The baseball field where Babe Ruth honed his skills as a child still remains to this day in an area just west of downtown Baltimore at 3225 Wilkens Avenue.
With the demise of the House That Ruth Built and the demolition of so many of the major league parks where he once played, there appears to be good news out of Baltimore that the field where Ruth learned to play the game might be spared its uncertain fate and, instead, restored for future generations to appreciate.
Near the corner of South Canton Avenue and Route 1 just a half mile north of Interstate 95 is a ball field known as “Babe Ruth Field.”
At the time these pictures were taken in 2007, the field was part of Cardinal Gibbons High School. Formerly, the school had been the St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys, an orphanage and reform school run by the Catholic Church.
In addition to the cinder block dugouts and the chainlink backstop, one major difference between the field that Ruth played on and the field as it exists today is the orientation of home plate, which in Ruth’s day, was located in what is now centerfield.
Babe Ruth spent the majority of his formative years as a ward of the school, his parents having signed him over to the Xaverian Brothers out of desperation when he was just eight or nine years old. Brother Matthias Bouttlier, the school’s disciplinarian, helped harness Ruth’s natural abilities.
Left field was formerly right field in the days of Ruth.
With Cardinal Gibbons High School now closed and the facility no longer in use, the future of Babe Ruth Field was uncertain, but perhaps no more. Plans were announced earlier this year for St. Agnes Hospital, which is located nearby, to purchase the former high school grounds and buildings (including the industrial arts building where Ruth went to school and the St. Mary’s Gymnasium), as well as Babe Ruth Field.
In 2012 St. Agnes Hospital purchased the former Cardinal Gibbons grounds. Word has it that the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation is assisting the effort by developing plans to restore the field, moving home plate to where it existed in the time of Ruth, and provide much needed youth baseball facilities to the area. March 2015 UPDATE: Bon Secours Baltimore Health System, which owns St. Agnes Hospital, is about to break ground on an apartment complex that hopefully will preserve the field and buildings that date back to Ruth’s time at St. Mary’s. On May 4, 2015, a ground breaking ceremony is planned to kick off renovation of Babe Ruth Field. Check with St. Agnes Hospital for confirmation and details.
In 1919, a fire on the St. Mary’s campus destroyed most of the original buildings that dated to Babe Ruth’s time there. One building that remains from the time of Babe Ruth is the Industrial Arts Building where Babe Ruth would have learned to sew shirts.
A second building that dominates the campus at the southeast intersection of South Canton Avenue and Wilkins Avenue once housed both St. Mary’s Industrial School and Cardinal Gibbons High School.
The original building was renovated and significantly altered after the 1919 fire, and renovated again prior to the arrival of Cardinal Gibbons High School in 1962.
A third structure, a former boiler house and garage with a distinctive brick smoke stack, also exists from the time of Babe Ruth. It is located next to the stone building, out beyond what would have been right field at the time Babe Ruth played there.
Anyone who enjoys the history of baseball should make it a point to see where Babe Ruth lived and played in the years prior to turning professional in 1914. There is much to see at the former site of St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys. With the plans for the campus still not certain, now is the time to make a visit, or pilgrimage, to see this historic landmark. For more local history about Babe Ruth, be sure to check out St. Paul’s Catholic Church in Ellicott City, Maryland, where Babe Ruth got married and The Goddess “Gentlemen’s Club” – The Bar That Ruth Bought.