08/02/04 — OPINION -- Shelby has more than state tourney

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OPINION -- Shelby has more than state tourney

By Gabe Whisnant
Published in Sports on August 2, 2004 1:55 PM

Baseball is the most superstitious sport.

Nobody likes to be jinxed.

After Wayne County knocked off Pitt County a couple of weeks ago, I was careful not to think ahead too much going into the Area 1 East Championship Series against Wilson.

But, it was tough.

Especially considering that the N.C. American Legion state tournament was going to be held in my hometown of Shelby.

Still, my anticipation grew ever since I learned that the tourney would be in Cleveland County.

It has been apparent for months that Post 11 had the talent to play with the state's elite. After the sweep of Wilson County, it became official. Now, it's just a couple of days away.

As a young sports writer, this will be the first chance I have had to cover an event in the town I will somehow or another always call home.

But, this isn't just any old event. This is baseball -- played at a high level with some of the best players and coaches in North Carolina participating.

On top of all that, it's at a quality site with recent success in hosting big events -- Hoyt S. Keeter Stadium, home of the 2002 American Legion Southeast Regional.

I don't really have any direct ties to Shelby Post 82. But I am familiar with the program.

I bought just about every baseball glove and pair of cleats that I ever owned from Post 82 head coach and local sporting goods store owner Mike Grayson.

My alma mater, Crest High School, has a few players on the team and I graduated with at least one of their sisters. And yes, that makes me feel old.

My father wore the Post 82 blue and orange -- and he still has his old, wool uniform top in quite good condition.

The only lasting memorable experience I personally have of Hoyt S. Keeter Stadium was a double that I "slugged" down the left-field line against Shelby High during a non-conference game as a junior.

As familiar as I am with the town and surroundings, I know this week will offer plenty of new experiences. I'm certain there will be a lot of nostalgia in the air as well.

I'll be mere miles from Shelby City Park -- a place where I met and played on the diamond with guys who are still some of my best friends, from T-ball on up; a spot where I first realized just how important coaches are in the development and mentoring of young people.

Most importantly, I'll be just a few minutes from where I played catch and took batting practice for countless hours with my best friend, my Dad.

I'm positive I wouldn't be where I am today if it weren't for my great experiences with recreational baseball in Shelby.

Yes, this week, the focus will be on baseball -- as it should. I'm excited about going home, but I'm equally jazzed about following Post 11 in what hopes to be a stout showing at the double-elimination tourney.

But, before you head towards the City of Pleasant Living, let me point out a few other spots that might make your trip to the foothills even more enjoyable. I'll keep it simple and try not to sound too much like a tour guide.

* IF YOU DO ONE THING while in Shelby -- try the western N.C. Barbecue. Red Bridges' restaurant is conveniently located on the left side of Highway 74 just as you are coming into town. You can't go wrong with Red's. Sliced or chopped, some of the best 'cue, hush puppies and sweet tea west of Wayne County with a quaint dining atmosphere.

* GOT YOUNG 'UNS? Even if you don't, check out the Shelby City Park Carousel and Rotary Train. Located at the City Park, the Carousel was restored in 1998 and is one of six antique carousels in North Carolina. The train was added in 2002.

* VISIT UPTOWN SHELBY -- just a few minutes away from the stadium with some of the best non-barbecue eats in town. While still in the process of rejuvenation, the uptown area looks more attractive than it ever has.

* YOU'LL NEED MORE TIME -- but the Broad River Greenway is the most scenic, natural area in Cleveland County with hiking and biking trails along the river. Its a shame you will miss the annual Greenway birthday party on August 16th, featuring the "Rubber Ducky Regatta," but it's still a refreshing spot if you've got the time.