N.C. has enjoyed American Legion regional playoff success
By Richard Walker
North Carolina has hosted 70 national American Legion baseball tournaments over the years.
And local teams like Cherryville Post 100, Gastonia Post 23 and Shelby Post 82 have benefitted with championship success.
Gastonia’s 1935 World Series championship came in the old Gastonia High School Stadium that is now a parking lot off Garrison Boulevard behind Ashley Arms Apartments.
Shelby’s 1945 World Series title came at Charlotte’s old Griffith Park that was torn down in the 1980s.
And Cherryville’s first ALWS in 1953 came soon after that town hosted a national tournament at the Fraley Field complex the high school and Legion team still uses.
During the modern era of Legion baseball that began in 1960 when the National American Legion committee went to a tournament concept that crowned eight champions in different regions of the country, North Carolina has been a frequent part of the rotation for hosting regionals.
And since 2011, Shelby has been the permanent home of the ALWS that it first hosted in 2008.
Regional competition has been particularly good for North Carolina teams as eight times during the state’s 16 regionals, an in-state team has won to advance to the ALWS.
Before the National Legion committee gave host teams an automatic berth in the regionals in 1967, Wilmington Post 10 successfully bid to host the first Southeast Regional in 1960.
And when Wilmington won the N.C. title, it earned a spot into the regional it would host and finished as regional runner-up.
Salisbury’s Newman Park on the Catawba College campus was the next N.C. park to host a Southeast Regional in 1970; That year’s N.C. champion Wilmington went 4-0 in the regional to make its first ALWS appearance.
Newman Park would later host regionals in 1973 and 1996, with the host Rowan County Post 342 earning a berth in the ALWS in 1996.
Laurinburg was host in 1983 when nearby Hamlet won the regional and made its lone ALWS appearance.
Cherryville twice hosted the event at Fraley Field in 1985 and 1990.
Shelby also twice hosted the event – in 2002 and 2008 – and finished as runner-up each time.
Finally, Asheboro’s McCrary Park has hosted a regional every year from 2013 to 2019 with three N.C. teams combining to win five titles – Wilmington in 2003, Rowan County in 2016 and host Randolph County in 2017, 2018 and 2019.
And Asheboro’s recent stretch of hosting regionals – the Southeast Regional from 2013 to 2018 and the Mid-Atlantic Regional in 2019 – was sparked by what they saw in Shelby.
“I think we all saw what had happened in Shelby and thought we could do that here,” said Randolph County Post 45 head coach Ronnie Pugh, who also is owner of the Asheboro Copperheads Coastal Plain League summer college baseball team that uses the same facility. “And it’s been unbelieveable how the community has bought into it. We’ve had enormous crowds and some great baseball.”
Construction began on what is now a 2,400-seat facility built by McCrary Hosiery Mill in 1946 with games starting in 1948.
Semipro baseball flourished in the stadium in the 1950s before Legion baseball became the top draw from the 1960s to 1990s. Since the Copperheads began play in 1999, Post 45 and the college summer league team have shared the venue.
Covered grandstands, an artificial turf infield and natural grass outfield set the facility apart from other facilities.
“It’s certainly a unique place to play,” said Dennis Garcia, now general manager of the Copperheads after 34 years as a sports writer for the Asheboro Courier-Tribune from December 1985 to September 2019. “It’s not off any major highway or major road. It’s just tucked away in a neighborhood. So, for some, it’s difficult to find.
“But there’s been just so many special games and special players that have been there. The atmosphere and coziness of it are unlike any other stadium. It gives you a real minor league feel whenever you go there.”
That atmosphere created a homefield advantage for Randolph County with titles in 2017, 2018 and 2019.
“Well, we’ve had a great committee in place that has always helped us put on these tournaments,” said Pugh, whose team gets an automatic berth to the eight-team regional as a host. “Without those individuals, I don’t think we could have ever taken it on. And in our community, it’s just become a really big deal.”
Asheboro’s population of 25,000 might make some wonder if it could support such an event.
But the town’s love affair with baseball, its location in the center of the state and 38 miles from Piedmont/Triad International Airport in Greensboro has led Legion officials to choose it as a regional host.
“We made the bid and the officials came here to check out the ballpark, check out the city, check out the restaurants, check out the hotel situation and how many we can comfortably keep here,” Garcia said. “The ballpark wasn’t the question mark. They loved that facility.”
Randolph County’s recent success has given N.C. 15 total regional titles.
That all started with Greensboro Cone in 1963.
Rowan County (1996, 2009, 2016) and Randolph County (2017, 2018, 2019) have three titles apiece, with Charlotte Post 9 (1964, 1965), Wilmington (1970, 2013) and Cherryville (1998, 2003) taking two each and Hamlet (1983) and Kernersville (2010) each with one.