By: Shivar Person & Maddy Meehan
On April 23, 2023, the Down East Wood Ducks celebrated the 75th Anniversary of Historic Grainger Stadium. “The Lady” as the stadium has been known for well over 7 decades, officially opened on April 8, 1949. When Grainger High School defeated Tarboro
By: Shivar Person & Maddy Meehan
On April 23, 2023, the Down East Wood Ducks celebrated the 75th Anniversary of Historic Grainger Stadium. “The Lady” as the stadium has been known for well over 7 decades, officially opened on April 8, 1949. When Grainger High School defeated Tarboro High School 5-4 in what would be the first of many historic nights within its walls. Included in the celebration were many faces who have been an integral part of what made and makes Grainger Stadium so special. Throwing out the first pitch was Kinston’s own, and true military hero, Eugene “Red” McDaniel. Captain McDaniel is a graduate of Grainger High and a member of the 1949 North Carolina Class A State Championship team who made their home here in the stadium. After his distinguished high school athletic career, the 92-year-old McDaniel made his career in the United States Military, including tours in Vietnam. On his 81st Combat mission, he was shot down, captured, and spent 2,117 days in captivity, becoming one of the longest serving P.O.Ws. in American Military History. The Navy cross recipient later served as the Commanding Officer of the U.S.S. Niagara Falls and the U.S.S. Lexington.
While Captain McDaniel led the way with the ceremonial first pitch, he was joined on the field by some other notable Kinstonians. Frazier Bruton, donning his original Grainger High uniform from his playing days, represented his brother Doug Bruton of the 1949 title winning team. Tommy White was present, and it was his great grandfather, Jesse Grainger, who donated the land for the stadium that would be named after him. Local baseball legends George Whitfield and Claude Kennedy, teammates on the 1955 Grainger High School football team that won a state title while playing in the stadium that year helped celebrate the occasion. There were and are countless others who could not be in attendance, but their presence has always echoed through the grounds. For example, Grainger High Baseball went on to win the 1950 State Championship (second of back-to-back titles) as well as winning it all in 1967. Adkin High School, the local African American high school in Kinston from 1928-1970, more notably known for one of the country’s first peaceful “Walk Outs” in 1951, went on to win the 1952 State title in Grainger Stadium. That was the first time African American Athletes competed in the stadium, as they took down Greensboro Dudley 6-0. More recently, Coach Whitfield led Arendell Parrott Academy to the 2015 NCISAA State Championship on the same field he grew up and won championships himself.
It wasn’t just the local high school teams that made their mark at “The Lady”. The Kinston Eagles, the town’s professional team, began their journey in the stadium on April 13, 1949, and would spend many years as a top attraction for the city. Their crowing achievements include the 1962 League Title. Notable people to manage or appear for the Eagles include Hall of Famer Rick Ferrell, Carl Long, a Negro League and Carolina League All-Star, Leo Mazzone, longtime bench coach in MLB, Carolina League MVP Terry Whitfield, Cy Young winner Ron Guidry, Ron Bloomberg who made MLB history as the first DH to take a plate appearance, and Super Bowl winning quarterback Jay Schroeder. The Kinston Greys, a Negro Minor League team, played and held tryouts in the stadium between until 1959. Other teams called “The Lady” home as well including the Kinston Expos and Kinston Blue Jays during the 1970s and 1980s. The Blue Jays were managed by future MLB Manager, Grady Little. Future Hall of Famer, Fred McGriff also played for the Blue Jays. It was the Kinston Indians, however, who spent 25 seasons in the stadium and won 5 League Titles between 1988 and 2011. Future Big-League Managers, All-Stars, Cy Young Awards, World Series winners have all called Kinston and Grainger Stadium home. Some notable names include Charles Nagy, Albert Belle, Bartolo Colon, Manny Ramirez, Cliff Lee, Eric Wedge, Grady Sizemore, Lonnie Chisenhall, Mike Hargrove, C.C. Sabathia and recent Hall of Fame inductee Jim Thome. There are countless others who have also impacted the baseball community and the history of Grainger Stadium.
Professional baseball took a break from Grainger Stadium from 2012-2016, but the Down East Wood Ducks returned in 2017, and brought the Carolina League Title back to Kinston in its inaugural year. Current Texas Rangers, Leody Taveras and Bubba Thompson, as well as 2019 Baseball America MiLB Manager of the Year, Corey Ragsdale, all impacted the history of this great stadium. It’s not just the players on the field that made this place so special. The Groundskeepers, dating back to Lewis B. “Mac” McAvery in 1949 to Truman Skinner and more recently Tommy Walston and Stephen Watson, have won numerous Fields of the Year awards. Most importantly Walston in 2003 and Watson in 2018 were named Class A Sportsturf Managers of the Year. The behind-the-scenes staff were also recognized. Personnel such as, Robert Smeraldo, the longest serving “Clubbie” for a Kinston Team, Shari Massengill, the 2007 Female Executive of the Year and the only female GM in the Stadiums history, and North Johnston the longest serving GM with the Kinston Indians were fan favorites at Historic Grainger Stadium. Lastly, Bill Ellis who helped bring Baseball back to Kinston, with the help of our front office staff has made sure the Stadium functions at a high level.
Historic Grainger Stadium is an integral part of the Kinston and Down East Community. “The Lady” has hosted weddings, concerts, and college baseball. Grainger Stadium has hosted the Freedom Classic and the 2004 NCAA DI Kinston Regional. Not only is it known for baseball or football but has been home to a wide variety of events, including, the 1979 USSSA Men’s Softball World Series, local Ironclad Marathon, High School Girls Soccer, Corn Hole, and a Whole Hog Blues Festival, and more. Every team, player, manager, coach, staff, family, friend, and especially the fans, who have walked through the gates of Grainger Stadium, thank you. For those not mentioned, know your passion, dedication, and commitment to making this stadium thrive over the last 75 years has not gone unnoticed. Here’s to the current Front Office of the Down East Wood Ducks and the City of Kinston who will ensure the stadium will continue to add to its history. If you have any more additional information, please reach out to the Wood Ducks at 252-686-5154.