real life Field of Dreams.
Those efforts were rewarded. In its maiden voyage last year as the host site, Keeter Stadium at Veterans Field attracted over 80,000 fans – more than doubling the previous attendance record for this particular event.
If you need to satisfy your itch to take in the sights, sounds and action of amateur baseball at its best, take a trip to Shelby from Aug. 17-21 for the 2012 Legion World Series. But you better get your tickets and motel room booked early….Shelby’s secret is out!
Cal Bryant is Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 252-332-7207.