Guest Commentary

Faithful fans, even away from the field

June 2, 2013 

Dan Leigh is a former reporter and writer for The Chapel Hill News.

Bill Aycock, a former chancellor at UNC, is now 97. He is an inveterate baseball fan.

He owns an Atlanta Braves ball cap, but he lives for the UNC Tar Heels on radio.

He has been known to carry his radio with him to the commons area at Carolina Meadows, waiting for the dinner hour and listening to the Tar Heels play-by-play.

He learned to play baseball in his native Selma.

In his early teens, for three years he organized and led a makeshift Johnston County team, the Selma Bantams; the team took on all comers. Occasionally his father would drive his car, packing as many as 10 players in his Nash.

As a UNC professor in the UNC School of Law, Aycock continued as a baseball fan, often filing out of Manning Hall in the 1950s to watch the Tar Heels play at Emerson Field, the ball field which was next to Lenoir Hall. Manning Hall housed the UNC Law School back then.

I am Bill Aycock’s son-in-law and also an incorrigible Tar Heel fan.

In recent years, my wife Nancy fanned that fire by giving me season tickets.

The expansive home schedule at Boshamer, I must say, tests my mettle each year.

Like Bill Aycock, I came to baseball as many in small town or rural America did. Lots of playground pickup games, Small Fry (a pre-Little League) and Little League in Rocky Mount, high school, Pony League, and American Legion ball in Chapel Hill and finally, in the mid-1960s, two years on UNC baseball teams.

For Bill and me, our brotherhood in UNC baseball has yet another UNC connection. As chancellor, he orchestrated the relocation of the ball field to its present location next to Avery Dorm on South Campus. In the late ’50s, he had routed the dirt excavated for the construction of Ehringhaus Dorm to fill in the space near Avery.

That space became Boshamer Stadium.

During the summers of ’64 and ’65, as a student and then graduate of Chapel Hill High School, I worked for the UNC Building and Grounds Department. There, teams of workers cleared fallen trees and debris from Battle Park or other green spaces throughout the campus. One day during a July heat wave, another worker and I volunteered to ride a dump truck. A “cush” job, or so we thought.

Soon we were on our way to a farm in Chatham County to haul two loads of chicken manure back to the campus. We dumped the loads on the right field of the fledgling baseball field next to Avery Dorm.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should say, that, “Yes, I did shovel and spread manure onto the right field grounds that day.”

With our early experiences in baseball long past, Bill and I have graduated to listener and spectator.

During the early February and March baseball schedule this year, when regular broadcasts of UNC games were a few weeks away, we forged a plan that I would go to the games and report the results back to him, as soon as possible: what the pitchers did, which batters sealed the deal offensively, glaring plays that either caught my interest or demanded retelling; basically what happened – on the field and sometimes off the field and always the attendance numbers.

By scoring the games, I was able to give full reports by telephone.

Now, even when the Heels don’t play, we dive into the rankings, who plays whom next, delving into the strategies and statistics of the game, drinking in all the information we can hold.

For us, the great American pastime is alive and well.

Dan Leigh is a former writer for The Chapel Hill News

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