Not so last Friday night.
Things were just gearing up at South Stokes High School at about that time. The auditorium was open, starting at 9 p.m., for a public viewing of a Major League Baseball game.
Not just any MLB game, but one that many in Stokes County turned a watchful eye toward. Walnut Cove native Dustin Ackley was called up to the Seattle Mariners on Thursday, June 16, and made his major league debut at the Friday night game.
About 150 people attended the event, including those who wandered in for a few innings and those that were glued to the big screen for the entire game. The room was full of chatter the entire night, and viewers clapped for good plays and groaned at bad ones. But when Ackley appeared on the screen, which was often as he was the darling of the cameras in his MLB debut, loud cheers broke out across the auditorium.
“It was awesome!” said Kim Wilkinson, the London Elementary School Media Coordinator.
The Mariners played the Philadelphia Phillies at 10:10 p.m.—a 7:10 start time there on the West Coast. Ackley’s parents, brother and sister flew out to witness firsthand his first MLB game. Many family members who were left behind, as well as friends and other assorted baseball fans, gathered in the SSHS auditorium and accessed the game through a projection system hooked up to wireless Internet broadcasting live from MLB.TV.
The event was organized by The Stokes News and the Town of Walnut Cove. Officials from SSHS graciously agreed to allow their school to be used and helped set up the computer equipment.
Walnut Cove Town Manager Homer Dearmin FedEx’ed a congratulatory message from the Town to Ackley on Thursday, June 16. Dearmin also contacted Mariners Vice President of Communications Randy Adamack to tell him of the public viewing at South Stokes. On Friday morning, Adamack emailed Dearmin. Here is a portion of the communication:
“Great to hear from you. I will be looking for your letter and will be happy to deliver it to Dustin when he gets to the ballpark today. If you don’t mind, I would like to share your email with our radio and TV partners prior to the start of the game tonight. Because you are having a viewing party, I am sure our TV announcers will say hi to you on the air during the telecast.
“The fans in the Northwest are also excited about Dustin joining the Mariners this weekend. Hopefully he will take his place someday soon among the top players in our franchise history (like Griffey, Martinez, Johnson, etc.).”
Just before the public viewing at SSHS, the South Stokes Junior Legion team took the very field where Ackley used to play. The opposing team at 6 p.m. on Saura Field was the Legion team from West Stokes. After the doubleheader, the SSHS Boosters sold refreshments in the lobby outside of the auditorium.
Some of the West Stokes fans came inside to watch the Mariners game as well. One of them, Mike Marshall of King, said: “I am proud of Dustin and wish him and his family the very best. He has made his dream come true. I hope all the Little League players out there are paying attention. Hard work, talent and a love for the game have come together with a supportive family and a strong desire to take Dustin where every ballplayer wants to go—to the Big Leagues.”
County residents weren’t the only ones who came out to SSHS Friday night. FOX8 Sports did a live segment from Saura Field at 5:40 p.m., talking with the members of Ackley’s family who did not make the Seattle trip.
They did another segment for the 6 p.m. newscast with Ackley’s former coach, Doug Brown. Brown coached Ackley when he was just five years old in Little League and then again at SSHS where Brown served as an assistant to Coach Gary Nail during the state championship years.
WXII News Channel 12 also sent a news crew to SSHS to do a live feed from the auditorium for their news at 11 p.m. When Ackley got a base hit in his first at bat in the major leagues, the WXII cameraman got a shot of the people in the auditorium jumping to their feet—screaming, yelling and cheering.
The night was full of little surprises. The announcers in Seattle gave a shout-out to the fans gathered at SSHS live over the airwaves. At another point in the game, Ackley’s mom Joy called from Seattle to say hello to the group gathered to see one of their own achieve a goal so few ever attain.
During the seventh inning, Ackley’s cousin’s husband, Kevin Tedder, led the crowd in “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” Dearmin videoed this rendition and sent it to Seattle. The Mariners communications staff had told him they would use any pictures of the gathering for their post-game show.
And the publicity didn’t end there. On Saturday, June 18, an article on the MLB.com website, detailing Ackley’s debut, noted that the locals had gathered in Ackley’s high school auditorium to watch him play.
The night was a late one, as the Seattle game wasn’t over until nearly 1 a.m. But a group of loyal fans stuck it out until the end to see the Mariners defeat the Phillies.
Marshall perhaps summed up the feelings of all of those who attended that night: “Good job, Dustin. You made the whole county proud.”