- Associated Press - Saturday, May 28, 2016

SPARTANBURG, S.C. (AP) - Sunflower seed shells litter the ground below the iconic green wooden seats at Duncan Park Stadium.

Giant speaker horns once mounted above the stands’ rest on the stadium’s old wooden bleachers.

The nearly 90-year-old ballpark is the oldest in South Carolina and is one of the oldest wooden grandstand baseball stadiums in the nation.

It has been called a throwback to another era - a legacy in Spartanburg’s baseball history. And now, with its placement on the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places, it has been officially designated a place worthy of preservation.

“Everybody you talk to has some recollection of going to baseball games there,” said Donnie Love, a historic preservation architect with McMillan Pazdan Smith Architecture, who has been leading efforts to renovate the stadium.

Designed by Spartanburg architect J. Frank Collins, Duncan Park Stadium was built in 1926.

The ballpark has been home to minor league teams, textile teams and the Spartanburg American Legion Post 28 team, the stadium’s longest tenant.

Perhaps the stadium’s best-known minor league team was the Spartanburg Phillies, a Class A affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies that played there from 1963-94.

The ball field accordingly has seen many players who later achieved success in the major leagues.

And while various community events, pageants and celebrations have been held at stadium, none have quite matched the decisive game of the 1936 American Legion World Series, when a record-setting crowd of 21,000 fans filled the ballpark to watch Post 28 win.

All this rich history led to the stadium’s listing on the National Register.

“It was really something I had hoped we’d be able to do all along, due to the significance of the stadium,” Love said.

Jesse Campbell always knew the stadium was significant. He was involved with the Peaches, Phillies and then Post 28 baseball for 38 years. Although he never played Legion ball, it’s in his blood.

“Back when I got involved with the Legion, I came up here one night to watch a ballgame and two old men sitting in the stands lassoed me,” said Campbell, now retired.

They told Campbell about American Legion baseball and said if they couldn’t get more young help, they would be getting rid of the post’s charter. Campbell agreed to help the men.

“I saw this field lay idle for so many years with no upkeep,” he said. “In order for us to play our games, I would come do maintenance on my own time.”

Some of Campbell’s proudest moments in the stadium include hosting two American Legion World Series, getting his picture taken with Hank Aaron on the pitcher’s mound and coaching countless young men.

Post 28 continues to play its games at the stadium, along with the Spartanburg High School baseball teams.

The city of Spartanburg owns the stadium, and agreed to make $500,000 of improvements through a partnership with Spartanburg School District 7.

Over the past two years, the outfield wall, grandstand exterior and seating have been renovated.

Love said structural improvements have strengthened the grandstand, and rust removal and new paint have made it more weather resistant.

The renovated seating includes several of the 582 green wooden seats that came from Philadelphia’s Shibe Park, known later as Connie Mack Stadium. The seats were installed in Duncan Park Stadium in 1971.

Love said there are plans to restore and reinstall more of the wooden seats.

The green plastic box seats also have been updated, and the wooden bleacher benches will eventually be replaced with new wooden benches, he said.

Still to come are locker rooms under the grandstand on both ends of the stadium.

“I think the goal is for the stadium to be used not only by the high school, but to have other exhibition games, tournaments and maybe college or semi-pro teams to come and play because of how unique the field is and the history there,” Love said.

A long-time baseball fan, Ed Epps first attended Spartanburg Phillies games after moving to the area in 1981.

“I loved going with my kids, especially my son,” he said. “When he was 3 years old and the team would hit a foul ball out past first base, he’d go trotting out there after it whether he had a prayer of getting it or not.”

About 20 years ago, Epps got the idea that somebody ought to write a book about the stadium before its history was lost and forgotten.

“A lot of the older guys who were associated with the Legion teams, textile league teams and the Phillies and Peaches were dying off, as were a lot of people who used to go to the games,” he said. “Waiting on people to do something about the stadium and the teams that had played there, it became pretty clear that nobody was going to do anything.”

Epps decided to write the book himself and is interviewing former players, coaches and managers and collecting photos and materials from people who’ve attended ballgames. He expects to begin writing in a year or two.

Also helping to preserve the stadium’s history is John Barron, who took over as Post 28’s athletic director following Campbell’s retirement.

Barron remembers seeing the Spartanburg Phillies play in the 1960s, and said although the stadium has gone through periods of disrepair, the infrastructure is solid.

“I’ve always loved baseball and there are not many stadiums around like this,” he said. “There is nothing in town better than this. Now that it’s on the National Register, it’s sacred ground.”

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Information from: Herald-Journal, http://www.goupstate.com/

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