Franklin ‘Cubs’ – Southampton ‘Kildees’

Published 4:30 pm Thursday, April 13, 2023

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Seventy-five years ago, on April 23, 1948, the newly organized Class D of the Virginia Baseball League, started its inaugural first season. It was professional baseball. The League consisted of the following teams: Franklin “Cubs,” Petersburg “Generals,” Blackstone “Barristers,” Lawrenceville “Cardinals,” Emporia “Nationals,” and the Suffolk “Goobers.” In its very first game, on April 23, the Franklin Cubs played the Petersburg Generals – with Petersburg winning by a score of 7 to 5.

The Franklin team started out in 1948 as the Franklin “Cubs” – a farm team of the Portsmouth “Cubs,” owned by Frank Lawrence of Portsmouth.

However, in 1949, ownership of the Franklin “Cubs” was transferred from Frank Lawrence and the Portsmouth “Cubs” to the Southampton Athletic Association which was made up of individuals in Franklin and Southampton. With Harold Atkinson as business manager, and George Lacey as team manager, the Franklin/Southampton team was ramped up and officially renamed the Southampton “Kildees;” however, from then on, the team was called variously – the Franklin Kildees or the Southampton Kildees. Atkinson, due to an injury while playing for the 1948 team, was discontinued as an active player. 

Under Atkinson’s leadership, the team developed dramatically in talent and financial support. He was sending out contracts to prospective players and was developing and organizing the 1949 Kildees team. He was going right ahead with the matter of signing up players, getting the field in proper order, and attending to the multitude of details involved in having everything in readiness to receive the players when they arrived on the scene. He developed a relationship with the Lynn, Massachusetts team of the Class B New England League; exchange of players between Franklin and Lynn took place. Actually, Franklin became that year the site for Lynn’s spring training. Thirty athletes reported for the initial practice. While in Franklin, the Lynn team played an exhibition game against the Portsmouth Cubs at Franklin Field – which at that time was located on Hill Street (now Charles Street), just behind the old Franklin High School. In addition to all his other duties and activities, Atkinson was busy lining up housing for the Lynn and Killdee players. 

The 1949 Virginia League, Class D, consisted of the teams that were in the 1948 league except the Hopewell “Blue Sox” replaced the Blackstone “Barristers”. The 1949 Southampton Kildees ended the season as state champions. Membership of the 1949 team were Tink Cornwell, Jim Gillette, John Zontini, Bob Harkins, John Ricardo, Rick Ricciardi, Lennie Luke, Bucky Jacobs, Bruce Ware, Gene Hoberg, George Lacy, Bob Carlton, Ed Christoff, Arnold Atkins, Joe Marsello, Tim Talas, Everett Clark, Vermeil, Jim McKinney, Red Williams, Ray Blair, Charlie Mattox, and Frank Sangalli.

For a good part of the time, Johnny Peterson was the groundskeeper and with much assistance from volunteers, kept Franklin Park in good order. Dean Wagenbach and Bobby Guyton were bat boys for the Franklin/Southampton team.

The 1950 Virginia League, Class D, consisted of the Southampton “Kildees,” Petersburg “Generals,” Hopewell “Blue Sox,” Elizabeth City N.C. “Albemarles,” Emporia “Nationals,” and the Suffolk “Goobers”. 

The 1951 Virginia League, Class D, consisted of the Southampton “Kildees,” Colonial Heights-Petersburg “Generals,” Edenton N.C. “Colonials,” Elizabeth City N.C. “Albemarles,” Emporia “Rebels,” and the Suffolk “Goobers”. 

In 1951, attendance at Franklin Field was dropping. Television was blamed, by many people, for the decline and ultimate demise of minor league baseball in small towns such as Franklin. A headline in the June 29, 1951 edition of The Tidewater News told the story. “Kildees may be forced to quit Virginia League. Poor attendance at home games to-date seen as reason for tossing in the sponge.” The article stated that unless the team started to draw an average of 650 fans per game, they would be forced to suspend play; the crowds were frequently less than half that amount. The team did survive long enough to close out the season, finishing in fifth place for the second straight year. 

The Kildees were able to play out their schedule only because the stockholders were unwilling for the team to quit in mid-season; they came through with the funds necessary to meet all expenses.

Other teams in the Virginia League were experiencing significant decline in attendance and support – obviously, the future of the league itself was in jeopardy. An editorial in the August 31, 1951 edition of The Tidewater News, entitled “Virginia League quits fight to prolong career,” revealed that the Southampton Athletic Association had voted against fielding a team in 1952.

CLYDE PARKER is a retired human resources manager for the former Franklin Equipment Co. and a member of the Southampton County Historical Society. His email address is