When I first moved to Charlotte in 1984, I lived just a few blocks from Crockett Park where the Charlotte O’s (the city’s minor league baseball team at the time) played their home games. The park featured an aging wooden stadium that looked like it belonged in a Norman Rockwell painting, and I fell in love with it. I purchased season tickets and attended almost every home game. I didn’t care that much about the outcome of the games; I just liked the ambiance. This immersive experience introduced me to the world of baseball stories. I loved listening to the old-time fans tell stories about famous baseball players who once played for the Charlotte O’s. I enjoyed hearing tales about the colorful Crockett family that owned the team. I took an interest in the stories about the history of baseball in Charlotte, and I became intrigued with the connections between baseball and Charlotte’s textile mills. Every time I went to a game, I felt like I was dipping into a book of stories that all had something to do with baseball.
This summer the city’s current minor league baseball team—the Charlotte Knights—is on hiatus because of the coronavirus pandemic, but that doesn’t mean that baseball stories have come to an end. Charlotte writer Chris Arvidson and her collaborator Diana Nelson have provided area baseball fans with a collection of essays about the joys of being a baseball fan. Titled The Love of Baseball: Essays by Lifelong Fans, this recently published book includes contributions by numerous writers from the Charlotte area. Chris currently lives in Charlotte, where she teaches in UNC Charlotte’s English Department. I contacted Chris Arvidson and asked her about the book’s connections to Charlotte. Here is what she sent to me:
The book has so many connections to Charlotte. Of course, my husband, Henry Doss, is in the book, and he’s the ultimate Charlotte connection. He’s how I ended up in Charlotte. Henry was running D.G. Martin’s congressional campaign for the open NC-9 seat. I was working at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in D.C. The race was in everybody’s top 10 in the country in 1984. My job was to keep track of what DG and Henry were up to. I have no idea why I even liked these guys because they were the bane of my existence that election cycle, always making decisions and doing stuff without telling me until after the fact. I swear, the only time I ever got in trouble with the boss was when these two were involved. That’s how Henry and I got together, after hundreds of hours on the phone. But I digress…
I have a way of sniffing out fellow baseball fans. I’m not sure what gives us away. It may be that I illicit baseball interest with my attire, which out of the classroom, consists almost entirely of Detroit Tigers’ themed stuff, with a bit of Pittsburgh, Nationals, and Orioles thrown in. I think that’s how UNC Charlotte Dean Nancy Gutierrez and I sussed each other out. She’s a diehard Cleveland Indians fan. She told a wonderfully poignant story of listening to games on the radio, and scoring tickets to games with a good report card.
I met Rebecca Bratcher Laxton, one of the contributors to the collection, when I was a guest speaker at a graduate class at UNC Charlotte. During my presentation, I mentioned the project. Rebecca contacted me the next day, and she ended up writing a wonderful piece about being a girl who wants to play baseball.
Julie Townsend doesn’t live in Charlotte anymore, but she taught in the English Department at UNC Charlotte for years and that’s where I first knew her. We met up again at the dump in Ashe County, where we both lived for a time. We always laughed about seeing one another at the dump, looking twice and saying at the same time, “Don’t I know you?” We went on to start a writing salon in West Jefferson and editing two anthologies together. Julie knows nada about baseball, but her great friend and real estate colleague Martin Little had a shot at the show, so with a little coaching on baseball terminology, Julie was able to tell a wonderful story about Martin and his brief sojourn in professional baseball.
Caroline Kane Kenna is the President of Charlotte Writers Club. Caroline’s got deep roots in the New River country of Virginia, and she wrote a lovely piece for an anthology I co-edited called Reflections on the New River: New Essays, Poems and Personal Stories. Once again, baseball fans can smell each other and a t-shirt was the giveaway. Caroline’s family team is the Cardinals and she was delighted to set aside her poetry for an essay about her St. Louis team.
When I told longtime UNC Charlotte Professor Emeritus Sam Watson what I was up to with a baseball book, he said right away, “Oh, you’ve got to get up with Ellyn Ritterskamp—she’d be perfect.” Ellyn, who teaches in the Philosophy Department at the university, and was one of Sam’s former students, has worked for the Charlotte Observer for years, too. She’s a fellow baseball freak, and we hit it off right away. She writes a wonderful story about her travels, many with her mom Julie, to baseball parks around the country. She’s been to all of the Major League Baseball stadiums, the South Atlantic League and the Carolina League. Now, that’s a serious fan. Of course, Sam ended up in the book as well. He’s one of my baseball fan “recruits” and has come over to baseball fandom in recent years via college baseball and Charleston’s minor league team.
Stephen Ward had the whole fan package to my mind. He’s from Michigan and he is a serious Detroit fan. We spied each other’s Tiger hats at UNC Charlotte’s archeological dig in Jerusalem. Stephen wrote a piece about growing up with the Tigers. Before he moved to Hawaii to take on a new job in higher ed, he was Associate Vice Chancellor of University Communications at UNC Charlotte.
In fact, nine of the contributors to the book have Charlotte connections, and as every baseball fan knows, it takes nine to make a team.
My thanks go to Chris and her collaborators for sharing their passion for baseball. For all of the Charlotte baseball fans who are missing the experience of watching the Charlotte Knights play in their beautiful new stadium, The Love of Baseball provides a chance to connect with fellow baseball fans. These essays tap into the pleasure that comes with sharing baseball stories. Although these essays are not about the history of Charlotte’s various baseball teams, they have their place in the great compendium of Storied Charlotte.