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'We lived baseball' | Charlotte-area semipro players reminisce on popular league

For years, Black neighborhoods in the region were abuzz with weekend baseball games

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — On Morris Field Drive, there's a sign marking where Plato Price School once stood. Like the baseball games that happened on the school's ballfield –  and many others throughout the area in the '60s, '70s and '80s – the memories live on.

There are no video highlights from the games. There aren't a lot of photos either. It was, many times, a short blurb in the paper.

But those who were a part of it will tell you that you just had to be there.

"I don't believe I could describe how important it was," Ausie Rivens, who played infield for the famed Davidson Jets said. "They was looking forward to every Saturday being up there. They was all upside the road, lined up, watching the game."

Added John "Boochie" Patterson, the Jets' first baseman: "Friday and Saturday back in the Black community we lived baseball. And we couldn't wait until Saturday morning to put on that uniform. Couldn't wait."

Games were played at Crocket Park and Harding High School, all the way down to Post 31 American Legion Field in Lancaster.

The semipro league had several names as it grew, starting as the Mecklenburg County League in the late 1960s.

It was founded by men like John Belin and Henry Pugh.

"We enjoyed it and the fans did too," Belin said. "We gave them something to do on the weekends."

Pugh's daughter remembers going to games as a little girl.

"They would have hot dogs and hamburgers," Shirley Pugh Mitchell said, "it was a great pastime, it was a family activity."

The league began with two teams and grew to 32, renaming itself as the Triple County League and Cross County League.

It had teams like the Morris Field Rangers, Hoskins Giants, and in case you forgot about the Davidson Jets, they're quick to remind you.

"Coming out of the country, coming to Charlotte," Reggie Barringer said. "And kicking some tail."

Reggie Barringer, an infielder, was eventually selected by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the MLB Amateur Draft. The baseball was that good. 

One of the Jets' top rivals was the Lancaster Tigers.

"We had dogfights," said Bennie McMurray, who pitched, played outfield, helped to coach, and even run the concession stand for the Tigers.

McMurray still keeps detailed records, newspaper clippings, uniforms and other memorabilia from the Lancaster Tigers days.

"It's very important to me," he said. "It's something like a lost art that we don't have a record to show to the generations that are coming through."

For these men, baseball was an outlet and an opportunity. For Black communities in the area, it was an event, every weekend, every summer.

"They're cooking, they're drinking, they're laughing," recalled Christopher Hill, who pitched for the Morris Field Rangers, and eventually in the minor leagues. "Just having fun because that was our community."