Where the Future Began, Part 2


Ed Thomas, FutureAngels.com publisher Stephen Smith, and Jerry Fox. Thomas and Fox played on the 1961 Statesville Owls. Photo courtesy Steve Hill.

 

The resurrection of Statesville baseball history continues.

Ed Thomas and Jerry Fox were two independent players for the Statesville Owls in 1961. They were teammates of the Angels minor leaguers sent to Statesville from California, Florida and even from Canada. Thomas was signed by the Angels at season’s end and spent two years in Triple-A as a teammate of such future Angels as Jim Fregosi, Bo Belinsky, Dean Chance, Tom Satriano, Bobby Knoop and more.

Ed and Jerry took me to the home of Steve Hill, a local baseball collector. Steve has a wealth of Statesville and other baseball history in his home. In the above photo, behind us is a display he created of Statesville baseball history going back to 1939, when Statesville High School Stadium was built. Click here to view photos of Statesville Stadium circa 1961.

Steve has many photos in his collection I haven’t seen before, among them 8x10s of Jack Hiatt and Dick Simpson in Angels uniforms. Hiatt and Simpson, along with Dick Wantz, were the three 1961 Owls who went on to play in the majors.

My wife and I walked around downtown Statesville this morning shooting photos which I will post in a couple days. These are more for the alumni we reunited last year, so they can see what the town looks like today.

Ed and Jerry took me this afternoon to the Statesville High School ballpark, which is the site of the 1961 stadium. Not much remains from 49 years ago, and improvements are being added to prepare for a new college league that will play here this summer. We met up with Bill Moose, a history professor at Statesville’s Mitchell College who is also a baseball historian. I recorded a video interview with the three, which I’ll post in a couple days when I return home. We were standing on the infield just in front of the pitcher’s mound, the site of a legendary brawl on May 31 against rival Lexington. Click here to read more about the Lexington brawl.

Jerry’s wife loaned me footage of a home movie her family shot in 1961 of a Statesville game. It’s only about a minute, but so far as I know this is the only known film of the 1961 Owls — and it’s in color. I’ll post online later this week as well.

One thing’s for sure — a lot of people in this town are thirsting for the return of professional baseball. The wood-bat college league this summer isn’t quite there, but it’s a big step in the right direction. The proposed 50th anniversary reunion next year in Statesville should be another big step.

The Angels were here for only one year, but it was the Angels’ first year and remembered fondly by both players and fans who were here.

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