Smithfield: Sports

Rays’ Chris Archer helps dedicate new East Clayton Community Park

Clayton Parks and Recreation Director Larry Bailey welcomes the crowd to the East Clayton Community Park dedication.
Clayton Parks and Recreation Director Larry Bailey welcomes the crowd to the East Clayton Community Park dedication. DEAN STRICKLAND

Chris Archer said he wished the Town of Clayton had had something this good when he was in school.

Archer, the former Clayton High star who has pitched in 29 games over the past two seasons at the Major League level with the Tampa Bay Rays, was the guest of honor and threw the ceremonial first pitch – to Mayor Pro-Tem Michael Grannis – at Sunday’s dedication of the 66-acre East Clayton Community Park.

“All the accolades I’ve ever won aren’t just on me,” Archer said. “They’re on the people of the Town of Clayton. I feel honored to be throwing a first pitch. I’ve never thrown out a first pitch before. I’m not warm, I’m not loose and there’s no telling where the ball’s going to go.”

The park, funded by part of the $4 million bond issue passed in 2008, is a new kind of showplace for its part of Johnston County.

“This is our third (facility) dedication in the last six months,” Clayton Parks and Recreation director Larry Bailey said. “That may not seem like a lot to some of you, but I’ve been here almost 30 years and went my first 20 years without a dedication, so you can imagine what that really means to me. But it means more to the community. We’ve dedicated Sam’s Branch Greenway, our first town greenway, and Clayton River Walk on the Neuse.

Bailey said the park is now the system’s largest, filling a recreation need on the east side of Clayton that had been identified in a 2004 plan. Many of the town’s parks are dedicated for specific sports. East Clayton park is a more flexible, multipurpose space.

“And the multipurpose field is reminiscent of something you’d see at a college or university, a great open space for informal play,” he said.

It contains a lighted, regulation-size baseball field with a 350-foot outfield fence and a permanent mound. There’s also a lighted, regulation-size soccer field. Both are the first ones in Clayton not on the campus of Clayton High School.

It also has a large multi-purpose playing field, which is the first of its kind in the town, along with a one-mile wooded walking trail that has a combination of asphalt and dirt surfaces. Along the trail is a bench in memory of the late Victor Yauch, a long-time supporter of parks and recreation in Clayton.

Across Glen Laurel Road, but still part of the park complex, is the 2-year-old, 3-acre East Clayton Dog Park.

Still to be completed are the town’s first inclusive playground, which will allow children with special needs to play on the same equipment as others, as well as a 20-acre, tournament-standard disc golf course.

“We call Clayton a premiere community for active families, and a part of that is what we see here today,” Grannis said. “We’re attempting to create parks and have a lot of different activities for families in this community. We’re truly blessed to have what we have in this community today.

“The universal (inclusive playground) is something I’m extremely excited about. Children that have special needs of one form or another may not be able to participate on any of the equipment at (traditional) playgrounds. We formed a committee in June to consider building a universal playground. And I would really like to see that be dedicated by next year at this time.”

Town Councilmen Art Holder, Butch Lawter, Bob Satterfield and Jason Thompson and Town Manager Steve Biggs were present in the crowd of about 100.

Also on hand and in their green, gold and white uniforms were members of the youth baseball team that Archer sponsors: “The Archers.”

“We’re trying to teach them the fundamentals of being a good human and maximizing their potential,” Archer said. “Not necessarily in sports. That’s what’s great about having this park out here. There’s more to sports than just playing a game. You learn camaraderie, teamwork, how to be trustworthy and trust other people.

“Now we can extend this into regulation soccer and baseball fields that we haven’t had here in Clayton. So it’s an honor to be here. I’ll never forget the town where I come from.”