Wilson American Legion Post 13’s Steve Walston, right, accepts congratulations from his father, Bob, upon being inducted into the North Carolina American Legion Baseball Hall of Fame on March 4 in Salisbury. Bob Walston, the Post 13 athletic director, was inducted into the Legion Baseball Hall of Fame in 2011.
By Paul Durham
Steve Walston is quick to point out that he has neither played American Legion baseball nor has he ever coached it. However, one of Walston’s passions, at least for the last three decades, has been American Legion baseball.
Last weekend that passion was returned to Wilson Post 13’s jack-of-all-trades when Walston was inducted into the North Carolina American Legion Baseball Hall of Fame in Salisbury.
“When I first heard about it, I thought it was a mistake,” Walston said. “Honestly, I’d never played Legion ball or coached on any level and I’m not a veteran, but it’s very humbling and certainly is an honor. I’m grateful, absolutely.”
Walston began his association with Post 13 when he took over scorekeeping duties just after his junior year at Fike High in 1986. His father, Bob — a Vietnam War veteran and a member of the Wilson Robert B. Anderson Post 13 — followed his son’s interest in Legion baseball and started helping out with the Post 13 program in any way that he could.
“That’s the exact reason I got involved!” Bob Walston said.
The elder Walston eventually followed the late Selby Davis, who restarted the American Legion baseball program in Wilson in the late 1960s, as Post 13 athletic director. Bob Walston was inducted into the N.C. American Legion Baseball Hall of Fame in 2011 but he thinks the lineup wasn’t in the right order.
“I’ve been saying for a long time that he was more worthy than me because of his involvement,” Bob Walston said of his son’s induction. “I was even more proud to see him get that honor instead of myself.”
As much as he loves Legion baseball, it takes a backseat to family for Steve Walston, who admits he’s been blessed to have Legion baseball be such a big part of his family life. His eldest son, Josh, who played for Post 13 when it reached the state tournament in 2015, will be an assistant coach on this year’s team.
Steve Walston has served as scorekeeper, public-address announcer, scoreboard operator, statistician, historian, website manager, social media director and a host of other duties for Post 13 nearly every summer since 1986. He moved behind the P.A. microphone around 1991 when Davis gave up that chore and encouraged him to do it. Now, the three-ring circus of scorekeeping, announcing and operating the scoreboard comes naturally to Walston.
“I’m at the point where, if anyone picks up any of those responsibilities during the game, it throws me off my game!” Walston said with a chuckle.
Walston, who described the evolution of his surroundings in Fleming Stadium “from a muggy, open-air stand behind home plate to an air-conditioned, WiFi-enabled press box,” said that former Rocky Mount P.A. announcer Don Bobbitt was an inspiration to him in that role.
Walston has gone beyond the call of duty when it comes to digging up the history of Post 13 baseball. He noted that he has spent many hours in the Wilson County Public Library researching microfilm of past editions of The Wilson Times to put together an all-time roster as well as many other pieces of information on Post 13 baseball.
“To me, Legion ball is a big deal and really has been for the past 30 years because when you look at the number of major leaguers and college players who came through Legion ball, it’s a very big deal,” Walston said. “And for the others it might be the biggest thing they do. … I want it to be special for the kids here because it is a big deal to me.”
Walston, who graduated from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill with a degree in journalism, worked briefly as sports editor for the Moore County Citizen News Record in Aberdeen in the early 1990s and later at the Nashville Graphic.
“I actually had plans to one day replace (sports anchor) Tom Suiter at WRAL. I don’t think that panned out for me!” said Walston, who has worked as a digital content manager for Wake County government for 18 years.
His love for Legion baseball extends far beyond Fleming Stadium, however. He annually follows the American Legion state playoffs, even after Post 13 has bowed out, as well as the regional and national tournaments. Walston recalls driving to Wayne County with his wife, Lori, and their newborn son, Josh, in 1997 to pick up an AM radio broadcast of the Legion state tournament in Cherryville as well as watching Rowan County play for the national championship last summer on his laptop with his father during their family beach vacation.
“It’s been a thrill in recent years to see how well the teams from the Carolinas have fared in regional and national competition, and it’s awesome for me to feel like I have some connection to it,” he said. “I love what I do. It’s that vicarious thrill and celebrating the achievements of others that keeps me coming back year after year.”