WILSON, N.C. (WNCT) – Spring is a time for baseball. A chance for the next generation to learn America’s greatest pastime. But there’s one place in the East celebrating the state’s baseball greats.
This is the North Carolina Baseball Museum,” said Kent Montgomery, a volunteer and board member with the North Carolina Baseball Museum. “If you love baseball, I promise you, you’ll love this.”
It’s an impressive collection that started as a simple vision.
“The way it came about is there were several of us sitting in the stands,” said Montgomery. “We got to talking about the rich history of baseball in eastern North Carolina. Well the more we talked, we thought about could we have a museum that would honor that in some way. And that’s how it got started.”
The museum highlights some of our state’s heavy hitters.
“I’m sure most folks know about the seven Hall of Famers: Jim “Catfish” Hunter, Gaylord Perry, Buck Leonard from right here in Rocky Mount,” said Montgomery.
But even the smallest contributors get their time to shine.
“There’s a number of them that just played one inning and went to bat one time or pitched a half inning, and you never saw them again,” said Montgomery.
About 400 native sons from North Carolina have played their way to the top: the Major Leagues. Many more though didn’t quite make it but still left their mark on North Carolina’s baseball history.
“Folks don’t know that Buck Leonard never played in the Major Leagues, he played in the Negro Leagues,” said Montgomery. “He’s a Hall of Famer, voted in. They called him the black Lou Gehrig. Carl Long was one of our favorites, born in South Carolina but retired and lived in Kinston. We miss Carl. He was a great backer of this museum.”
Many, including Montgomery, are over the moon that baseball is finally back in Kinston.
“You’ve got a beautiful stadium down there, and I know that people are going to support the Wood Ducks,” said Montgomery. “I think they’re going to have a great time and I hope they stay there for a long long time.”
No matter what a player’s contribution, big or small, one thing is certain.
“A lot of these young ball players that come through here get to know some of these folks that are no longer around and had no idea who they were, where they payed, or what they did,” said Montgomery.
Their stories live on and hopefully those stories inspire the next generation to make their own mark on North Carolina’s baseball history.