For the Love of the Game

07 Apr 2022

A baseball family creates one of the newest “wood-bat” leagues in North Carolina

By Crissy Neville  »  Photos by John Patota

In a parallel universe, not so far away, exist Honeycrisps and Hushpuppies. Luckies and Legends. Spinners and Sweepers. It’s a world of sliders and catchers, pitchers and plates, balls and bats. Welcome to collegiate summer baseball and The Old North State League (ONSL), a Southern Pines-based outfit fielding more than a dozen teams across the state. Founded in 2018, the league is lauded as North Carolina’s largest amateur alliance of these boys of summer.

Collegiate summer baseball leagues in the United States and Canada feature players who have attended at least one year of college and have at least one year of athletic eligibility remaining.

High school seniors who have signed a letter of intent are also eligible to play in most leagues. Ditto that for college seniors; graduates can also apply for a bonus summer-league season.

These organizations are the training grounds for unpaid college players to compete not for compensation but the experience and hope of going further in the game. They use professional rules and equipment, sans the aluminum or other composite bats in favor of good old-fashioned wooden ones — which players, fans and scouts love.

The ONSL is among the newest “wood-bat” leagues in North Carolina, the brainchild of President and CEO Alec Allred, and the culmination of a lifetime of baseball for him and his father, league CFO Reggie Allred. Of these Ramseur, North Carolina, natives, you might say baseball runs in the blood.

Several cousins played college ball and a second cousin, Matt Brown, a pro with the Montreal Expos, was the family influencer Alec grew up watching who greatly impacted his life, he said.

The family ties continue with two uncles from his mom’s side who signed with the major leagues back in the 1950s. His father and ONSL partner played high school ball and coached it for years — and still does. Coaching his oldest son from Little League up through high school at Faith Christian in Ramseur, Reggie currently coaches his younger son, Aidan, a student-athlete at Chatham Charter in Siler City. The high school sophomore, in keeping with family tradition, has already committed to play at High Point University. Alec’s twin sister, Ashton Confer, grew up playing softball and serves as ONSL operations coordinator today. The matriarch of the family, Cam Allred, is the director of operations while Alec’s wife, Lexie, heads up marketing and as creative director, came up with all the team names and logos.

“She's very good at finding interesting historical things about each area our teams are in and then putting a funny minor league twist on them,” said Alec.

One historic spin honors Moore County’s golf heritage with its team name, mascot, logo and color choice — the Sandhills Bogeys. The team is new to the franchise for 2022 with a freshly built stadium to play in at Sandhills Community College. The league owns a few of its stadiums but primarily leases fields from local colleges or towns for June and July use. Such is the case in Fayetteville where the Fayetteville Chutes, a salute to Fort Bragg’s 82nd Airborne, plays in the leased J.P Riddle Stadium, the former home of the Fayetteville Swampdogs of the Coastal Plain League.

History marches on with teams such as the Sanford Spinners, Mecklenburg Muscadines and the Lexington Flying Pigs. Textiles, agriculture and barbecue — much of the stuff this state is made of, just like baseball.

America’s pastime has a true past in the mill towns that sprouted up all over North Carolina in the late 1800s as the cotton trade exploded. The towns with mills had mill houses, a mill store and often a ball field — and not much else. Communities organized “mill ball leagues,” mostly with textile-themed nicknames like the Concord Weavers and Kannapolis Towelers. Mill ball was a way of life for many decades until more organized minor league play came about. Threads of this part of baseball history, so quintessentially Carolina, are woven into the Old North State League.

“A lot of what we've tried to do is to get into the older, forgotten baseball communities. Many of the areas that we're in used to have mill league teams back 50-some years ago,” Alec explained, noting that four of their current stadiums have mill team lineage. “We also like to build local teams where the players are. We are still growing and have the goal of being a 20-team league. A lot of fans that come to our games know the players and have watched them play for years.”

With 13 teams and between 425-450 players in 2022, the league is well on its way to reaching these heights.

Alec has experience reaching baseball-related goals; he’s been doing so practically all his life.

A youth raised in the sport, he was a “utility, multi-positioned player” who went on to play college baseball at several schools — N.C. A&T in Greensboro, Rockingham Community College in Wentworth and William Peace University in Raleigh. The latter experience catapulted his career “into a different gear,” he said. “I found a true love and passion for the game and excelled at a level that I hadn't experienced before.”

A professional four-year run followed with the 2018 WPU graduate becoming the school’s first-ever baseball player to sign a professional contract. Alec played with the Michigan-headquartered United Shores Professional Baseball League’s Westside Wooly Mammoths, followed by the Birmingham Bloomfield Beavers, the Roswell Invaders in New Mexico and lastly, the North Carolina-based Gastonia Honey Hunters.

He left the sport as an active player in 2021 primarily due to a wrist injury, surgery and subsequent setbacks but also to coach, train players and join his father in the business of baseball. The Allred family owns and operates several baseball training centers including The Factory on Central Avenue in Southern Pines. Before the league, they owned their own summer collegiate team which Reggie founded and Alec played on, the now-defunct Deep River Muddogs. Since 2018, Alec had partnered with his father in running the ONSL. In retiring as a player, the organization has become his full-time work.

The dream for the league, he explained, started some years before with his dad and a few like-minded friends, many of them college-ball buddies. They envisioned starting a “player-focused summer collegiate league,” one that “got things right that other leagues got wrong,” he said.

What kinds of things? “Putting the players first,” said Alec, “whether it is about travel, practice or family times, games, supplies, transportation, you name it.”

This TLC goes a long way for the league which sees a high percentage of players return to them summer after summer — an estimated 60-70%.

Let’s ready our support, Sandhills. Summer 2022 will be here in a wink, with the parallel world of Old North State League baseball back and now in our own backyard. Bernie Carbo, the former big leaguer who now calls the Sandhills home will be the Bogeys’ manager so there is a lot to root for.

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