The assistant professor of sport management examines the historic Swepsonville, North Carolina, ballpark and local textile league baseball in the spring 2022 issue of SABR’s Baseball Research Journal.
Mark Cryan, an assistant professor in the Sport Management Department, published on article examining the history of the North Carolina textile league baseball in the spring 2022 edition of the Baseball Research Journal. Published since 1972, the journal is the flagship publication of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR), providing “a unique mix of cutting-edge baseball research and historical and biographical articles.”
Alamance County was once a hub of industrial activity with numerous textile mills serving as the core of the business community. Alongside the history of industrialization, efforts at unionization, and the eventual decline of textiles, baseball played a prominent role in the mill village era of North Carolina society. Cryan utilized archival research in local newspapers dating back nearly a century, interviews with former league and town officials, and site visits and photos to tell the story of baseball in the area.
This history overlaps with the history of the labor movement, including the mill owners’ attempts to use baseball as a distraction from living conditions and the increasingly demanding lives of mill workers. Textile league baseball also served as an opportunity to examine issues of race and segregation, as mill teams often hired “ringers” to win, but refused to use Black players, regardless of their skill.
As part of his research, Cryan focused on the Swepsonville, North Carolina, ballpark, which is one of only a few ballparks used during the textile league era that still stands and is currently used for various levels of baseball. “The grandstand in Swepsonville was state-of-the-art in 1947 when it was built; it had a roof and lights,” Cryan wrote. “It has remained a community gathering place, even though the textile company that built it, Virginia Mills, is long gone.”
Cryan has a unique perspective on baseball history in North Carolina and Alamance County. Prior to teaching at Elon University, Cryan served as general manager of the Burlington minor league baseball team affiliated with the then-Cleveland Indians and was also vice president of the summer college Coastal Plain League.
Cryan has taught at Elon since 2007, originally working as an adjunct professor, and he joined the faculty full time in 2012. His scholarly interests include professional baseball at all levels, including minor league baseball and international baseball.
He leads a Winter Term class each year that visits the Dominican Republic with a focus on the baseball and tourism industries, which has been a key experiential learning class for many Elon alumni now working in Major League Baseball.
He is also the author of “Cradle of the Game; Baseball and Ballparks in North Carolina,” considered the definitive book on baseball in North Carolina. The second edition was published in 2014. A third, completely updated edition was scheduled for publication in 2021, but was postponed due to the pandemic.