Baseball In Hendersonville: Part II
By: Dan Gibbs
If you played baseball in Henderson County past Little League like Babe Ruth League or maybe American Legion baseball and I believe Hendersonville High School played a lot of their games there, then you probably played at what is now historic Berkeley Park.
I played there in the early 1980’s when I played baseball in the Babe Ruth League, and I remember the field very well. It had major league dimensions. 330 feet down the lines and 400 feet to dead center. My team was not good, and I think we may have been channeling the Hendersonville Skylarks as we only won three games all season, but they say losing builds character.
As I was doing research on Berkeley Park and its history, the main source I used was Patrick W. Gallagher’s book The Berkeley Spinners: A Baseball History 1948-1961 and the back of the book is filled with player bios and stats and is a baseball historian’s dream. One name that jumped out at me was the name Odell Griffin.
Odell Griffin was my elementary school principal when I was at East Flat Rock Elementary in the mid-1970’s. I remember him as being of average height, bespectacled, and the few times I had to go see him he was a very nice man. I lived, ate, and slept baseball during that time, and I never would have thought of him as a baseball player.
The more I read about him, the more impressed I became. He was Western Carolina University’s first nationally known player as a left-handed pitcher. In two years at Western, 1939 and 1940, he compiled a pitched record of 21-2, pitched a no-hitter against the University of Tennessee as a freshman and averaged 16 strikeouts a game. He signed a baseball contract with the Philadelphia Athletics in 1941 but World War II got in the way, and he went off to war.
He compiled pitching records that stood at Western Carolina for 30 years, has an endowment scholarship named after him that goes to the best pitcher, and he was enshrined in the Western Carolina University Athletics Hall of Fame in the early 1990’s.
He finally made it onto the roster of the Newport News Dodgers of the Class B Piedmont League in 1944. He only pitched in four games that season but he played on the same team as future Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodger greats Duke Snider and Clem Labine. He later played with the Marion Marauders in 1948-49 of the Class D Western Carolina League splitting his time between pitching and first base. He compiled a pitching record of 11-10 during this time.
He played with the Berkeley Spinners from 1951-1961 (missing the 1959 season) and his career with them was spent mostly as a first baseman although he did compile a pitching record of 8-3.
I knew Mr. Griffin as an educator and his bio stated that he had also been a baseball coach at West Henderson High School, but I have not been able to find out what time frame that covered. If any of our readers knows the answer to this question, please contact me at HendersonvilleBest.com or on our Facebook or Twitter pages.