When score is tied–or just close–in the top of the ninth inning, I get nervous. This could mean extra innings. And nine is gracious plenty for me. Needless to say, I’m no sports junkie. And the fewer the overall points the particular sport creates, the greater my attention span is tested. So baseball should be a challenge for me as a spectator. However I’ve probably attended more live baseball games in my life than football, basketball or any other sport. I wonder why that is?
Well, in Winston-Salem, baseball is the only consistent professional sport we have had. We gave professional hockey a go for about 10 years but that pales against baseball’s presence since 1905. And I guess a professional sport is more accessible to the non-student population than college sports over all. But besides that, baseball games have kooky entertainment between the innings and frequently a fireworks show at the end. This provides folks like me enough diversion from the passion of the game that everybody else seems to be enjoying.
Naturally I was delighted when JJ Johnson returned after a hiatus to resume his role as entertainment host for the Winston-Salem Dash’s 2015 season. Johnson grew up in Winston, was a theater major in college and spent time in Los Angeles on the comedy circuit before returning home. He keeps the crowd in a continuous state of frolick and smiles regardless whether the team is having a bad night, whether it’s a little too hot and muggy, or even when the rain threatens.
Named the Dash now, the team has had many names over the years. Interestingly when they entered the North Carolina League in 1908 they named themselves the Winston-Salem Twins–this even five years before Winston and Salem consolidated and actually became a “twin” city. Changing affiliations with home teams through the 20th century influenced their names: The Winston-Salem Cardinals, Redbirds (St. Louis), Red Sox (Boston). But after 1984 we affiliated with the Chicago Cubs and now the White Sox however the names became more questionable: The Spirits? The Warthogs? Then to the current name, The Dash. This was based on the “dash” between Winston and Salem which grammarians were quick to point out was not a dash but a hyphen.
Anyway, everyone seems comfortable with Dash as the name. We also upgraded to a new stadium on par with the modern minor league stadiums of other cities our size. The first ballfield we built to attract a professional league was done with the largesse of–you guessed it–a Reynolds (this time R.J.’s youngest brother William). The field was named Prince Albert Baseball Stadium after the first RJR tobacco product. Corporate stadium sponsorship was around even back in 1905! In 1956, the 6,000 seat Ernie Shore Field was opened, named after a local athlete who moved to the major leagues and then returned home and served as sheriff. Then, in 2009 the BB&T Ballpark was constructed and was named Ballpark of the Year by Baseballparks.com during its first season.
And on a number of summer nights, the guy who is generally spiritless in most things sport–me–will be out there taking it all in. And strangely enough, enjoying it.