Gaston & Catawba

This honor would give him butterflies

On Monday night, the Huntersville Parks and Recreation Department will ensure that the memories of James Hoyt Wilhelm and his knuckleball don't flutter away.

The baseball complex at Huntersville Athletic Park will be named in honor of the baseball Hall of Famer and north Mecklenburg County native at 5:45 p.m. Monday.

“Hoyt put Huntersville on the map,” said Michael Jaycock, the director of the Huntersville Parks and Recreation Department.

Wilhelm did that with his favorite pitch, a knuckleball. A knuckleball, unlike a fastball, isn't thrown for speed. It floats to the plate, often dipping and diving unexpectedly at the last minute. Wilhelm used the pitch to become one of the top relievers in baseball. He was named to the All-Star team five times and pitched in more than 1,000 games. He died in 2002.

Cooper Wilhelm said his brother learned the pitch back in Huntersville. Hoyt Wilhelm played at Cornelius High School but didn't make it to the major leagues until he was 28. But along the way, he earned the respect of at least one fan.

Charles Thomas first read about Wilhelm in the newspaper when Wilhelm made his major league debut in 1950. Thomas followed his career and later struck up a friendship with Cooper. And Thomas realized that many people in Huntersville didn't know that Wilhelm, who moved to Florida after his baseball career ended in 1972, was a local product.

“I didn't know Hoyt, either,” Thomas said. “I just knew him as a baseball hero.”

So Thomas lobbied for the honor, and the Huntersville town board approved the measure last year.

“We are very excited,” said Rodney Wilhelm, Hoyt Wilhelm's nephew. “This will be a very proud day for our family.”

And fans will get a glimpse of a Wilhelm knuckleball. That's because Cooper Wilhelm, who played semi-pro baseball for 30 years, will throw one as the first pitch to a PONY league tournament as part of the dedication Monday.

“I'm really working on my grip, and I'm looking forward to throwing it,” said Cooper Wilhelm, who also threw the pitch professionally. “I just wish my brother could be here to do it. I know he'd throw it with 100 percent, too.”