Visiting baseball's "hallowed grounds"--the top ten places where the greats once played
It's already become a summertime ritual for many baseball fans--touring as many ballparks as you can. However, beyond the bright, shiny new palaces like Petco and Minute Maid lie some fascinating remnants of baseball past: the spots where the most hallowed old stadiums used to sit.
So if you're hitting the road to the old ballgame this summer, here are ten former stadium sites I think every baseball fan would enjoy visiting (And if you go, it doesn't hurt to bring along a copy of Frank Sinatra singing the wistful Joe Raposo ballad, "There used to be a Ballpark.")
1. The Polo Grounds (W. 155th St. and Eight Ave., Washington Heights, New York City)
The New York Giants originally played baseball at a city polo field on 111th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. But when owner John Brush moved the team here to Coogan's Bluff in 1891, he kept the name "Polo Grounds." An odd "bathtub'shaped" ballpark, the Polo Grounds was home to some of the greatest moments in baseball history, including Willie Mays's famous catch in the 1954 World Series and Bobby Thomson's "Shot Heard 'Round the World" home run to beat the Dodgers in 1951. In 1964 the stadium was demolished and now the Polo Grounds Towers, a housing project, occupies the site. The original staircase leading down to the ticket booth still exists, and a plaque marks the site where home plate once sat.
2. Huntington Avenue Grounds (400 Huntington Ave., on the campus of Northeastern University in Boston)
Before the 1912 opening of Fenway Park, Huntington Avenue Grounds was home to the Boston Red Sox. In use for only 11 years, what makes Huntington Avenue Grounds most significant can be gleaned from the home plate'shaped plaque that site near the original spot of the base. Dedicated in 1993, the inscription reads: "On October 1, 1903 the first modern World Series between the American League champion Boston Pilgrims (later known as the Red Sox) and the National League champion Pittsburgh Pirates was played on this site. General admission tickets were fifty cents. The Pilgrims, led by twenty eight game winner Cy Young, trailed the series three games to one but then swept four consecutive victories to win the championship five game to three." Now located on the campus of Northeastern University, there is also a life-size statue of Cy Young located near where the pitcher's mound used to be (in the Churchill Hall Mall).
3. Connie Mack Stadium (21st St. & Lehigh Ave., Philadelphia)
Shibe Park opened in 1909 as the home of the Philadelphia Athletics. A's owner Ben Shibe built the ballpark entirely of steel and concrete--an architectural first. Shibe's most unique feature was its ornate French Renaissance façade, complete with a Beaux Arts tower, at the main entrance of the park. Shibe Park was re-christened Connie Mack Stadium in 1953, after the legendary manager of the A's. Closed in 1970, a severe fire destroyed much of the interior in 1971, and the ballpark was mercifully demolished in 1976. Recently, an historic marker was placed at the site, where a church now stands.
4. Forbes Field (230 S. Bouquet Street, Pittsburgh
From 1909-1970, beautiful Forbes Field was the home of the Pittsburgh Pirates. (Interestingly, in 68 seasons, there was never a no-hitter pitched here.) Most notably, it was the scene of one of the most dramatic moments in baseball history: Bill Mazeroski's Game Seven home run in the 1960 World Series to beat the Yankees. Though the stadium was torn down in the early 1970's, some interesting remnants remain here on the grounds of the University of Pittsburgh. A sizeable part of the outfield wall still stands, ivy-covered and all during summer, as does the flagpole. A plaque in the sidewalk marks the spot where Maz's homer cleared the wall in game seven. And the last home plate used at Forbes remains on display near its final location--only now it's under glass in the hall at the Quadrangle Building.
