A Night at beautiful Duncan Park Stadium

Thursday, July 10, 2014

A Night at beautiful Duncan Park Stadium

Posted on Thursday, July 10, 2014

Duncan Park
By Ed Epps
Produced in cooperation with the HubCity Writers Project.

The night was unexpectedly comfortable and the signs auspicious as Spartanburg American Legion Post 28 opened its 2014 Baseball season against Gaffney Post 109 at beautiful Duncan Park Stadium, located just south of downtown on Union Street. Skies were clear, there was a refreshing light breeze, humidity was low, and the crowd of some 120 Spartanburg County fans was expectant and enthusiastic.

Attending a baseball game at this historic stadium is a great evening activity for locals and visitors alike. Baseball has a big history in this town, from the hyper-competitive textile league ball teams of the early 20th century to the thousands of young players who now visit Tyger River Park annually.

My wife, Carol, and I found that prices at Duncan Park were a bargain, especially to anyone who has frequented MLB or college stadiums lately: tickets were cheap, parking was free, and our supper of two hot dogs—Nathan’s no less!—two soft drinks, and a bag of chips set me back just over seven bucks, about a fourth of what a similar repast would have cost at Turner Field in Atlanta. Spartanburg American Legion Baseball—made up of area high school players—is almost as much of an institution as the American Legion itself. Chartered in 1923, the local Legion post has been playing summer baseball almost continually in Spartanburg since June 2, 1933. Just three years after inaugurating baseball in Duncan Park Stadium, where games are still played, Post 28 hosted a team from Los Angeles in the 1936 American Legion Little World Series, drawing 20,000 fans in game five and more than 60,000 overall.

The stadium is also an attraction. One of the oldest surviving wooden ballparks in America still in use, over the years Duncan Park has been home to several minor league teams: the Spartanburg Peaches (1946-1955—a Cleveland Indians minor league franchise for whom Rocky Colavito played); the Spartanburg Phillies (1963-1994—best known alumnus: Scott Rolen, whose name reverberated around the stadium when drawn out as Scott Rooooooooooooooolen”by the rumbling voice of longtime announcer Ed Dickerson); the independent Spartanburg Crickets and Spartanburg Stingers. The stadium also has hosted college teams from Wofford and USC Upstate, and high school games.

The New York Yankees even played an exhibition game at Duncan Park in 1937. Major leaguers who played games in the stadium include Braves Dale Murphy and Tom Glavine, the Phillies’ and Cubs’ All-Star Ryne Sandberg, and Phillies Manager Larry Bowa, who as a player established a career fielding average that remains unsurpassed. The stadium also hosted a citywide celebration welcoming Charles Lindbergh to town not long after his history-making trans-Atlantic flight. An especially endearing feature of the Duncan Park Stadium for diehard baseball fans is the presence of dozens of wooden seats from old Shibe Park (later Connie Mack Stadium) in Philadelphia, transferred to Spartanburg upon the demolition of the Phillies’ old ballpark when Veterans Field was constructed in the mid-1970s.

Duncan Park Stadium today is a joint venture of the City of Spartanburg and Spartanburg County School District Seven. The city owns the stadium, but major improvements and additions, including a new scoreboard and recently installed new seating, have been financed by the school district, whose high school team now plays its home games at Duncan Park. Established in 2008, the partnership between the City and the District preserves the historical structure and provides Spartanburg High School a game day facility second to no other high school stadium.

On the night I attended, the on-field fireworks began early. Post 28 scored first, a leadoff double by first baseman Luke Graves producing a workmanlike run following a groundout and a fly ball to the outfield. It looked like a walk to number seven batter Dustin Prince might lead to more scores, but a ground ball to third ended the threat. Gaffney scored twice in the top of the third, but another smallball inning for Post 28 led to a second run scored by Zach Pender. The score waffled back and forth during most of the night. Gaffney scored single runs again in the fifth and sixth innings, but Spartanburg countered with lone tallies in the sixth and eighth. The score was knotted at 4 runs each at the end of regulation play.

We sat on the Gaffney side along the leftfield line. The fans from up the highway were friendly enough, though, and reminded us of fans everywhere. The mamas chatted together while the dads yelled encouragement to their sons or disparagement to the umpires. Girlfriends of the players winked, pointed, and whispered together. Male friends in the stands coolly assessed their pals’ batting stances and hitting prowess, and we overheard a couple explaining why they weren’t also on the field.

Gaffney threatened again in the top of the tenth, but timely fielding and clutch pitching by Zach Pender preserved the tie into the bottom of the inning. Then Post 28 mounted a final rally, placing runners on first and second. When Gaffney committed its second fielding error of the inning, lead runner Grayland Fowler scored. Final score: Spartanburg Post 28, 5, Gaffney Post 109, 4. A successful outing under their belts, the Spartanburg players glad-handed each other and began looking ahead to their second game, to be held the next night at Duncan Park against Inman American Legion Post 45.

What is the attraction of American Legion Baseball for young players in an era when many choose to join traveling AAU squads during the summer months? I asked two members of the Post 28 Junior team, both of whom also play for Spartanburg High School. Sophomore Will Watson said, “It’s an all-around better experience; it’s a team experience, getting to play with people you know.” Will’s teammate J. P. Pruitt had a similar if more expansive answer. “I play Legion instead of travel,” he said, “because I feel like the competition is better in Legion. … it makes yourself evaluate your game. Also more baseball scouts seem to come to Legion games than travel.”

Both players also stressed the importance of forming a bond with players from other schools as important factors in their decisions to play Legion ball. “Legion is the best baseball players from four different schools: Dorman, Day School, Broome, and Spartanburg,” said Pruitt, “and I feel like all players on this team are good. You’re able to meet new players. Dorman and Spartanburg players joke with each other, but when we are on the same team, it is all about baseball, and we don't care about where we go to school.”

The Post 28 Baseball Senior and Junior schedules are available at http://www.legion.org/baseball/schedule/SC. Home games at Duncan Park are also announced on game days by a sign at the Union Street entrance to Duncan Park.


Ed Epps, Produced in cooperation with the HubCity Writers Project.

Ed Epps is a freelance writer and veteran educator who has lived in Spartanburg since 1981. His current projects include a book on the history of the Duncan Park Stadium.

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