07/22/05 — For the love of the games

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For the love of the games

By Steve Roush
Published in Sports on July 22, 2005 1:46 PM

The faces change, the seasons roll.

In the minor leagues, change is a barreling locomotive. It takes familiarity and discards it like a day-old newspaper. The locomotive works faster than a mover being paid by the job -- it will find its way to every locker, every seat and every square inch of a ballpark.

If you watch and wait long enough, you'll see it.

Players and fans come and go, teams switch names and leagues, new ballparks are built and old ones are torn down.

Change never sleeps -- and it doesn't take lunch breaks.

But every once in a while, it meets its match.

Right behind the first base dugout at venerable Grainger Stadium, you'll find Bob and Carol Malpass seated in Box 131, fulfilling their passion of watching tomorrow's stars today.

For the Goldsboro residents, it's a much easier task to determine how many Kinston Indians home games they've missed since 1994 than how many times they've sung "Take me out to Ballgame."

"We go to every one we can get to," said Carol, who celebrated her 70th birthday this spring (but she was quick to point out her hubby of 53 years is almost seven years her senior). "It's wonderful -- it's a great place to bring a family.

"We love it here."

Where the past

meets the present

Meanwhile, behind the Kinston dugout across the field, another face the change train can't steamroll takes in the old ballgame.

Carl Long, a 70-year-old gentle giant with a warm smile, is handing out autographed baseball cards to kids of all ages. With every card he freely gives up, he sends a message.

"Stay in school," he says to youngsters. "Get an education."

The signature on the cards shows a much younger Carl Long -- a skinny-yet-muscular center fielder with a smile on his face and a bat resting on his right shoulder.

Long was a trailblazer with talent. He still is.

"I used to hit 'em on top of that building," said Long, a Negro League Hall-of-Famer who played at Grainger Stadium almost a half century ago.

He was pointing to the roof of an old warehouse probably more than 500 feet away.

"It was nothing to hit it that far," he added. His gaze shifted over to center field as games of long ago flashed before his eyes. "And I had a gun for an arm, too. I could run, throw and I learned to become a good hitter. You know, I drove in 111 runs here in 1956 -- that's still a record."

Long was the first black ballplayer to play in the Carolina League. He was also Kinston's first black deputy sheriff and detective, and was also the city's first black commercial bus driver.

He played with Willie Mays and against Henry Aaron, Willie McCovey and Charlie Pride and was inducted into the Negro League and Kinston Indians Halls of Fame in 2003.

And he signs autographs for kids of all ages.

'A lot of fun'

Kinston's losing this contest, but losing streaks do little to dampen the love of the game for true-blue fans like the Malpasses.

"It's always a lot of fun here," Bob says.

"But it's more fun when you're winning," Carol interjects with a laugh.

"Now batting for Kinston, No. 9, Nathan Panther," the voice of announcer (not to mention director of broadcasting and public relations) Rob Sinclair booms.

"Oh, Nathan is one of Bob's favorite players," Carol says moments before the outfielder cracks a single up the middle.

"Run, Nathan, run," Bob exhorts Panther, with Carol pumping her fist and shouting, "Yeah!"

"We like Nathan, but Richie Sexon is our favorite," says Carol, referring to the Seattle Mariners star who played in Kinston during the '95 season. "We've seen a ton of major leaguers: Richie, Bartolo Colon, Jaret Wright, Danny Graves, Victor Martinez, C.C. Sabathia, Einar Diaz, Sean Casey...

"They send all our good players to (Double-A) Akron, which is good for them -- but bad for us."

As she reminisces, the Kinston mascot wanders over to Box 131.

"You better give me a hug, Scout," she tells the obliging, lovable hound. "I'm the only adult Scout hug, and he's so good with the kids."

With only around 800 at the park on this night, making the rounds isn't tough for young Scout.

"Why more people don't take advantage of this place is beyond me," Carol says.

It's a good question.

The Kinston Indians won the first half of the Carolina League's Southern Division, yet are at the bottom of the league in attendance.

But that can all change.

Remember, the change locomotive can be used for good -- and it can be steered by all of us.


Steve Roush is sports editor of the News-Argus.