Look up Shelby, N.C., and you'll see that it's been the hometown of a handful of celebrities: singer Patty Loveless, bluegrass legend Earl Scruggs, Country Music Hall of Famer Don Gibson, and NFL wide receiver Scottie Montgomery. Now the city has a new claim to fame.
In May, The American Legion announced that Shelby will be the host city of The American Legion Baseball World Series at least through 2014. It is likely to become the tournament's permanent home following a four-year review.
"Having a permanent home for the Legion World Series is the jewel in the crown for The American Legion, Shelby and the Department of North Carolina," said Jerry Hedrick, National Executive Committeeman and commander of Post 8 in Lexington, N.C. "This is a big deal."
As soon as the Legion announced in late 2009 that it sought a permanent site for the World Series, Shelby's baseball committee stepped up to the plate with a bid. Committee members knew from its history with American Legion Baseball that the "City of Pleasant Living" had a strong chance of winning.
Looking at forever. Shelby's experience with hosting Legion Baseball tournaments includes the 2002 Southeastern Regionals and the 2004 North Carolina State Tournament, events that put the city - and the entire Cleveland County area of 100,000 - on the path toward becoming the World Series' home, thanks to longtime friends Eddie Holbrook and Jim Horn. Holbrook is a Cleveland County commissioner, and Horn is a former U.S. probation officer. They've both been coaches and co-owned a sporting-goods store. They also grew up watching and playing Legion ball.
In the months leading up to the 2004 state tournament, the two men worked hard to drum up volunteer and community support. That wasn't the end, though. Shelby went on to host both the 2008 regionals and the 2008 World Series - a first in Legion Baseball history. It resulted in a record-breaking attendance of 45,000 and an economic impact of nearly $4 million.
When submitting the permanent-site bid in early 2010, Holbrook and Horn declared that Shelby "could exceed anyone in volunteerism, community support and small-town pride."
Even so, the bid took Holbrook, Horn and their 16-member baseball committee several months to develop. They needed to know they had support at the city and county level.
"If we were going to do this, we were going to do it right," Holbrook said. "I told them we could possibly win if we go in as a team, really committing ourselves and staying together, because this is a community event sponsored by the community."
In a 56-page, 9-by-12 bid book, the baseball committee made a case for Shelby to host the annual tournament, including upgrades to Keeter Stadium, signature events before and during the tournament, extensive media coverage, a visitor's guide for families, and a guaranteed warm welcome for teams, Legion VIPs and baseball fans.
Soon after, a group of Legion staff members and past national commanders conducted a site visit, seeing firsthand Shelby's hospitality and desire to become the event's permanent home.
"The baseball committee from Shelby had a real vision for the future, and I think that's one of the things that separated them from the other bids," American Legion Baseball Chairman Larry Price said. "They are not only looking at three to four years down the road - they are looking at forever."
In May 2010, Holbrook and Horn traveled to Indianapolis to present Shelby's bid to eight members of the Legion's National Americanism Commission, and they didn't come alone. More than 100 people from Cleveland County filled two buses and traveled to Indianapolis to support the presentation.
"This is not only going to do great things for Shelby, but we think it's going to do great things for American Legion Baseball," said Ted Alexander, the city's mayor. "We have seen an outpour of volunteers like we've never seen before. I'm real proud of our community."
Following Holbrook's and Horn's presentation, the delegation didn't have to wait long to hear the verdict from those who would make the final decision: the National Executive Committee.
"We didn't anticipate a response regarding the bid for two days," Holbrook said. "Just 30 minutes outside of Indianapolis we got a call saying we won the bid. And within two hours, a state official called to congratulate and thank us for what we are doing for the state of North Carolina."
For Legionnaires at Shelby Post 82, having the World Series in their backyard is a great way to become more active in the community.
"We are tickled to death that the county commissioners and other locals got involved to help push this along," said Bill Moss, Post 82 adjutant. "Post 82 will do anything to help the baseball committee out. This is the biggest thing Cleveland County has ever had. I don't think most people realize how big a deal this really is."
Transforming Shelby. The baseball committee knew that to pull off an event of this scale, volunteers would be key. Shelby has 400 people ready to serve where needed: stadium and field maintenance, concessions, hospitality, finance, public relations, operations, manual labor, tourism and hotel accommodations, entertainment and photography, as well as transportation and medical needs.
The baseball committee also needed to raise funds to upgrade Keeter Stadium. A projected pricetag of $1.2 million didn't keep the committee from proceeding with construction, because they had something not every previous World Series host city has enjoyed: community buy-in. Thanks to private, corporate and foundation donors, Shelby ended up with nearly $2.5 million for Keeter Stadium's facelift and other promotional costs.
"In these difficult economic times, our community has stepped up and supported our efforts to create the best American Legion World Series," Holbrook said. "When I lay out the committee's vision, people want to be part of it in any way they can. This has all really been a joint effort."
