Evers: Looking for signs of Pines in baseball hall
BY SAMUEL EVERS
Thursday, January 17, 2019
WILSON — The North Carolina Baseball Museum, located in a low rise building running down the third-base line of Fleming Stadium in Wilson, has more than 7,000 items to peruse through, from baseball cards, to jerseys, to pamphlets, to paintings, to bats, to pictures, to newspaper clippings, to books, to pennants, to letters, to programs, to rings, to signatures, to plaques.
It is a downright treasure for a baseball sentimentalist like myself, and a nice setup at that. One room is lined with glass cases chock-full of intrigue. The other has jerseys — from the Carolina Mudcats to the N.C. Wesleyan Bishops — hanging from the ceilings, and a row of old baseball chairs below, surrounded by … more baseball memorabilia, all with a tie to the state.
So, of the 7,000 mementos from a baseball-rich state, you would think at least one would be related to the Rocky Mount Pines, the team in 1980 that has since been ejected from existence, only to be unearthed in a recent retrospective article I wrote, published this month in the Telegram in a three-part series, right?
That was my goal on Thursday: To find one piece of evidence that the Pines were, in fact, real, and not a cruel joke from a bad dream. It was my first trip to the institution, and, upon arrival, I was asked to pay one dollar for admission, despite the sign’s two dollar request. A perfect start.
About 30 minutes of browsing led to many Rocky Mount-centric discoveries. The city, of course, had a long and interesting history with the sport before the 24-win Pines descended upon Municipal Stadium.
There was, in the second room, below the hanging jerseys, a beautiful 1951 picture of four smiling Rocky Mount Leafs, a clipped picture of the 1946 Rocky Mount Rocks, a ring celebrating the Leafs’ 1969 Carolina League—East Division title (they lost to Peninsula in the playoffs), a 1940 team picture of Buck Leonard’s Homestead Grays, and a picture of the plaque near downtown Rocky Mount marking where Jim Thorpe played and accepted a few hundred bucks from the Rocky Mount Railroaders, later used as reasoning to strip him of his Olympic medals.
Prep baseball more your thing?
Come for the picture of the 1973 4-A Rocky Mount High baseball state champions, with future NBA Rookie of the Year Phil Ford in the back row, and stay for the picture in the same format of the 1963 4-A state baseball champion Rocky Mount High Blackbirds, with Danny Talbott in the second row.
(As museum volunteer Kent Montgomery pointed out, Talbott’s Blackbirds won the 4-A football title, the 4-A basketball title, and the 4-A baseball title during that school year.)
There were also a few nods to the Bishops, with plaques celebrating their two NCAA Division III titles in 1989 and 1999, the latter of which they finished 42-9 with a win over St. Thomas (Minn.) to clinch their supremacy.
In the first room, there was a large display case full of Buck Leonard memorabilia, including a Grays jersey worn by “the Black Lou Gehrig,” a clipping from his Hall of Fame induction, a few signed baseballs, and his contract with the Grays.
After 30 minutes of wandering, though, I could find no such evidence that the Pines were acknowledged in the only physical place on earth they could feasibly be acknowledged.
So, without much confidence, I asked Kent: Ever heard of the Rocky Mount Pines?
Actually, improbably, surprisingly, miraculously, he had.
He pointed toward a tucked away corner — where else? — where the one Pines item of 7,000 otherwise cherished items was hiding. It was a metaphor so obvious it didn’t have to be said.
“I don’t think I’ve ever gotten a question about them,” he said, laughing. A fair statement.
Alas, he wandered over and dragged out a wooden sign, which read: PINES ADMISSION PRICES; ADULTS ……. $2.00; CHILD & SR ….. $1.00.
A minor miracle.
The discovery made my day, I told Kent, which was confusing, but satisfying, to him.
The sign had been there for about seven years, he said, and arrived after an anonymous Wilsonian called the museum and asked to meet him downtown.
On the back of the sign, someone wrote: Rocky Mount Pines; 1980 Carolina League, Class A; W - 24, L-114; 59 games behind (first place); 26,202 attendance.
Indeed, the 59-game deficit in the standings checks out, and so does the sparse attendance.
The price of admission to the museum on Thursday was equivalent to one Pines ticket for a child or senior.
The rush of stumbling upon the one niche thing this reporter was looking for couldn’t be measured in all the Pines tickets in the world.