ALB HOF Inductees 2023

Pictured are the 2023 American Legion Baseball Hall of Fame inductees, left to right: Ric Cook, Phil Tate, Gerald Young, Bonnie Lee (widow of Ben Lee), Bruce Bolick and Danny Eaker.  

CHERRYVILLE—For the love of the game.

The title of that 1999 baseball movie starring Kevin Costner seemed to echo the theme of Saturday night’s North Carolina American Legion Baseball Hall of Fame Banquet.

Six men who have devoted decades of their lives to the youth sport as coaches, athletic directors, area and state administrators, and announcers were honored in induction ceremonies for the class of 2023 at First Baptist Church’s Christian Outreach Center.

Two inductees, Bruce Bolick of Denver and Danny Eaker of Cherryville, have been the face and the voice respectively of the American Legion programs they represent for a combined 67 years.

Bolick, the first inductee to address the crowd, brought American Legion baseball to Denver in the early 1990s and has coached the team, now known as Lincoln County Post 455, for 31 seasons.

“I have loved every minute of it – except for the losses,” Bolick joked.

Bolick coached American Legion baseball in the summer during the final decade of his 32-year run as head baseball coach and athletic director at East Lincoln High.

And he has continued to offer the program in his retirement years, often coordinating all aspects of the team himself, including financial support from his own pocket.

What makes American Legion baseball special is the sense of community, the veteran coach said.

“Players from different schools make up the team, which brings different fans to make up a fan base. It’s an amazing thing to see fans get together who have been at each other’s throats during the high school conference, but they all band together for American Legion baseball. It’s a bonding thing,” Bolick said.

Bolick alluded to some of the highlights of his coaching stint with Post 455, including a memorable playoff run in 1999 when a team seeded 23rd in a 24-team Area Four bracket swept Pineville and Newell in the postseason and took top-seeded Matthews to five games in the third round.

Bolick pointed to the fact that American Legion baseball operates under the rules of the American League of the MLB, and that the infrastructure is in place to “give a taste of the professional ball experience to American Legion teenagers.”

Eaker took over the press box announcing duties at Cherryville’s Fraley Field in 1987, replacing legendary sportswriter Ronald “Scoop” Kiser. This year marks his 36th year as the voice of the Cherryville baseball Ironmen and Cherryville Post 100.

For the last 20 years, Eaker has been a fixture on WCSL 1590 as a color commentator for Cherryville High sports and for Post 100 games.

“This is the most special honor I have had in my life and probably the most prestigious honor one can get in American Legion baseball,” Eaker told the crowd.

Eaker singled out his wife of 58 years, Judie Eaker, for the support she has shown through the decades, including a run of more than 30 years when she worked alongside her husband in the press box as the “music lady.”

Eaker, who played American Legion baseball in Cherryville from 1959-61, never thought his press box duties would last this long.

“My wife has often said that I will never retire, and if I do, they will be putting me in the ground,” Eaker said.

The six inductees added Saturday brings the total number of Legion Hall of Famers to 263 for an award that began in 1967.

Other new members inducted Saturday were Ric Cook, Area III commissioner and a longtime coach and athletic director in Mocksville; the late Benedict Lee, state American Legion Commander in the early 2010s; Phil Tate, former coach at South Point High and Belmont Post 144; and Gerald Young, athletic director at Charlotte Post 262 and now Queen City.

Former Gardner-Webb University baseball coach Rusty Stroupe, who played on Cherryville Post 100’s 1981 state title team, was the guest speaker. Post 100 athletic director Ned Yates was the emcee.

(Published May 11, 2023)

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