It would be a bit of a stretch to say that had it not been for the kindness and consideration extended some 25 years ago by Bill Slack, then Dustin Ackley wouldn't be tearing the cover off the ball for North Carolina.

But Slack, a kind and considerate man who managed the Winston-Salem professional baseball teams for 13 years, did give a catcher named John Ackley a couple of days off during the 1983 Carolina League season to marry a local girl named Joy Wall.

"I think it was actually three days," Slack recalled this past week. "That's what my manager gave me when I got married during the season."

And from that marriage of John Ackley and Joy Wall of Walnut Cove -- who met after a game at Ernie Shore Field -- came three children. The oldest, Jordan, played four seasons at Lenoir-Rhyne and was good enough to make second-team All-SAC. The youngest is 11-year old Malia. The middle child, born in 1988, is Dustin.

And Dustin Ackley is knocking the cover off the ball for North Carolina, which this weekend beat Coastal Carolina in the NCAA Super Regional to return to the College World Series for a third-straight season. Through yesterday's 14-4 victory, Oakley ranked second in the ACC with a .408 average.

Last year, as a freshman, he hit .402, set a school record with 119 hits and was named national freshman of the year by Baseball America and Collegiate Baseball.

John Ackley couldn't hit like his son. Few can. But John Ackley did hit well enough to slam 28 homers in 646 at-bats for Winston-Salem during a bit more than two seasons.

A 6-1, 185-pound catcher from Mahopac, N.Y., Ackley was the third-round pick of the Boston Red Sox in 1979.

"The first time I ever saw him play I said ‘This guy is going to be a big-leaguer,"' Slack recalled.

Shoulder problems from a couple of ill-fated head-first slides into second eventually derailed Ackley's career. Today, he's a foreman for Quartermaster Environmental, and is currently on a stream-restoration project in Danville.

John batted right-handed, as did his older son Jordan. Dustin bats left. But that's not the only difference between John and his second son.

"He's really worked hard," Ackley said. "A lot of kids have talent, but I guess what probably separates him from me playing is that he has the drive.

"He's told me he hasn't drunk a soft drink in about a year and a half. Whenever we go out to eat it's spinach salad and nothing fried. It's weights every night and eating right.

"It was something I never did. I guess it wasn't something that was big back then."

But Ackley did what he could to give his sons the opportunity to follow in his cleat steps. He coached Dustin, first in a coach-pitch league in Germantown (where Dustin was playing with players two years older) and later on various AAU teams.

"It was just trying to do the right thing for him growing up," Ackley said. "We bought a batting cage and a pitching machine for the yard and a soft-toss machine for the basement."

Dustin played three seasons at South Stokes, but transferred to North Forsyth for his senior season. Gary Nail, who had coached South Stokes to three state 1-A titles, resigned (he has since returned) and the school was slow in naming a successor.

Dustin had played with several players from North Forsyth in AAU baseball, so he spent his senior year with the Vikings. But there was another motive for his decision to move up to a larger school.

"I'd gotten to know some scouts," John Ackley said. "I heard it through the grapevine -- not from them -- that ‘yeah, he can hit 1-A pitching. Can he hit 4-A pitching?'"

Dustin Ackley hit .521 his senior season at North Forsyth.

When he's traveling with his job, John Ackley heads back to his motel room after another 10-hour day and watches his son playing baseball on his laptop, via ACC-Select. His company has been good about allowing him time off to see Dustin play the biggest games of his career, such as this weekend's Super Regional in Cary.

But no games have been bigger than the ones that Dustin played last season in Omaha at the College World Series. Last week, Joy Ackley was looking into the possibility of renting a car for the family's trip back to Omaha.

It's a trip that a proud father is anxious to make.

"I played for seven years," John Ackley said. "But going out there and watching Dusty play last year was like nothing I had ever experienced.

"Just a parent watching, I can't even explain it. It was just so amazing to watch it -- the atmosphere and the fans and how they're treated. It was just a great experience for Dusty, I know, the team and the parents.

"We spent a bunch of money but it was well worth it."

Trivia: Fathers and sons

Single -- What father and son were both MVPs of the Major League All-Star game?

Double -- What son of a former major-leaguer hit 39 homers with 106 RBIs for the Cubs in 2004?

Triple -- What son of a former major-leaguer hit .412 for the Phillies in the 1980 World Series?

Homer -- What son of a former major-leaguer hit .538 for the Braves in the 1999 World Series?

Around and about

A month or so ago it appeared that the Winston-Salem Warthogs had enough talent to be a factor in the race for the CL championship. In the time since, the Warthogs have plummeted to the basement of the Southern Division. The team lost seven of eight recent games to the Myrtle Beach Pelicans, the division champs of the first half, and clearly needs help to have any shot of making the playoffs in the second half. But it's hard to see where that help is going to come from. The parent Chicago White Sox are hurting in the low minors. The Kannapolis Intimidators of the Class A South Atlantic League are sixth in the Southern Division at 27-35. They rank last in the league with a .237 batting average and 11th out of 16 with an ERA of 4.40. Their one ace was Anthony Carter, a 22-year-old right-hander who was 5-2 with a 2.77 ERA before being promoted to the Warthogs on June 4…. The Warthogs' shortstop position has been unsettled all season, with Sergio Miranda, C.J. Lang and Greg Paiml all taking turns trying to establish themselves as a regular who can be counted on. The White Sox drafted a shortstop from the University of Georgia, Gordon Beckham, in the first round last week.

Trivia answers

Single -- Ken Griffey, Sr. (1980) and Ken Griffey, Jr. (1992).

Double -- Moises Alou.

Triple -- Bob Boone.

Homer -- Bret Boone.

■ Dan Collins can be reached at 727-7323 or at dcollins@wsjournal.com.

Get today’s top stories right in your inbox. Sign up for our daily morning newsletter.

Recommended for you

Load comments