Charleston has a storied history of professional baseball, and Eric Douglas spent a portion of FestivALL discovering fond memories residents have of days spent at the ballpark.
Douglas sat in the Culture Center on the state Capitol grounds Wednesday and Thursday listening to anyone who wanted to share stories of Watt Powell Park, the old Charleston Charlies or anything in between. He wanted to create an oral history of baseball in the capital city.
Douglas has been creating oral histories during FestivALL for the past four years on various topics — West Virginia’s veterans, war stories and basic family history — but this year he chose a theme that a lot of people can relate too.
“This is kind of an extension of what we’ve been doing the last couple years, just kind of collecting general stories,” Douglas said, “But I wanted to capture some of those baseball memories because baseball has been a big part of Charleston.”
He conducted 10 interview sessions in the two-day period, each about an hour-long, to hear what memories people had of watching minor league baseball. One common topic some interviewees brought up was the building of the new Appalachian Power Park on the East End and leaving Watt Powell Park, which had been around since 1948.
“One of the people I spoke to was one of the people who spearheaded lobbying for and getting the new ballpark. A couple of the people I spoke to had said they were adamantly opposed to it,” Douglas said. “So, I got to here both sides of it.”
Another person still had a bat he received from a player at the end of a season and a program from when the Pittsburgh Pirates scrimmaged their then-AAA affiliate Charleston Charlies that was signed by the Charlies’ players.
“Fifty years later and they’re still holding onto this memorabilia,” Douglas said. “It’s pretty impressive how those baseball memories were to these people growing up.”
Douglas, a Kanawha Valley native and Marshall University graduate, has been working on documentary-style projects since he took a certification class at Duke University while he was living in North Carolina. He moved back to Charleston in 2011 after leaving in 1998, and he started projects like this to learn about the city while he was gone.
“It was a way to get back into the community, get re-involved in West Virginia and reconnect with a bunch of people,” he said.
But the purpose of this project was to get people talking about their memories of spending time with their family, using baseball as an underlying factor.
“That’s the whole purpose of this oral history project,” Douglas said, “is to capture these day-to-day memories we all remember.”
This project isn’t done yet. Douglas said he wants more residents to talk to him. He wants to hear more from people he didn’t get to hear much from: women, people of color or children.
“We’d like to do some more,” Douglas said. “We’d like to get more perspectives than what we have so far.”
Eventually, Douglas will put all the interviews together to form an exhibit. He hasn’t decided what route to take yet, but he’d like to have something together by FestivALL in the fall.
If you have a baseball story you would like to tell, you can call the state archives library at 304-558-0230 to set up an appointment.