As players pile into Wendell Park for opening day of youth baseball and softball, it stands to reason someone will drop Babe Ruth’s name.
Young glovers have imitated Ruth’s renowned called shot in the 1932 World Series for decades, fantasizing about creating a magical moment of their own.
But for many in Wendell, the takeaway from that series is the story of a Chicago Cubs pitcher who faced the Yankees and struck Ruth out twice.
That’s the reason this year’s opening day, set to begin at 8 a.m. on April 22, is named in memory of Jake May. It falls on the 100th anniversary of May’s start in Major League Baseball.
“It’s always just been called ‘opening day,’ but we’re hoping to generate some interest in who May was, being from Wendell,” said Wendell Parks and Recreation Director Jeff Polaski. “It’s trying to help kids start talking about who he was and what did he do.”
May, who lived most his life in Wendell before his death in 1970, spent more than a dozen years in the majors, playing for the St. Louis Cardinals, the Cincinnati Reds and the Cubs. He went by Jakie on the diamond, sometimes signing his other name, Frank, in autographs.
His name was ultimately given to the road the runs through Wendell Country Club, near the site of May’s old family farm.
In Wendell’s early days, May played on a town-sponsored team that traveled and played in other communities.
“Baseball and Wendell have almost been synonymous forever,” former town commissioner Sid Baynes told Mayor Ginna Gray during a recent appearance on her East Wake TV show.
During his childhood, Baynes and his family lived in an apartment above May’s house while building one of their own.
“There was a lot of baseball being played back then, and then when I was a kid, and now baseball is still important,” Baynes said. “During the last 10 or 12 years, Wendell has had 14 youth baseball teams that have won state championships and also two youth softball teams. The marriage between baseball and Wendell is just a really great story, and Mr. May is kind of the way to get us into that story.”
Organizers plan to showcase some May memorabilia at opening day.
‘The game’s not over’
Baynes, the president of the Wendell Historical Society, spoke to the town board about other matters involving May during a meeting in January.
He thanked town leaders for supporting efforts to have May inducted into the N.C. Sports Hall of Fame. He told the board May was not selected this year, but that he plans to file another nomination by August to have May considered for the 2018 class.
“To use the baseball vernacular, we struck out this inning,” Baynes said. “But the game’s not over. Mr. May was in the last 20 (candidates). He made the next-to-last cut.”
Baynes said members of the Hall of Fame committee asked him to tell the town not to give up pursuing the recognition for May.
He noted one of the recent inductees had been in the running for the past seven years. Another had been a nominee for the past four years.
“We’ve had three professional baseball players in this town: Jake May, Charlie Rowland and Fred Henry,” Baynes told the board. “Whatever we can do to help raise the visibility and give some credit to these people from the past, I think would help our town in the long run. Also, it would help people on committees like this hall of fame committee to see how important these people have been to us.”