Half century of players, coaches, volunteers gather for reunion
DAVIDSON – It was an emotional night July 22 at McEver Field. Because of the weather, there were no games to be won or lost. It was a homecoming of sorts as more than 50 years of area baseball participants gathered for the first time.
Gene and Joy McEver, who were instrumental establishing the area on South Street from briars to a state-of-the art baseball field in 1958, were remembered and recognized along with, players, coaches, umpires and volunteers.
“You have no clue what you meant to some of us kids when we’d show up here and the lights would be on Friday nights,” Jeff Hager told the crowd. “We felt like we were doing something special, like we were playing in the big leagues. The field meant everything to us: the grass, the smell of hot dogs, it was great. It was just a good time to be raised in this area with this group of people. … This is awesome. It really means a lot to a lot of us.”
During the event, Gene Ervin of Cornelius, was surprised with the Pony Baseball/Softball Joe E. Brown Fellowship Award, named for one of the founders of the Pony League. Ervin has served North Mecklenburg baseball for 37 years, as coach, league president, Pony League Coordinator – plus Santa Claus.
“I want to tell you, whenever I was inducted into the Wall of Fame, I thought that was a real high honor and this is the highest honor in Pony baseball,” Ervin said. “This will have a special place on my wall in my house, right next to the picture of [Gene McEver]. This is really an honor and I appreciate it.”
Earlier in the program, Ervin told McEver's son, Tom, that Gene was like a father to him, so he was nervous when he was asked to take McEver’s spot as leader of the North Mecklenburg Pony League following his passing.
“I look up I see the press box, I see Mr. McEver standing up on that balcony,” Ervin said. “I feel like I’m standing on hallowed grounds and I’ll feel that way until the day I die. One day my stride is to sit in that box seat in Heaven with Ken Caldwell, Gene McEver and Sonny Mayhew, my wife’s brother who kept me going in baseball.”
With a backdrop of old team pictures, newspaper articles, baseballs and bats, friends gathered just like it was yesterday to talk about that time they hit their first homerun, funny coach stories and even what made the McEver Field hotdogs and chili the best in all of North Mecklenburg. W.B. Mayhew used the concession funds to buy bats, balls and uniforms – keeping the place running along with McEver.
“McEver is a place of dreams and memories where we practiced and worked hard to perform better,” said Mayor John Woods, a former player. “We dreamed of perfection and without knowing it at the time learned many life skills while we were playing baseball. Here we learned the value of hard work, perseverance, teamwork, success jubilation, failure and dejection and resilience.”
Since its start, the North Mecklenburg league has grown tremendously, going from one Little League and one Pony League team per town to Davidson alone having 26 teams. With them come the legacy of the families. At the July 22 event, the Caldwell family was recognized for having four generations who have coached or played on the field.
The event was the brainchild of Andy Beard, with the help of volunteers like Kenneth Kerley, Buck Carter, Mickey Potts and emcees Mike Mittelman and Bo Brickels, among others.