WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) – With so many people moving to our area and the constant development, the landscape of Wilmington is changing.
However, some of the people who live downtown are working to preserve the stories weaved into the city’s neighborhoods, including the tale of standout athlete Sam Bowens.
His picture hangs in the Wilmington Sports Hall of Fame in the airport, but there’s an effort underway to make sure his legacy isn’t forgotten.
Bowens was a standout four sport athlete at Williston Senior High School; He was a decathlete, a basketball star, a quarterback and linebacker for the football team, and a state champ baseball player.
While Bowens could do it all, baseball is the sport that put him on the map. He is the first Wilmington man to go to the World Series and played a huge role in integrating American baseball.
Fred Bowens still lives in town and remembers sitting in stadiums across the country watching his brother, Sam, play.
Such a sense of pride in the Black community to have someone to represent them and in pro ball, especially because it was hard to make back in those days. It was very rare for a black person to go to pro ball. After Jackie Robinson, there was only about two,” recalls Fred. “It was a big accomplishment for him and for the community.”
Sam died back in 2003, but people are still collecting his baseball cards and trying to keep his memory alive.
Matt Emmerich heard Sam’s story through a fellow baseball card collector and it inspired him to write down Bowen’s journey and create a short film.
“In the civil rights summer a young man from the Southside of Wilmington ended up on the cover of the New York Times for hitting a game running home run in Yankee Stadium in front of the biggest crowd of that year. “He led the Baltimore Orioles to the first pennant chase in 1964 in team history, he was a part of the 1966 Baltimore Orioles who in all effectiveness retired Sandy Koufax,” said Emmerich. “He’s got a really cool story and I think the city should celebrate that.”
Emmerich is also spearheading the effort to rename “Field 1″ at Robert Strange Park after Sam Bowens in an effort to preserve the field in the ever changing landscape of Wilmington’s Southside.
“There’s a great history of excellence that came out of this neighborhood and we shouldn’t just pave and develop over it without considering its impact today,” added Emmerich.
It’s a story Fred Bowens hopes opens people’s eyes and inspires the next generation playing on the neighborhood fields.
“Back in the day you couldn’t get the recognition that you deserve because,you know, segregation, and all that going on, and today things are changing, and it’s overdue. I’m glad its happening,” added Fred Bowens.
Emmerich presented the proposal to rename the field to the city parks and recreation board last summer, where leaders approved it and recommended it to go before the naming committee.
The issue is that there’s a moratorium in place for naming things in the city. No one knows when that moratorium might be lifted, as the decision is at the discretion of city council.
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