5. League Park (E. 66th St. and Lexington Ave., Cleveland)
On, May 1, 1891, League Park opened, with Cy Young pitching for Cleveland. Lights were never installed at League Park, and the team moved out after 1946, to the much bigger Municipal Stadium. This was where Babe Ruth hit his 500th home run, where the only unassisted triple play in World Series took place, and where Joe DiMaggio got his last hit in 1941's famous 56-game streak.. Though the ballpark was demolished in 1951, today there are wonderful remnants of the stadium that remain. The famous two story ticket booth (and former team offices) is now a youth center and a crumbling part of the first base grandstand still stands; a "Greek ruins- of baseball. It's also possible to play in the exact spot where so many legends from Speaker to Ruth to Cobb once roamed, as the diamond still sits in the exact place it was when the ballpark was here. An historic marker is also present.
6. Sportsman's Park (The Herbert Hoover Boys and Girls Club, 2901 N. Grand Ave., St. Louis)
Starting back in the 1870's, baseball was played at this location. Around the turn of the century the St. Louis Browns began playing here at Sportsman's Park , and in 1920, the St. Louis Cardinals moved in and shared the park until 1953 (when the Browns moved to Baltimore and became the Orioles). Sportsman's Park was home to the Cardinals until May 8, 1966. After leaving the stadium, Anheuser-Busch and August A. Busch, Jr. donated the property for use as a private recreational facility, the Herbert Hoover Boy's Club, which opened in 1967. There are several signs and a plaque to commemorate the decades of baseball history here, and there's even a youth baseball field with home plate located in the right-field area of the old Sportsman's Park. If you stop by, it's still possible to play on the exact spot where almost 100 years of St. Louis baseball history took place.
7. Metropolitan Stadium (Mall of America, Crossroads of Interstate 494 and Hwy. 77, Bloomington, Minnesota)
The Twins played here at "The Met" until 1981. The stadium, which had also hosted Minnesota Viking's football, was torn down in 1984 to make room for the world-famous Mall of America, which now occupies the site. Home plate is marked with a plaque in its exact spot, now part of the Camp Snoopy area. As well, a seat from Metropolitan is bolted to a wall to mark the spot where a mammoth 520 foot homerun by Harmon Killebrew landed on June 3, 1967
8. Buff Stadium (Finger Furniture Center, 4001 Gulf Freeway, Houston)
This is probably the only furniture store in the world marked on the floor where a home plate used to sit. That's because this is where Buff Stadium used to sit. Buff Stadium, built in 1928, opened as the home of the Texas League Houston Buffaloes. Damaged by Hurricane Carla in 1961, it was sold at auction an for just $19,750 and was demolished in 1963. Then, the Finger Furniture Center was built and a plaque was laid at the exact spot where the old home plate was located. It's still there, as is a small sports museum, right in the store!
9. Wrigley Field (42nd St. and Avalon, Los Angeles)
On April 27, 1925, Wrigley Field opened at the corner of Avalon Street and 42nd Place in South Central Los Angeles. Owned by chewing gum magnate William Wrigley, it was partially modeled after the other Wrigley Field in Chicago. It was home to the Los Angeles until the early 1960's, but it's famous for other reasons. Given it's proximity to Hollywood, Wrigley Field was regularly used for movies such as Pride of the Yankees, The Kid From Left Field, Damn Yankees, It Happens Every Spring, The Geisha Boy and many more. An episode of The Munsters was filmed here, and millions of fans saw Wrigley on TV regularly as it was the park used for the 1960's TV show Home Run Derby. Today, the former site of Wrigley Field is occupied by a public park and recreation center.
10. 'Sick's Stadium (Lowe's of Rainier, 2700 Rainier Avenue South, Seattle)
Sick's Stadium opened here on June 15, 1938. Named for Rainiers team owner Emil Sick, the 12,000'seat park hosted minor league baseball until the early 1960's, then was home to the Major League Seattle Pilots. Demolished in 1979, today at the former site of Sick's Stadium is a Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse. There is a glass display case inside the store which shows some memorabilia from the Rainiers and Pilots and just outside the front door is a bronze home plate with a metal statue of a player holding a bat.
Chris Epting is the author of "Roadside Baseball", published by Sporting News, copyright 2003.