Midtown Raleigh News

Once home to Raleigh ballpark, land eyed for urban park

An expanse of land just north of downtown moved closer to a greener future this month when the city began relocating a sanitation and fleet yard to a new home outside the Beltline.

The land, which has spent the past 30 years as a parking lot for garbage trucks, is envisioned as a park and greenway that supporters hope will enliven an aging gateway into downtown.

Called Devereux Meadows, the planned 15-acre park takes its name from the minor league ballpark that once anchored the site along the west side of Capital Boulevard between Peace Street and Wade Avenue.

In the ballpark’s heyday in the 1950s and ’60s, thousands filled the rickety bleachers of Devereux Meadows to watch the Raleigh Caps of the old Carolina Class B League. Among the young ballplayers was Carl Yastrzemski, a future Hall of Famer who spent a season in Raleigh on his way to the majors.

The ballpark, located on what was then called Downtown Boulevard, fell into disrepair and was razed in the late 1970s to make way for the city’s solid waste services headquarters. Now, the park and greenway plan has emerged as a key element in a long-term vision to remake Capital Boulevard.

Ballpark had rich history

Jim Raynor pitched a six-hit shutout to lead the Raleigh-Durham Triangles to a 2-0 victory in the last pro baseball game played at Devereux Meadows. It was Sunday night, Aug. 15, 1971.

That season, the Triangles played half of their games in Raleigh and half in the old Durham Athletic Park.

The performance marked a highlight in an otherwise lousy year. The Triangles finished in the league cellar with a 25-44 record.

The Raleigh ballpark closed a few years later and met a wrecking ball in 1979, a sad conclusion for a once-beloved venue. By the end, the park had become a hangout for vagrants.

An Associated Press account put it this way: “They drank from bag-covered bottles in the deserted press box. And like the ballpark itself, one of them fell down last winter and never got up.”

In its prime, the park also doubled as a football field for Broughton and Enloe high schools. But baseball left the most lasting memories.

The park had a high left-field wall just 315 feet from home plate, same as the distance in Fenway Park in Boston. Sluggers like Greg Luzinski and Cliff Johnson sent home runs sailing out of the stadium and onto Downtown Boulevard.

After signing Yastrzemski out of Notre Dame, the Boston Red Sox sent the 19-year-old to Raleigh in 1959 and soon dispatched Ted Williams to give him private batting lessons.

As many fans often showed up for batting practice – when Williams was apt to be in town and take a few swings – as for the games.

Yaz didn’t disappoint. He batted .377 with 15 home runs and 170 hits in 120 games.

The following summer, he was moved to the outfield, sent to Class AAA Minneapolis and from there to the Red Sox, where he began a Hall of Fame career.

A new future

This year, city sanitation trucks were moved to the Wilders Grove Service Center, a 24,000-square-foot facility off New Bern Avenue with ample room for the entire fleet.

Devereux Meadows sits in the floodplain of Pigeon House Branch, the most polluted water body in the city. With the creek’s environmental constraints, planners say it makes sense for open space that allows for a stream restoration.

“Putting a park back there seemed a natural,” said Ken Bowers, deputy director of city planning. “The more you look at the environmental issues, it looked less and less attractive to try to build development.”

The park is part of a larger plan for Capital Boulevard, described as Raleigh’s most traveled and least loved gateway into downtown.

In coming decades, the city plans to remodel the boulevard into a modern corridor with a green median and network of greenways and parallel streets to serve cyclists and pedestrians.

The public projects, which total about $60 million, will be completed in phases with local, state and federal dollars available for everything from stream restoration to highway bridge replacement.

The park will cost $5.2 million. As for timing, the state plans in 2016 to build new bridges at Peace Street and Wade Avenue, and city officials say it makes sense to coordinate park construction around the same time.

In more northern stretches, rundown areas between Wake Forest Road and Atlantic Avenue could be revitalized for mixed-use development that brings residences and shops. A future light-rail stop is planned on Whitaker Mill Road.

“The character, function and image of Capital Boulevard will be completely transformed,” a corridor study report released this month states.

But the old ballpark will not be forgotten. Bowers said city planners envision a marker or display area that tells the history of Raleigh’s romance with the national pastime.

Tim Stevens contributed to this story.