Luther Beaver was approached with an idea he couldn’t resist in 1992, one that reunited him with a past love. There had been a clamoring around Hickory, N.C., to get baseball back in the city for the first time in 30 years. There was a team in Gastonia, N.C., for sale. Beaver’s brother, Don, had helped put together a group to buy the team.
And today, Beaver will be inducted into the South Atlantic League Hall of Fame for his 20-plus years helping to lead the team. He and his brother are the first set of siblings into the hall.
“It’s something I never expected,” Beaver says. “I always thought this was just for active baseball players. It’s special to me to be a part of this.”
The Troutman, N.C., native first fell in love with baseball in the 1930s and ’40s, when baseball was booming in North Carolina’s Piedmont. Textile mills sponsored rosters for teams. “I went to a lot of games in Mooresville. That team was supported by the cotton mill,” says Beaver, now 80. “That’s where I got to see Hoyt Wilhelm pitch. If they got a good player, they’d give him a good job in the offseason. So a lot of players ended up in textiles through baseball.
Beaver ended up in textiles, too.
Early on, when he was 13 years old, he played on a semi-pro team with his three uncles who had just returned home from World War II for a while and played high school ball for four years before trying out for American Legion and having to admit his talent could only take him so far.
“I played the infield, basically second base,” says Beaver, who grew up in Troutman, N.C.. “I was a .200 hitter. I tried to play smart baseball. But playing smart doesn’t substitute for raw talent.”
So life took Beaver away from the game he loved. He graduated from NC State in 1956 with a degree in textiles. He bought his first car, a black 1954 Ford with overdrive, landed his first job working second shift in the weave room making terrycloth at Cannon Mills in Kannapolis. In July of that year, he reported for active duty in the U.S. Army. He lived around the world, from New Jersey to Taiwan.
And he settled back in Hickory in the mid-1970s and leased a nursing home. “Baseball didn’t enter the picture,” he says of that time from that time until the 1990s.
But, he says, it was easy to come back to when he signed up for partially owning the Crawdads. He didn’t miss many games over the years at L.P. Frans Stadium, home of the Crawdads. He’s loved his time talking to scouts, who he says have an amazing eye for talent the untrained eye simply can’t see. And he’s had his fair share of favorite players, like Carlos Lee and Magglio Ordonez, who spent two years in Hickory in the early ’90s. “First year he was here was the first time he had played under the lights,” Beaver says of Ordonez, who went on to be a three-time All Star for the Chicago White Sox and Detroit Tigers. “I didn’t know if he was going to catch it or not. But the second year, he was a different player.”
When Beaver thinks back to how easy it was to fall back in love with the national past time, he comes up with a quick explanation.
“It’s baseball. If you ever played, it gets into your system and it’s hard to shake.”