Holland & Hamrick Architects, along with a local landscaping and mechanical-engineering firm, designed the stadium upgrades for free.
"We recognize what an asset the World Series will be, not only to Shelby but to the entire county," said Roger Holland, co-founder of Holland & Hamrick. "We are honored to be a part of this."
In addition, North Carolina-based Lowe's Home Improvement Corp. donated $300,000 for construction of the new 1,800-square-foot World Series headquarters building adjacent to the field, which will house National Headquarters staff. The building has a conference room, kitchenette, two soundproof radio rooms, and a large room with field views. The Department of North Carolina and Sons of The American Legion donated a combined $12,000 for the building's furniture.
Donations also covered other stadium renovations. Two outdated, above-ground dugouts were removed and replaced by 12-by-70 sunken dugouts with rails, storage lights, restrooms, and phone lines with direct access to the press box. The stadium also got an additional 500 seats above each dugout, increasing the ballpark's seating capacity from 4,000 to 5,000. To offer greater shade in the hot month of August, Keeter Stadium's green canopy has been extended. And with a new high-tech scoreboard that has a message center and video, fans won't have to look through binoculars to see the game score.
Other improvements include 10 signs, posted beside highways and streets entering the city, that declare Shelby the "Home of American Legion World Series." Beyond the city, as far as Charlotte and Asheville, 18 billboards are up announcing a pre-game concert and the Legion Baseball World Series. And news of Shelby's catch is spreading outside North Carolina with the help of Turner Trucking, a local business. Its 18-wheeler trucks are emblazoned with 5-foot-tall American Legion World Series logos.
"Being home to the World Series is something our residents are really rallying around," said Jason Falls, a Shelby county commissioner and member of Post 82.
The people of Cleveland County understand well what a projected $4 million annually will mean for a community deeply affected by the loss of textile industries, and the recession in general.
"The business community is elated, because the World Series is going to be one of the biggest economic drivers we've had in a long time," said David Dear, county manager.
Shelby's city manager, Rick Howell, agrees. "During these economic times, elected officials recognize that any money you can bring from the outside is positive for the community because it impacts retail, restaurants and accommodations. That money is left behind, and it turns over the economy in the way of jobs. That's money you wouldn't otherwise have."
A Military Tribute. Before offering Shelby's bid, Holbrook and Horn visited other World Series host cities, to see what they did and didn't do well. What they found was little military recognition.
"Shelby is a community that embraces veterans, and we wanted to stand out among the other cities by paying a greater tribute to servicemembers," Holbrook said.
Retired Army National Guard Col. Joel Rountree of Shelby has taken up that task as the committee's military liaison, drawing on a vast network of colleagues to secure a military presence at Keeter Stadium. Legion World Series fans will see a Black Hawk/Apache flyover and static display, performances by the 82nd Airborne Division's All-American Chorus, an up-armored Army Humvee, a high-mobility artillery-rocket system vehicle, and representation from the Army, Navy, Air Force and National Guard. The North Carolina National Guard will sponsor an on-site rock wall, T-shirt gun, football toss and paintball field.
During the games, Shelby will recognize a local Gold Star family and Blue Star family, while the Legion Riders plan to make an on-field appearance. Some of the Legion's past national commanders will be on hand.
Inside the stadium, Post 82 will have a membership booth set up. In recent months, its numbers have been ticking upward. "Post 82 is almost at 100-percent membership, which hasn't been done in years," Hedrick said. "Shelby being home to the World Series has created an interest in the post. Every day during the event, there's a program - Legion Riders, Blue Star Banner, etc. - and that's how they're going to keep attracting members and getting younger veterans involved."
Legion Baseball players and coaches can expect Shelby's special brand of Southern hospitality. Every player and coach will receive a 9-by-12 souvenir book featuring Legion Baseball photos, stories on veterans who played, information on Shelby, pregame activities, and more. They'll also receive baseball caps and T-shirts with Shelby's World Series logo.
"Since this is our inaugural year, we are trying to make everything souvenir-worthy," said Kim Davis, president of Champion Communications, which provides the tournament's marketing materials. "We want everybody to be as excited as we are, and for the players to see what they can look forward to when they arrive."
Once they arrive in Shelby, teams will attend a reception and banquet-of-champions dinner. They'll then be escorted by police cars and military Humvees to a concert by Grammy winner Ronnie Dunn. Players and their families are also encouraged to visit sites in and around Shelby, such as the NASCAR Hall of Fame, the Biltmore Estate and more.
"My hope," Holbrook said, "is that when American Legion officials leave Shelby at the conclusion of the World Series, they say, ‘We made the right choice, and we're happy we chose Shelby to be the host of The American Legion World Series.'"
Cameran Richardson is assistant Web editor for The American Legion.