Note: Authored by David Menconi, this piece has been produced in partnership with Raleigh Arts. Menconi's next book, "Oh, Didn't They Ramble: Rounder Records and the Transformation of American Roots Music," was published in the fall of 2023 by University of North Carolina Press. His podcast, Carolina Calling, explores the history of the Tar Heel State through music.



To many, at first glance the history of baseball in the City of Oaks means thinking of the North Carolina State University Wolfpack, Raleigh native and major league veteran Josh Hamilton, kids' leagues and not much more.

But there’s a lot more to the subject than that, and as with so many things in the South, it’s rooted in the aftermath of the Civil War. That story is told in Diamond Days: The History of Baseball in Raleigh, billed as “an exhibit celebrating the past, present and future of baseball in Raleigh, NC.”

“You see baseball appear here after the end of the Civil War, brought to Raleigh by Union soldiers stationed here during Reconstruction,” says Ernest Dollar, director of the City of Raleigh Museum (COR Museum). “Various town teams would pop up around the area in the 1870s, and they would play the soldiers.”

Diamond Days COR Museum

After opening on April 25, 2024, Diamond Days is tentatively scheduled to remain on display for several years at the free-admission downtown Raleigh museum. There will be a number of related spinoff programs at the museum, starting with “Battling Across the Color Line: African American Baseball Symposium” on July 20, 2024 (10am, free admission).

Other events in the works for later this year include a “Grand Slam” trivia night, a baseball card show and a virtual reality experience based on the life and career of Baseball Hall of Famer Buck Leonard (a Negro Leagues star from Rocky Mount, N.C.). If all goes according to plan, there will be also a tournament and kids skill clinic in 2025.

“We needed an exhibit that would resonate, get people back into the museum after the pandemic,” says Dollar. “Baseball and Raleigh are not generally talked about in the same sentence, but we found quite a lot of material. North Carolina's capital city has a deep history with America’s pastime.”

That history includes Devereaux Meadow, a ballpark that was built in the late 1930s as a Depression-era Works Progress Administration project. Devereaux Meadow served as home field for a series of minor-league teams throughout its 40-year history, as well as amateur and semi-professional barnstorming teams passing through town. Dollar says that Carl Yastrzemski was one of the future stars who played for a time in Raleigh, before going on to a Hall of Fame career as power-hitting left-fielder for the Boston Red Sox.

Diamond Days COR Museum

“Raleigh hosted a lot of pro players coming through here or on farm teams, rising stars in the pantheon of great players who spent some time here on their way up to bigger and better things,” says Dollar. “Jackie Robinson played at Devereaux Meadow in October of 1950. He would put together all-star teams that traveled around playing games in the off-season.”

Diamond Days has exhibits about individual players, regional teams including Zebulon’s Carolina Mudcats and the Durham Bulls, plus long-forgotten organizations like the Old North State League.

“These weird little leagues that would pop up and have a moment in the spotlight,” says Dollar. “They’re part of our baseball heritage going back to the 1860s.”

Diamond Days COR Museum

The exhibit also has nods to what the future might look like.

There has been talk for many years about Major League Baseball someday expanding into the Carolinas. While there’s not yet anything definite about that, Diamond Days has fantasy team names and logos for a potential Major League team in Raleigh. People can vote for their favorite—from the Raleigh Reapers, Raptors, Revenge, Capitals or Oaks to the North State Pine Brigade.

“We ask people what they think a team should be called if it comes to Raleigh,” says Dollar. “It’s a fun, clever way to truly envision what could be in Raleigh.”

Diamond Days: The History of Baseball in Raleigh will be on display for the foreseeable future at the City of Raleigh Museum, 220 Fayetteville St. in downtown Raleigh.

Museum hours are 9am-4pm, Tuesday through Saturday; 1-4pm on Sunday; and 6-9pm on the first Friday of each month. Admission is free, with a $5 suggested donation. For details, see cityofraleighmuseum.org.

 

Photos courtesy of the City of Raleigh Museum

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