Like so many small textile towns scattered around the Carolinas, Joanna was home to a teeming mill with workers who punched the clock and then competed fiercely in textile baseball leagues when they were off of it.
And like the mills themselves, the teams and the leagues have fallen into the bins of history, but an effort to renovate the baseball field at the former Joanna School that once served as the stadium for textile and high school players in the community could shine a new light on that bit of history.
About 50 people attended a meeting Thursday announcing the Joanna Mills Stadium project, a three-phase undertaking that would turn the once busy baseball field into a stadium and museum celebrating the town’s baseball history while helping it build for the future.
“I think it would be a game changer,” said Eddie Marshall, a baseball fan and community leader who is also principal at Joanna-Woodward Elementary School.
Marshall spoke at end of the meeting and talked about possibilities.
“I told (the meeting attendees) that I think this is something that could come back, and this ball field could be what brings Joanna back together. I mean people are going to start coming in to play baseball and staying around for a week or so, and they’re going to be looking for places to stay, places to eat places to do different things.
“It could really revitalize the whole Main Street and just turn the whole community around.”
Michael Riefsnyder, an American Legion official from the Columbia area, has put together the three-phase plan that would bring the old ballpark back to life with a textile league museum on the same site. He is also creating a non-profit organization with plans to pursue grants to pay for the project. Marshall said Phase 1, which concentrates on field renovations, is estimated to cost $300,000.
The likes of former Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda is said to have played at the Joanna ballpark as did Shoeless Joe Jackson, whose career began in the textile leagues in Greenville and ended in scandal with the 1919 Chicago White Sox, who threw the World Series that season after taking payouts from gamblers. Jackson was banned from life from the Major Leagues.
Marshall said he envisions not only a crown jewel for the community and economic driver, but also just a place for players and fans alike who love baseball. He said American Legion teams could play there as could high schools and colleges.
A neutral site game between Clinton and Newberry high schools? Or welcoming some of the “snowbird” teams from the Midwest and Northeast who routinely visit the Upstate and Midlands each February and March when their seasons begin in cold weather at their homes?
It could happen.
“We’ve already talked to (Presbyterian) Coach (Elton) Pollock and (Newbery College) Coach (Russell) Triplett about Newberry and PC potentially playing there. I think for a lot of people who have not had access or a chance to see baseball in the past it can be a local opportunity for that to happen.”
The textile league baseball museum is part of the project’s second phase and would come after the field itself is almost completed. Phase Two would also include stadium lighting.
“We want people to come here and play baseball, but it’s going to be open for the community to come and do somethings too,” Marshall said, mentioning the potential for festivals and concerts at the facilty.
Christ Central Ministries currently occupies the former Joanna School, and Marshall said talks about leasing the ball field property began a while ago.