East Spencer celebrates restored Royal Giants Park

Published 12:00 am Monday, July 23, 2012

By Hugh Fisher
EAST SPENCER – Saturday’s afternoon sun shone down on a dream fulfilled.
A few months ago, Royal Giants Park on Long Street looked very different.
“Like a ghost town,” Mason Reddick said, remembering how the park looked before work to restore it began in early spring.
But since March, volunteers have painted, cleaned and beautified the park.
And Saturday morning, they came together to celebrate.
“We have accomplished a goal,” Mayor Barbara Mallett said.
Around her, kids shot baskets on the newly-refreshed court. Others played in a shower of water shot from one of the East Spencer Fire Department’s trucks.
And, on the fresh turf of the baseball diamond, players from a local youth baseball outreach stretched out, getting ready for some practice on the new field.
Mallett said she was proud of the effort, spearheaded by Reddick and local volunteers, to bring new life to Royal Giants Park.
Although the celebration was set to start at 10 a.m., Alderman Tammy Corpening said organizers had to turn people away at 9 o’clock so they could finish setting up.
“This feels good,” Corpening said. “People say how much they love it. They’re just happy someone’s taken the initiative and done something.”
A short walk away, Michelle Mitchell – a member of Reddick’s family – remembered coming to Royal Giants Park when she was younger.
“When me and my brothers and sisters used to come, there was a softball game every weekend,” said Mitchell, who now lives in Winston-Salem.
The fresh paint and updated playground are different from the metal swings she said she remembers.
Mitchell said she was looking forward to seeing what the community thought of the restoration, especially those who remembered the softball games of days gone by.
For his part, Reddick said he was pleased not only with the way the work turned out, but how many people turned out to enjoy it.
“Man, I’m elated!” Reddick said. “I’m so tired of seeing this place dormant.”
The park is full of memories. From its years as home to the Royal Giants, an all-black baseball team founded in 1945, to its later use as a public park, thousands of people have enjoyed days here.
Saturday, while visitors talked and reminisced, a new generation got ready to make its mark on the field.
Travis Gillispie brought youth ballplayers from Keep Play’n, Inc., a nonprofit outreach founded in Gastonia.
He said the group helps teach boys to play the game while also helping motive and encourage them.
“We’ve got about eight kids from Salisbury who come out and play baseball,” Gillispie said.
Some go on to play for the Carolina Tigers, the organization’s team, which he said this year will feature boys 13 and under.
Taking a break from demonstrating some techniques to his players, Gillispie said he was proud to be able to bring his players there for a mini-exhibition.
“It’s awesome,” he said. “When I heard the story about Royal Giants park and the guys used to play over here, it inspired me.”
He said his father, William Gillispie, had been among the first black American Legion baseball players, playing for Post 23 of Gastonia.
After the Royal Giants disbanded in 1953, Reddick was one of those who played softball at the field.
But although Reddick said he wasn’t going to be taking to the field in the July heat, he was glad to see young people on the diamond that day.
He told Gillispie he was looking forward to watching the players “run some bases, hit a few,” and bring the sounds of baseball back.
Alderman Curtis Cowan, whose father Cleodis Corpening played for the Royal Giants, said the park’s new look reminded him “of the old times when I used to come here, when I was coming up.”
The park, he said, is central to the community that surrounds it.
“I just hope it’ll bring people back to the park,” Cowan said.
“You know, that it just brings people back together so they can get to know one another.”
Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.