Shankle: Despite basketball, N.C. is a baseball state

Jul. 17, 2013 @ 09:23 PM

The woof tickets that have touted potential baseball matchups between 1-A Voyager Academy and schools from larger classifications are ready to get punched, and the Vikings could host some of those games on their own field this coming season.
Voyager coach Pete Shankle told the Durham Sports Club on Wednesday at Croasdaile Country Club that his team soon will have a field to call home on 50 anonymously donated acres already under development on Hoover Road, off Highway 70 near Wheels Fun Park.
Development of the land is expected to include three phases, with the baseball diamond and a soccer field coming first, Voyager managing director Carl Forsyth said. Next would be another baseball diamond, as well as one for softball, he said, with tennis courts in the third phase.
The disclosure of those plans, however, was not Shankle’s reason for being at the sports club, although it tied into his keynote address about baseball in North Carolina.
“The state of baseball in the state of North Carolina is unbelievable,” Shankle said.
The Tar Heel state is a baseball state, allusions to all of the basketball played on Tobacco Road notwithstanding, Shankle said.
“Guys, ladies, it’s a baseball state,” Shankle said. “It is, and it has been.”
The Duke-North Carolina basketball games routinely turn into classics, but the recent N.C. State-UNC postseason baseball battles rivaled those, Shankle said.
“It is a baseball state,” Shankle said.
To prove his point, Shankle mentioned North Carolina baseball products such as outfielder Wil Myers (Thomasville) and pitcher Chris Archer (Raleigh), both former Durham Bulls now with the Tampa Bay Rays.
Pratt Maynard (Franklinton), who is in the Los Angeles Dodgers farm system, was in the audience with his grandfather, former Durham County Sheriff Worth Hill.
Shankle mentioned Texas Rangers pitcher Matt Harrison and Baltimore Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts, who both were born in Durham. Harrison played for South Granville High School in Creedmoor, and Roberts honed his skills at Chapel Hill High School.
North Carolina is the sixth- or seventh-best state in the nation for producing high school baseball talent, Shankle said. There are 35 players from N.C. high schools on active Major League Baseball rosters, compared to the 10 players on active NBA rosters who went to high schools in this state, according to Shankle.
“It is a baseball state,” Shankle reiterated.
And Durham is a baseball town, with Duke coach Chris Pollard and N.C. Central coach Jim Koerner building solid programs.
“If you want to see a new brand of baseball, then go watch Central play,” Shankle said. “The interest in baseball in Durham is more than it’s ever been.”
South Durham Little League and Bull City Little League are mainstays, while the Long Ball Program is getting more inner-city kids into the game of baseball, Shankle said.
Nine area high school players were included on the NCPreps.com all-state teams: Jordan’s Wood Myers, Riverside’s Jake Kusz and Northern’s Zack Garrison made the 4-A all-state team; Hillsborough Orange’s Nick Debo and Jon Evans garnered all-state spots on the 3-A level; on the 2-A level, Pittsboro Northwood’s Robert Straughn and Justin King were among the best baseball players in the state; Voyager’s Loy Stone and Chad Sykes were all-state performers.
In 2007, Voyager opened as a public charter school for both elementary and middle grades. Voyager’s high school opened in 2010, fielding a baseball team that became pretty good pretty quickly.
The Vikings played for a state championship in 2012, the first season that Voyager was eligible to compete for state titles as a result of joining the N.C. Athletic Association. South Stanly beat Voyager, a team of freshmen and sophomores only, in that series.
For three years, Voyager has played its home games at historic Durham Athletic Park or at Southern High, where Shankle coached for 19 years and is the namesake of the Spartans’ baseball venue, Shankle Stadium. Shankle also coached at Northern for four years.
Voyager has been so good that the 3-A and 4-A programs in their backyard have been reluctant to play them, fearing a beating from a small upstart, Voyager athletics director Mike Germino has said.
But Riverside and Person, both 4-A schools, will step to the plate against Voyager this coming season, Shankle said. Northwood, recently elevated to the 3-A level, also will trade pitches with Voyager, and Shankle said each has agreed to play two games against the Vikings.
This season will be the first time that Shankle has had a senior class at Voyager to skipper.