Visit This Museum to Celebrate America’s Favorite Pastime
Baseball has long been known as America’s favorite pastime, and that’s certainly true in North Carolina. Did you know Babe Ruth hit his first professional home run in Fayetteville in March 1914? A roadside marker calls attention to the spot today. Moonlight Graham, portrayed in the popular movie Field of Dreams, is from Fayetteville as well. And of course, the Durham Bulls play heavily in the 1988 film Bull Durham.
You can discover many more baseball facts and stats at the North Carolina Baseball Museum in Wilson. Open since 2004, the nonprofit museum began as the dream of three local residents who share a love of the sport and wanted to celebrate its rich history in North Carolina. Former Wilson Parks and Recreation Department Director Kent Montgomery, who is now retired, was one of them. He pitched for North Carolina State University in his younger days and played two seasons of Minor League Baseball for the San Francisco Giants. His brother, Monty, played for the Kansas City Royals in 1971 and 1972.
“I’m a die-hard baseball fan,” Montgomery says. “Back when the museum was founded, three of us were sitting in the bleachers watching the Wilson Tobs play and talking about the rich history of Minor League Baseball in North Carolina. No museum of that type existed at the time. Our goal was to recognize all aspects of baseball, from Little League to the Major Leagues, softball and the Negro League, and not leave anybody out.”
Take Me Out to the Ball Game
North Carolina has 11 minor league baseball teams. Catch a game across the state this season:
With help from the City of Wilson and donations from local businesses and individuals, they started building the museum in 1999 on the grounds of historic Fleming Stadium, where the Tobs play as part of the amateur Coastal Plain League. The two-room facility has more than 3,300 square feet of baseball-themed memorabilia showcasing ball players native to North Carolina as well as other states. Vintage baseball cards, score books, photos, caps and hard-to-get autographs are among the museum’s 5,000-plus artifacts, including special displays on seven National Hall of Famers born in North Carolina. There are also three baseball cards that are originals from 1910, including one featuring Charles Bunn “Bunny” Hearn, a Major League pitcher from North Carolina who played in Wilson.
“We have a baseball bat that was constructed out of a plow circa 1880,” Montgomery says. “We even have a score book from 1893 that is really nice. It has the dates of games played written in perfect handwriting. It’s really unique to see and amazing that it is still intact.”
Most of the museum’s artifacts have been donated or gifted to the museum, while others are on loan for a period of time.
The museum, staffed mostly by volunteers, is open Thursday through Sunday. Plans call for an additional room to be built onto the museum to accommodate its growing collection, but additional funds are needed before that can happen. Two major fundraisers support the museum each year – the Celebrity Golf Tournament at Wedgewood Public Golf Course every May and the Hot Stove Banquet at the Wilson Recreation Center in January. The banquet features a keynote speaker and usually has about 400 people in attendance. Honored guests regularly include current and past Major Leaguers and former Negro League players.
In its short 15-year history, the North Carolina Baseball Museum has attracted visitors from all 50 states and more than 15 foreign countries. Small and large groups are welcome. Interested parties can call the museum in advance.
“We are a nonprofit, so we don’t have a budget to advertise, but we’ve found that once people see the museum, they go back to where they are from and tell others about it,” Montgomery says. “It’s fascinating to read all the comments people write in our registry and to see where visitors come from. Many people say they discovered things about North Carolina baseball that they never knew before.”
If You Go...
The North Carolina Baseball Museum is located at 300 Stadium St. in Wilson on the grounds of historic Fleming Stadium. It is open Thursday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $3 for ages 18 to 65, and $1 for children under 18 and adults over 65. Learn more by calling (252) 296-3048 or visiting ncbaseballmuseum.com.
– Jessica Mozo