Retro Charlotte

The Griffith Park groundskeeper and his unusual home

Buster Sloan at the (renovated) Griffith Park, in 1976.
Buster Sloan at the (renovated) Griffith Park, in 1976. The Charlotte Observer

What you probably know: Griffith Park baseball stadium opened in Dilworth in 1941and was the home field for the old Charlotte Hornets and later the Charlotte O’s. The park was renamed Crockett Park in the 1970s. The wooden stadium burned to the ground in 1985 -- an act of arson.

What you might not know: beloved groundskeeper Buster Sloan and his family lived in an apartment under the stands! I found this February 6, 1972 Observer story explaining that the Sloans needed to find news digs:

After 15 Years, It’s Tough Leaving

By Frank Barrows, staff writer

Things were pretty quiet Saturday morning at Griffith Park. A dog barked somewhere beyond the green wooden fence, and a welder clanked a steel bar into position on a batting cage, but February just isn’t a very busy month for baseball fields, and the day yawned comfortably.

Over in left field, back behind the ramshackle grandstand, Rosabelle Sloan’s primary concern was that her husband drive down to the grocery store. Occasionally, she peeked out the screen door of their three-room apartment, tucked away on the underside of the sagging planks which serve as summer’s 50-cent seats, and stared at him disconcertedly.

Buster Sloan, though, was in a contemplative mood and wasn’t quite ready to snap out of it. Leaning against a chain-link fence, he thought about his impending relocation, the move that will take him from Griffith Park -- where he has lived and worked for 15 years as resident groundskeeper, custodian, and night watchman -- to a house some three miles distant.

The Marlboro in his mouth bobbed up and down as he talked. “Being at a place this long,” he said, “well ... it’s gonna be a little rough leaving. It sorta gets inside you, you know, the baseball and all, and it won’t be the same living somewhere else, even if I do come back every day to work.”

Dressed against the cold which had turned mud puddles on the infield to ice, he reached beneath his heavy leather jacket, into the pocket of his paint-stained pants, for another cigarette. “Course, it’ll be a sad and glad day, leaving,” he said, motioning toward the porch of his apartment, “cause that house ain’t the best.”

The two bedrooms and kitchen where Sloan and his wife raised their three children have been sizzling hot in July and less than toasty in January, not to mention noisy when the Charlotte Hornets were playing a doubleheader.

Still, with all the drawbacks, it was home, and where else could Buster Sloan have seen 1,000 baseball games?

“It really becomes a part of you,” he said, “and it’s hard to get out, even if you want to. I can remember a lot of nights when I told myself, ‘Now, I’m gonna watch TV, not the game this evening,’ and I’d go inside and before you know it, there’d be a cheer from the crowd, and I’d be running back out to see what happened.”

Long days of work -- patch the fences, paint the seats, mow the grass, rake the base paths -- 12 months a year, have weathered Sloan’s face. At 55, his hands are leathery, and he is balding beneath his blue baseball cap.

Progress -- the erection of new bleachers, necessitating the demolition of the old stands -- is evicting him.

Sometime during the last week of March, or thereabouts, he’ll finish packing, lift his refrigerator from the porch, and drive off.

Buster Sloan passed away in 1977 at the age of 65. He had visited the park just hours earlier.