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The history of baseball in North Carolina spans three centuries. Almost 400 of its favorite sones have made it to the big leagues, and seven of them are enshrined in the Cooperstown National Baseball Hall of Fame. That’s why local fans and officials in Wilson, NC wanted to build a museum that sang the particular praises of North Carolinian players and their contributions to "America’s Pastime.” The idea for the museum came up during a minor league game at Wilson's Fleming Stadium about six years ago.

"We were talking about the history of baseball in Wilson and in North Carolina in general,” says Kent Montgomery, one of the local leaders in the effort. “Someone asked if there was a museum dedicated to minor league baseball in the state and nobody knew."

One thing led to another, according to Montgomery, and the museum opened it's doors to fans four years later in February 2004. Montgomery, whose brother, Jeff pitched for the Kansas City Royals, and his group think it is the only museum in the nation dedicated to a single state’s baseball history.

The North Carolina Baseball Museum is situated in Fleming Stadium, which is a classic bit of baseball history in its own right. It was dedicated in June 1939as the home of the Wilson Tobs--short for Tobacconists. Over the years, it has showcased such baseball Hall of Fame members as Ted Williams, Richie Ashburn and Robin Roberts. This particular trio appeared at Fleming Stadium in 1956 when the Boston Red Sox and the Philadelphia Phillies played an exhibition game.

Other major league stars who have played in the stadium include Rod Carew, Curt Flood, Willie McCovey, Carl Yastrzemski, Bobby Murcer, Rusty Staub, Johnny Bench, Tony Perez, and Rico Petrocelli. In 1960, Jack McKeon, the 2003 National League Manager of the Year, was the skipper of the Tobs.

Stepping up to the Plate

A core group from the Wilson chapter of the Hot Stove League got the ball rolling for the museum. The Hot Stove League is a national organization of baseball fans dedicated to promoting the game at all levels. For the locals in Wilson, the museum project wasn't their first major effort; they had warmed up for it earlier by renovating Fleming Stadium.

Local businessman Lee Gliarmis is typical of the Hot Stove League’s involvement. He is owner of Dick’s Hot Dog Stand, founded by his father back in 1921, and serves as president of the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame. Planning and discussion about the museum took place in his eatery located near Wilson's original ballpark.

At first, Mongtomery and his colleagues scoured the baseball card and memorabilia shows for materials to put on display. When word spread about the developing museum, however, fan donations began pouring in. They're still coming in, according to the curators, and some of the items are more than 100 years old. In fact, the donations have come in at such a rate that the curators are figuring out ways to increase the museum's exhibition space by 50 percent.

Peek at the Past

Since the museum opened two years ago, serious fans can and do spend hours looking at the exhibits. There is high traffic before Tobs home games; and, because many of the displays are being changed and added to, the museum enjoys a lot of repeat business. On game day, according to Tobs general manager Mike Edwards, it is not unusual to see visiting players roaming wide-eyed through the museum before reporting to the field for batting practice.

Visitors can chart the careers of just about all of North Carolina's major leaguers. On a pedestal rest several thick three-ring binders containing the statistics about every North Carolinian who made it to the "bigs", whether they were stars or journeymen players with short tenures. There is a special exhibit honoring the seven North Carolina players who have been inducted into the national Hall of Fame: Catfish Hunter, Hoyt Wilhelm, Gaylord Perry, Enos Slaughter, Rick Ferrell, Buck Leonard and Luke Appling.

In another spacious chamber, the museum brings North Carolina baseball history to life. It focuses on the minor leagues and covers the Negro leagues, college and high school baseball, and traces the history of American Legion ball. There is a miniature sculpture of a sliding Enos Slaughter--a replica of the statue that stands outside Busch Stadium in St. Louis.

Interesting exhibits include one that shows the various stages in the manufacturing process of a baseball bat. Another displays the early Fleming Stadium locker room stalls. the msueum is also a great source for trivia and fun facts--like the notation that former Wilson resident Charles “Red” Barrett holds the record for throwing the fewest number of pitches in a complete major league game. For the record, it was 56.

“Baseball is a cherished tradition in Wilson,” says C. Bruce Rose, the city’s mayor. “The North Carolina Baseball Museum complements other tourist destinations in Wilson, including the award-winning All-American Wilson Rose Garden, our regional science museum, Imagination Station, and the Nestus Freeman Round House Museum, which highlights historic contributions from African-American citizens.”

If You Go
North Carolina Baseball Museum
Fleming Stadium
300 Stadium Street
Wilson, NC 27893
252-296-3048; www.wilsontobs.com

Year-round hours: 10am to 4pm Thursday, Friday, and Saturday; 1pm to 5pm Sunday. In addition, the museum is open during Tobs home games, beginning two hours before game time and ending an hour after the first pitch.

Admission: $1.00 for those 17 and under and older than 65. $3.00 for those 18-65

For further information about Wilson, visit www.wilson-nc.com or call 800-497-7398 or 252-243-8440.