Elon University / Today in Elon / Al Drago’s First Photo Show chronicles NC Central’s final baseball season

The prolific Washington, DC-based – and Durham native – photographer will host his first public art installation, “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.

Former Elon student Al Drago ’15 will host his first public art installation, titled “The Last Dance”, at Durham Athletic Park on Saturday, May 28. getting soaked in water after the Eagles’ 5-0 win over Florida A&M at Durham Athletic Park on May 14, 2021. All photos courtesy of Al Drago.

As NC Central University’s baseball season wrapped up last year, Elon’s alumnus Al Drago ’15 recalls the raw emotions that surfaced for the team — and for himself. .

A digital advertisement for Drago’s art installation, titled “The Last Dance”.

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 the Eagles were the fifth HBCU baseball program eliminated in the last 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 thrilling 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.

A 2015 graduate of Elon University, Drago is regularly published by The New York Times, Washington Post, Bloomberg, Rolling Stone, TIME, CNN, The New Yorker, BBC, NBC Nightly News and many others.

“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 the 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 hometown 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.

NC Central players jump as they celebrate a run during an MEAC baseball championship game against Florida A&M at Marty Miller Field in Norfolk, Va. on May 21, 2021. Central won 5-3. “This may be one of my favorite sports reaction photos I’ve ever done. The light is soft, and each player frames another. It was a pivotal game and probably led to their victory tonight there,” Draco said.
NC Central’s Luis Deleon (#35) walks onto the field before the Eagles game against Florida A&M at Durham Athletic Field on May 14, 2021. Central won 4-1. “I took this shot with a 35mm lens on the dugout, and waited for a player’s head to be neatly framed with the grass. I knew this was going to be my opening. Draco said.
NC Central’s Scott Meylan sits in his locker as pitcher Caleb McRoy rips off a banner while cleaning up the locker room, after their final game, at Durham Athletic Field on May 24, 2021.