1947 Danville Leafs
The Danville Braves began play in 1993. The team moved from Pulaski, VA, where they had played in the Appalachian League since 1982. But professional baseball has been a part of Danville history long before 1993.
Danville's first professional baseball team was the Tobacconists of the short lived Virginia-North Carolina league in 1905. The VA-NC League folded after the 1905 season, but Danville acquired a team in the Virginia League which started play in 1906. The team played under the name Red Sox from 1906-10, the Bugs in 1911, and the Red Sox again 1912.
Professional baseball left Danville again following the 1912 season, but returned in 1920 as the Tobacconists as a member of the Piedmont League. The team remained as the Tobacconists until 1925 when they became known as the Danville Leafs. The name Leafs was in reference to the area's tobacco leaf markets. The Leafs played in the Piedmont League until 1926. And again, Danville was without professional baseball.
Baseball returned to Danville in 1934 as the Leafs became members of the Bi-State League, which was made up of teams from Virginia and North Carolina. These Leafs won pennants in 1934 and 1935. But the team's success couldn't compete with World War II. In 1942, like many teams of the day, the Leafs folded because many of the young men who had played Minor League baseball were being called to arms.
Near the end of WWII, a new league was started in Danville. The Carolina League began a new era of professional baseball in Danville. The Leafs won Carolina League pennants in 1945, 1953, and 1955. And the team not only had great players during this time but also did its work to impact society in the last capital of the Confederacy.
Percy Miller, Jr. in 1951 as a member of the Leafs
In 1951, Percy Miller, Jr., became the first African American player in the Carolina League. Miller played in just 19 games that season. He hit just .200, but by most accounts he wasn't given the chances he needed as a young player. Miller's signing was more out of financial necessity for the owners of the team. With the summer heating up and the tobacco harvest coming in attendance was dropping. But with Miller's signing the African American community came out in full support of their local hero. The attendance for his first game more than doubled the normal crowd. And while some fans pledged not to come to anymore games as long as Miller was on the roster; most responded favorably.
Miller was released by the Leafs the following February. Club officials said he just wasn't ready for professional baseball. But Miller's pioneering had laid the groundwork for more African American players to join the league. In 1953, Bill White became the second African American player in Carolina League history. He also played for the Leafs.
During this stretch of Leafs baseball the team was affiliated with the New York Giants from 1945-47 and again from 1953-58, and the Washington Senators in 1952. The most famous player to come through Danville at that time was Hall of Famer Willie McCovey who played first base for the 1956 Leafs. McCovey hit .310 with 29 homers and 89 RBIs during his season with the Leafs. Other prominent players of the time include pitcher Art Fowler who led the League with 23 wins in 1945, pitcher Ramon Monzant won the Carolina League MVP in 1953 going 23-6 with 232 strikeouts, and outfielder Leon Wagner who played on the 1956 Leafs team with McCovey and hit 211 Major League homeruns.
Undated Photo of Danville League Park
The Leafs left Danville for good following the 1958 season. League Park was eventually sold to a group from Burlington, NC. The old grandstand can still be seen as part of Burlington Athletic Stadium. Baseball would not return to Danville until 1993.
It was in 1993 that the Atlanta Braves announced they would be moving their Appy League team from Pulaski to Danville. The city of Danville had laid the groundwork on a 2,500 seat stadium that would be nestled in the new Dan Daniel Memorial Park along the banks of the Dan River. American Legion Post 325 Field has set the standard for ballparks in the Appy League ever since.
Jeff Francoeur in 2002
Outfielder Jermain Dye (1993) became the first former Danville Brave to make it to the majors when he debuted with the Atlanta Braves on May 17, 1996. Other D-Braves that have followed Dye include Wilson Betemit (1999), Kyle Davies (2002), Jeff Francoeur (2002), Rafael Furcal (1998), Marcus Giles (1997), Chuck James (2003), Andruw Jones (1994), Adam LaRoche (2000), Andy Marte (2001), Kevin Millwood (1994), John Rocker (1994), Randall Simon (1993), Adam Wainwright (2000), and Esteban Yan (1993).
The Danville Braves continue to be one of the top drawing teams in the Appy League. In 2006 the D-Braves drew over 40,000 fans. And the prospects keep flowing through. 2005 included top prospects Eric Campbell, Elvis Andrus, and Yunel Escobar. 2006 featured Appy League Pitcher of the Year Jamie Richmond, closer Kris Medlen, and Appy League All-Stars Chase Fontaine, Willie Cabrera, and D-Braves hit king Larry Williams.
The 2009 Appalachian League Champion Danville Braves
In 2009, the D-Braves added to their list of accomplishments when they won the Appalachian League Championship with Manager of the Year Paul Runge at the helm. The '09 club not only added a piece of hardware to the trophy case, but changed the look of the D-Braves' record books as well. First baseman slugger Riaan Spanjer-Furstenburg was named TOPPS Player of the Year for the Appalachian League. The All-Star slugger's .359 batting average put him in second all-time in the D-Braves organization. Also tattooing his name in the record books was pitcher Matthew Crim whose 10 season wins is the most ever recorded in club history.