So, just when was the last Major League Baseball game in North Carolina?
Answer: Ain’t been none.
That’s right. Despite our state’s rich baseball heritage, as far as I can tell they’ve never played a big-league game here. That’s because we’ve never had a major-league team.
There’ve been plenty of exhibitions. Big-league teams have made stops here while traveling to and/or from spring training in Florida. Some of the most notable stops in recent times was when George Steinbrenner had his New York Yankees stop in Chapel Hill for games against the college Tar Heels in 1977, ‘79 and ‘81. Steinbrenner’s daughter was a student at UNC.
North Carolina is too small for the major leagues, they said. That nonsense was reinforced with the collapse of the Carolina Cougars of the troubled ABA in 1974.
But we buried that myth beginning in the late 1980s after Charlotte banks exploded with coast-to-coast expansion and the Queen City became the Wall Street of the South for a time. That brought in the big money and prestige needed for the creation of, in order, the NBA Hornets, NFL Panthers and NHL Hurricanes in Raleigh.
North Carolina became big league.
But there’s one sports summit yet unconquered. Baseball.
North Carolina has its best collection of minor-league teams ever, led by AAA teams in Charlotte and Durham. Most play in modern, impressive stadia.
Some would argue that we had more teams and more interest overall during a post-World War II baseball heyday. (Remember the semi-pro Chatham Blanketeers here?). But those days can’t compare to what we have today.
So as we start a new MLB season, there is some significance in our state’s first regular-season game, one that will count in the record books. The Atlanta Braves will play the Miami Marlins at Fort Bragg, next door to Fayetteville, on July 3.
It’s only one game. And its purpose is to honor the military, not the Tarheel State. There are no public tickets to the game, which will be for military personnel only. But the game will be on TV. It will be played on a makeshift field that formerly was part of a golf course.
But still it’s a milestone. And it should raise the question again of why no big-league baseball in North Carolina.
There’s been plenty of talk. The closest we came was in 1997 when Don Beaver, who’s now majority owner of the Charlotte Knights, was poised to buy the Minnesota Twins and bring them here.
He sold state leaders on a plan to build a stadium on the Forsyth/Guilford county line with a new food and beverage tax in the two counties and with ticket surcharges. But the plan struck out the following spring when county voters said no in a referendum and the idea withered.
So the best bet now for North Carolina is to promote the Charlotte or Durham teams. Charlotte leads the minor leagues in attendance.
However, there is no talk of team expansion in MLB. And there’s no talk of any MLB team wanting to move.
That leaves us as the most populous state in the country without an MLB team. An internet site, charlottebats.com, has a petition to bring a team there.
So as you tune in to the first real MLB game in North Carolina, go ahead and let your mind wander a bit. Imagine how good it would be to watch a home-state team play ball.
Stephen Harris returned home to live in State Road.