A new chapter in Fayetteville baseball history will be ushered in when the Woodpeckers, the Houston Astros’ advanced Class A affiliate in the Carolina League, plays its first home game. The game will take place Thursday, April 18, at the new downtown Segra Stadium on Hay Street.
As we look forward to the future of baseball in Fayetteville, it may be appropriate to look back on a pivotal piece of Fayetteville history. Almost everyone is familiar with the legendary baseball player Babe Ruth and his connection with Fayetteville.
The story begins when local merchant Hyman Fleishman convinced Jack Dunn Sr., the owner and manager of the Baltimore Orioles, to return to Fayetteville for the 1914 spring training. When the Orioles team arrived in Fayetteville by train, they were disappointed by cold temperatures barely above freezing. The team stayed at the Lafayette Hotel on Hay Street.
Young George Herman Ruth was greatly amused by the hotel elevator and would spend his evenings riding up and down from floor to floor. Rain, which occurred during part of the training, prevented the team from training outdoors. So, arrangements were made to use the Fayetteville Independent Light Infantry Armory for indoor catching practice.
While here, Babe Ruth and the Orioles had the opportunity to play against the cadets at the Donaldson Military School located off Raeford Road. Ruth played shortstop, had a double and a triple and scored four runs. Donaldson Military School was defeated in a score of 24-6.
Members of the Fayetteville High School varsity basketball team asked the Orioles if they would care to play a game of basketball. The Orioles accepted the challenge, and the game took place in the Fayetteville Independent Light Infantry Armory. The Orioles were also great basketball players, defeating Fayetteville High School’s varsity team.
March 7, 1914, while playing an intra-squad exhibition game at the Cape Fear Fairgrounds, George Herman Ruth hit his first home run in professional baseball, hitting the baseball 135 yards. It was Ruth’s fifth day as a professional, his first game and his second time at bat.
Roger Pippen, a sports writer, was covering the game and wrote for his newspaper: “The next batter made a hit that will live in the memory of all who saw it. The ball carried so far to the right field that he walked around the bases.”
It was here in Fayetteville that Ruth acquired the nickname “Babe.” Before leaving Fayetteville, Jack Dunn Sr. announced the list of players he intended to keep for the regular season, and Babe Ruth was on the list. Concerning Ruth, Dunn said, “He hits like a fiend and seems to be at home in any position, even though he’s left handed.”
April 5, 1935, Ruth returned to Fayetteville with the Boston Braves to play an exhibition game against North Carolina State College. This game drew a crowd of more than 4,000 fans, keeping Ruth busy signing autographs.
When Ruth died in 1948, residents mourned the loss of this great baseball legend. Maurice Fleishman, a Fayetteville merchant, had been a batboy at the Cape Fear Fairgrounds in 1914 when Ruth hit his first professional home run. Fleishman led the effort that resulted in a citywide celebration for the unveiling of a state historic marker placed on the site of the old fairgrounds.
Friday, March 22, the Fayetteville Transportation and Local History Museum will open a new exhibit entitled “Fayetteville Baseball Fever” that explores the local history of this popular sport. The museum is making a call for artifacts specific to baseball in Fayetteville and photographs related to baseball history in Fayetteville-Cumberland County. If you have any artifacts that you would like to loan, or any photographs that could be scanned, please call the museum staff at 910-433-1457.