Durham Bulls

Here’s one way that a Raleigh soccer park will almost certainly fall short

With its cramped, rickety bleachers, the old Devereux Meadows baseball park was demolished to make way for the city's sanitation fleet.
With its cramped, rickety bleachers, the old Devereux Meadows baseball park was demolished to make way for the city's sanitation fleet. 1976 News & Observer file photo

Decades before last week’s unveiling of a proposed Major League Soccer stadium near Salisbury and Peace streets, professional baseball was played at a wooden grandstand ballpark not very far away.

Nearly every summer beginning in 1945, the Raleigh minor league baseball team played near what is now Capital Boulevard near Peace Street in downtown Raleigh. Pro ball left Raleigh for good following the 1971 season, but the park left a legacy as one of the most beautifully named ballparks in the history of the minor leagues, if not the game itself:

Devereux Meadow. The name, which honored the Devereux family that gained prominence and wealth in Raleigh prior to the Civil War, feels like it should be accompanied by music when it rolls off the tongue.

In an age of naming rights for stadiums, the days of lyrically named ballparks have all but vanished, gone the way of the discos, floppy discs and the typewriter. With some exceptions, when a new stadium is christened in a city, it now comes with a high-priced corporate name tag.

A few of the sillier corporate-sellout names include Northeast Delta Dental Stadium, home to the New Hampshire Fisher Cats of the Double A Eastern League, Whataburger Field, home to the Corpus Christi Hooks of the Double A Texas League, and the KFC Yum! Center where the University of Louisville plays basketball.

Growing up in Cheyenne, Wyo., the neighborhood budding athletes took a liking to the way stadiums and ballparks were named. So, the Deming Elementary School outdoor basketball court and dirt playground for baseball became known to us as “Deming Square Garden,” in reference to New York City’s “Most Famous Arena in the World,” Madison Square Garden. Our pickup football games were played at Lions Park in a dug-out area we called “Sunken Gardens.”

That was in the 1960s, when arenas, stadiums and ballparks, perhaps taking their cue from soccer venues in England, were named either after the neighborhoods in which they were located or after prominent local officials or a longtime owner of a team.

Many of those soccer stadiums still stand in England and still carry with them some glorious names. Manchester United plays at Old Trafford, and Chelsea plays at Stamford Bridge in London. There is Stadium of Light in Sunderland, Turf Moor in Burnley, and Bramall Lane as home to Sheffield United. Others include The New Lawn, Roots Hall, The Den, The Shay, Racecourse Ground, Rodney Parade, City Ground, and one old Raleigh baseball fans can appreciate, Greenhous Meadow.

Poetic names, at least to the ears of sports fans, carried on in this country for decades. Perhaps it all got started in Boston, longtime home to pro basketball and ice hockey at Boston Garden, and where the Red Sox first played baseball at South End Grounds, then Huntington Avenue, and finally at Fenway Park.

New York football and baseball had the Polo Grounds. Philadelphia had the Baker Bowl, St. Louis played baseball at Sportsman’s Park, and the San Francisco Giants first played at Candlestick Park. Minor-league baseball in Atlanta was staged at Ponce de Leon Ballpark.

The Research Triangle area was not immune to colorfully named ballparks and arenas. There is no better name in college basketball circles than Cameron Indoor Stadium, which first was called Duke Indoor Stadium. Five County Stadium is still home to the Carolina Mudcats baseball team in the Single A Carolina League.

The Durham Bulls’ first baseball park was the aptly named El Toro Field, then renamed Durham Athletic Park following the 1933 season. That is when a $20,000 donation from the John Sprunt Hill family allowed the City of Durham to purchase the property, under the condition that it could never be used for anything other than an athletic field. Thus, the name.

After much haggling in 1995, Durham city officials settled on Durham Bulls Athletic Park for its new stadium. Jim Goodmon, whose Capitol Broadcasting owns the Bulls, wants to continue to honor Durham’s past with the name and has shown little inclination for placing a corporate name on the stadium.

“I can’t say from a revenue standpoint that I love it, but I certainly respect the idea, especially on a smaller scale like this where the citizens paid for the facility,” says George Habel, vice-president/sports group for Capitol Broadcasting. “There’s no complicated financial scheme. This was paid for by the taxpayers. It really is right and proper that the brand is the brand of Durham.”

Last week, North Carolina Football Club owner Steve Malik announced an effort to build a soccer stadium in downtown Raleigh, part of a bid to lure Major League Soccer to the Triangle. The 22,000-seat stadium and entertainment complex would cost $150 million and be located on Peace Street, across from Seaboard Station. There was no suggestion of what this park might be named.

Devereux Meadow would have a nice ring to it.