On Friday, after a long and stressful week at work I decided to head to Kinston to see a ball game. It was a rough week, my staff and I dealt with the death of an 11 year old girl that came through our ER on Monday morning. I found that a Marine that I had served with while serving with 3rd Battalion 8th Marines in 2000-2001. Staff Sergeant Ergin Osman was killed around Memorial Day with 7 of his fellow soldiers in Afghanistan. His death hit me hard. I remembered the great Marine and wonderful young man that I knew back then. That night I went out and sat in the light of the half moon and cried. Some other things went on and I finished work Friday caring for a family that lost their unborn baby and knowing that I was going to have to come in during the early morning hours Saturday for another still-birth. I needed something and for me that “something” is baseball.
So when I was done with work I loaded up my trusty 2001 Honda CR-V and drove from LeJeune to Kinston. The trip across rural Eastern North Carolina was relaxing, there was little traffic and despite a passing thunder shower was uneventful, not even a driver doing well less than the speed limit in a no-passing zone to annoy the spit out of me. Eastern North Carolina has its own charm, small towns and settlements dot the farm fields and forests of the area. It is not uncommon to drive by a former plantation or to pass gas stations and country stores that seem to have stopped in time.
Kinston is one of those towns that have seen better times, the outsourcing of the garment industry to Central America and Asia has hit the town hard. While a budding aviation industry promises better times many of the poorer and less educated people in the city have little opportunity. While there are some very nice areas in town the central part of the city, especially downtown shows the real effect of what economic damage has been done to our country by the actions of industries to relocate overseas and actions by successive administrations and congresses to help them abandon Americans in order to increase profits.
However Kinston has had a team in the Carolina League for years and Minor League Baseball has been in the city continuously since 1937, with a four year break between 1958 and 1962 when the Kinston Eagles became part of the Coastal Plains League. Grainger Stadium was built in 1946. The team became part of the Carolina League in 1956. Over the years the Kinston team has had various affiliations with Major League teams as well as various names. The Team was called the Eagles until 1982 when they became the Blue Jays until 1986 when they again became the Eagles. Then in 1986 they became the affiliate of the Cleveland Indians, a relationship that they maintain until this day. Before the 2011 season it was announced that the team had been sold and was being moved to Zebulon North Carolina to replace the Carolina Mudcats which are moving to Pensacola Florida. The team owner is seeking to bring another team to Kinston in time for the 2012 season. It will be a sad day if a team cannot be found to bring to Kinston which has one of the nicest parks in Class “A” ball.
I got to the game and was able to relax talking with new friends and moving around the ballpark to take pictures. When I moved back to the first base line I saw a man that I had watched a game with earlier in the year in his season ticket box. John is a retired Navy Supply Corps Officer and really nice to spend time with. This particular evening he was sitting beside a heavy set older African American man wearing a Negro League cap. I came up and John invited me to sit with them and I got to meet the man, Carl Long.
Carl had played ball in the Negro Leagues with the Birmingham Barons and played with Willie Mays and for legendary manager Buck O’Neal and he was the first black player in the Carolina League playing with the Kinston Eagles when they were with the Pittsburgh Pirate organization. In 1956 he led the team in home runs with 18, hit .299 and had 111 RBIs a season record that still stands in Kinston.
It was really nice just to be able to listen and to spend time with one of those great men of the Negro Leagues and pioneers of baseball integration. He played with Mays, McCovey, Clemente and against Aaron and even country and western singer Charlie Pride. He played on a number of minor league teams until the end of 1957. He was 22 years old and had a lot of good years left in him but he had married the woman of his dreams and he elected to settle in Kinston with her. They are still married and went on to become the first black deputy Sheriff and first black Detective on the Kinston Police Department and even the first black commercial bus driver.
Carl is part of the Living Legends of surviving Negro League players and makes many appearances, the most recent at Rickwood Field in Birmingham the oldest ballpark in the country and home of the Barons. He will be honored on July 22nd in Kinston with other Negro League players, including Sam Allen who I know from Norfolk.
I plan on visiting more with Carl as I enjoyed the man immensely. When he found my interesting in baseball history and the Negro Leagues he gave me an autographed baseball card.
I drove home through the night feeling much better even knowing that I would be called in to deal with sad situations at the hospital, but once again I was blessed to have the opportunity to spend time with Carl and John and to meet some other really nice people.
Thank God for baseball and the Church of Baseball, Grainger Stadium Parish.