Courtesy of Elon.edu written by Tommy Kopetskie
Prolific Washington, DC-based – and Durham native – photographer Al Drago will host his first NC Central baseball-focused public art installation titled “The Last Dance” on Saturday, May 28, at Durham Athletic Park. The free event, which will take place on the pitch, runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
As NC Central’s final baseball season wrapped up last year, Elon’s alumnus Al Drago ’15 recalls the raw emotions that surfaced for the team – and for himself.
At the start of the 2021 season, the historically black institution announced plans to shut down its baseball program citing “budget impact” caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. It was a continuation of a national trend as NC Central baseball was the fifth HBCU baseball program eliminated in the past four years.
When news of the program’s impending demise broke, Drago, an award-winning photojournalist based in Washington, DC, decided to chronicle the Eagles’ final season at Durham Athletic Park. Originally from Durham, Drago grew up attending minor league baseball games in Bull City, and he started his career photographing sports.
Always drawn to gripping stories, Drago jumped at the chance to record the Eagles’ final act, held at a venue made famous by the movie “Bull Durham” and its fictional slugger Crash Davis.
“I followed the Eagles throughout their last season, from the locker room to the dugout, to their dorms playing Fortnite, to the road for away games,” Drago said, explaining to how well he fit into the team. Due to the team’s COVID-19 protocols, Drago was tested three times a week, as were the players.
The tight confines of NC Central’s baseball dugout, locker rooms, and other facilities helped create a quick camaraderie between Drago and the collegiate roster.
“The players and I immediately formed a bond,” he said. “We both took our professions very seriously and respected each other’s roles. When it was all over, the players and I were amazed. We knew this would happen at some point, but when the time came it was just as shocking. There were a lot of tears for everyone.
Drago’s project documenting the Eagles’ final season culminates Memorial Day weekend with the photographer’s first public art installation – fittingly on display at Durham Athletic Park. Entitled “The Last Dance”, the free exhibition takes place on Saturday, May 28 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. No ticket is required for entry. The park is located at 500 W. Corporation Street in Durham. For more information visit www.lastdancedurham.com.
As part of the installation, 18 banners, measuring 4 feet by 8 feet, will be displayed with still images of Drago. Audience members can tour the bases, meet former players and relish a behind-the-scenes view of the Eagles’ final moments as a team.
“It’s a love letter to my hometown,” Drago said. “I grew up in Bull City, and some of my earliest memories growing up are of attending Durham Bulls games. I’m incredibly excited to be hosting my first gallery opening in my home town where I started my career. I hope the community of Durham and beyond will have the chance to experience this tribute to black baseball in the town of Bull.