DAVIDSON – Since he was 14 years old, Kenneth Kerley has been an integral part of North Mecklenburg youth baseball.
It was the early 1950s when he first filled in for one of the coaches. He just didn’t stop, spending the next four decades leading boys both on and off the diamond.
“It’s my life,” Kerley said of what baseball means to him. “Why do it if you don’t love it? I loved to play as a kid and I coached when I was a kid.”
Though he retired in 1992, baseball hasn’t been far from his mind, having collected local baseball memorabilia since the program started, including original bats, helmets and even practice shoes. The items, along with eight eight-by-eight-foot boards of photographs and articles he’s diligently compiled and carefully framed, will be on display during the McEver Field Reunion and dedication event July 22.
Chronicling more than 50 years of community baseball, the display paints a picture of the times gone by and shows the legacy of the estimated 200,000 players who have stood at home plate as well as their coaches, parents and fans.
The event, organized by the volunteers of the Davidson McEver Field Baseball Committee, celebrates all those involved with community baseball, with emphasis on former Davidson College football coach and semi-pro baseball player Gene McEver and his wife, Joy. The pair was instrumental in establishing the baseball field with the help and support of Davidson College, Duke Energy, area businesses and volunteer efforts.
Since 1962, the field has been officially named McEver Field and the pair were commonly seen there, with Joy running a concession stand with her “famous hot dogs.” They retired in 1982 from the Davidson Youth Baseball Program. Gene continued involvement as sectional director of Pony Baseball until 1984 and as president of the North Mecklenburg Pony Association until his death in 1985. Joy was often spotted at many of the games wearing her ball cap and was recognized as the 1988 honorary team captain for the Davidson Pony Team.
Prior to the establishment of the field, Kerley said they had to find their own ways to play. Baseball was one of the few activities available for youth in the 1950s but there were limited accommodations.
Kerley said many of the players came from families with little money to spare so they appreciated everything they were given. He was realistic with them, telling them the odds of going pro were slim, advising they not smoke or drink liquor, banning refreshments unless there was enough for everyone and was even once called the “meanest coach.” Because of this, he still regularly gets calls from former players appreciative of his efforts.
Looking at the rows of photographs, Kerley sees each player’s story in their faces, noting some who died too soon and others who have gone on to be doctors, businessmen and even mayor, like Davidson’s own John Woods.
“I watch as the memories go by,” he said, looking at the displays he’s been constructing for months on his front porch. “It’s what’s kept me young. I have more than people could only dream of.”
Over the years the league grew, encompassing Mallard Creek, Huntersville, Long Creek, Cornelius and Davidson, and with it came more memorable games and exciting nights at McEver Field.
It’s the goal of the reunion committee for the community to share those memories July 22 before rooting for the home team at the Pony Tournament. Submit stories at www.mcevermemories.com.
Want to go? Celebrate more than 50 years of community baseball at the upcoming McEver Field Reunion. The two-day event starts July 21 with a free admission “old timers” homerun derby at 7 p.m. Those wanting to participate should email firstname.lastname@example.org. The brunt of the festivities will be held just prior to the Pony Baseball regional tournament on July 22. Doors to McEver Field open at 4 p.m. with an all-you-can-eat hot dog and popcorn dinner at 6 p.m. A dedication ceremony will start at 7 p.m. with memorabilia on display and stories of half a century of baseball seasons just before the first pitch is thrown at 8:15 p.m. Tickets cost $6 for those older than 6. RSVP at www.mcevermemories.com.