Posts Tagged ‘Boston Red Sox’

Ocala’s Gerig Field – A Former Spring Training Minor League Gem

November 29th, 2015

Gerig Field was located in what is now the Martin Luther King, Jr., Recreation Complex, located at 1510 NW 4th Street in Ocala, Florida. The ballpark was constructed  in 1936 at a cost of approximately $100,000 with funds from the Works Progress Administration. Gerig Field was named in honor of John Jacob Gerig, the then-mayor of Ocala who was instrumental in gaining the funding needed to construct the ballpark.

Recreation Park, Ocala, Florida (Postcard Hartman Litho Sales Company, Largo, Florida)

Recreation Park, Ocala, Florida (Postcard Hartman Litho Sales Company, Largo, Florida)

At the time of its construction, Gerig Field was part of a sports complex known as Recreation Park, which also included softball and football fields. Recreation Park was built on the former site of the Ocala Fairgrounds. The land where Gerig Field was constructed had been a transient camp established on the fairgrounds during the Great Depression.

Infield, Former Site of Gerig Field, Ocala, Florida

Infield, Former Site of Gerig Field, Ocala, Florida

In July 1993, the grandstand was demolished. However, the field remains at the site to this day.

Former Site of Gerig Field, Ocala, Florida

Former Site of Gerig Field, Ocala, Florida

The American Association Milwaukee Brewers were the first professional baseball team to make Gerig Field their spring training home, training there from 1939 to 1941. The Texas League Tulsa Oilers (a Chicago Cubs affiliate) trained there also in 1940 and 1941. Both teams ceased operations in Ocala once the country entered World War II. In 1940 and 1941, the Ocala Yearlings of the Florida State League played their home games at Gerig Field.

Entrance to Baseball Fiels at the Martin Luther King, Jr., Recreation Center, Former Site of Gerig Field

Entrance to Baseball Fiels at the Martin Luther King, Jr., Recreation Center, Former Site of Gerig Field

After World War II, baseball returned to Gerig Field in 1948 with the arrival of the Southern Association Birmingham Barons. At that time the Barons were an affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. Thus began a 23 year affiliation between the Red Sox and Ocala, Florida. As an example, in 1958, the Red Sox brought the following minor league affiliates to train at Gerig: the Southern Association Memphis Chicks (short for Chickasaws), the Eastern League Allentown Red Sox, the Carolina League Raleigh Capitals, the Midwest League Waterloo Hawks, and the New York- Pennsylvania League Corning Red Sox. In 1953, the Barons became an affiliate of the New York Yankees and in 1957 an affiliate of the Detroit Tigers. At the request of the Red Sox, the Barons ceased training at Gerig Field after the 1959 spring season.

Detail of Recreation Park, Ocala, Florida (Postcard Hartman Litho Sales Company, Largo, Florida)

Detail of Recreation Park, Ocala, Florida (Postcard Hartman Litho Sales Company, Largo, Florida)

During the time that the minor league Red Sox were training in Ocala, the major league team trained at Payne Park in Sarasota, Florida (through 1958), Scottsdale, Arizona (1959 to 1965), and Chain of Lakes Park in Winter Haven, Florida (beginning in 1966). The Red Sox’s minor league clubs continued to train in Ocala until 1971, when the organization moved its entire minor league operation to Chain of Lakes Park. Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski, who played for the Raleigh Capitals in 1958, was one of the many Red Sox farm hands to train at Gerig Field.

Former Site of Gerig Field, Ocala, Florida

Former Site of Gerig Field, Ocala, Florida

An adjoining practice field – known now as Pinkney Woodbury Field – remains at the site. Pinkney Woodbury was a Ocala resident and community activist who encouraged the construction of youth playgrounds and athletic fields in the western section of Ocala.

Pinkney Woodbury Field, Former Spring Training Practice Field Adjacent to Gerig Field

Pinkney Woodbury Field, Former Spring Training Practice Field Adjacent to Gerig Field

Surrounding Pinkney Woodbury Field along the first and third base lines is a white painted fence built of Ocala limerock that is original to the spring training site.

Ocala Limerock Fence Located along the Third Base Side of Pinkney Woodbury Field in Ocala, Florida

Ocala Limerock Fence Located along the Third Base Side of Pinkney Woodbury Field in Ocala, Florida

The limerock fence that parallels the first base side of Pinkney Woodbury Field is a remnant of Gerig Field, as it a portion of the fence that ran along the ballpark’s left field foul line.

Gerig Field's Right Field Foul Line Fence Constructed of Ocala Limerock

Gerig Field’s Limerock That Ran Along the Left Field Foul Line

When first constructed, limestone fence once encircled perimeters of both Gerig Field and the adjacent practice field (Pinkney Woodbury Field). The portion of the fence that remains at the site terminates just beyond Pinkney Woodbury Field’s  first base and third base grandstands.

Terminus of Original Ocala Limestone  Fence, Third Base Grandstand,  Pickney Woodbury Field, Ocala, Florida

Terminus of Original Ocala Limestone Fence, Third Base Grandstand, Pickney Woodbury Field, Ocala, Florida

Terminus of Original Ocala Limestone  Fence, Third Base Grandstand,  Pickney Woodbury Field, Ocala, Florida

Terminus of Original Ocala Limestone Fence, First Base Grandstand, Pickney Woodbury Field, Ocala, Florida

Pinkney Woodbury Field, like Gerig Field, is a throwback to early Florida ballpark construction.

Main Entrance Gate, Pinkney Woodbury Field, Ocala, Florida

Main Entrance Gate, Pinkney Woodbury Field, Ocala, Florida

The first base and third base grandstands at Pinkney Woodbury Field match the limerock fence that surrounds the field.

Third Base Grandstand, Pinkney Woodbury Field, Ocala, Florida

Third Base Grandstand, Pinkney Woodbury Field, Ocala, Florida

First Base Grandstand, Pinkney Woodbury Field, Ocala, Florida

First Base Grandstand, Pinkney Woodbury Field, Ocala, Florida

Pinkney Woodbury Field also includes a distinctive concrete concession stand located behind home plate.

Concession Stand, Pinkney Woodbury Field, Ocala, Florida

Concession Stand, Pinkney Woodbury Field, Ocala, Florida

Covered, concrete block dugouts sit just beyond the first and third base grandstands.

Third Base Dugout, Pinkney Woodbury Field, Ocala, Florida

Third Base Dugout, Pinkney Woodbury Field, Ocala, Florida

Pinkney Woodbury Field is used for local school teams, as well as youth baseball leagues.

Pinkney Woodbury Field, Ocala, Florida

Pinkney Woodbury Field, Ocala, Florida

Pinkney Woodbury Scoreboard, Ocala, Florida

Pinkney Woodbury Scoreboard, Ocala, Florida

The building that once housed the Gerig Field’s player clubhouse also remains at the site.

Building That  Was Once Player Clubhouse, Gerig Field, Ocala, Florida

Building That Was Once Player Clubhouse, Gerig Field, Ocala, Florida

The clubhouse was located in the left field corner of Gerig Field. The limestone fence once intersected the northern most side of clubhouse.

Building That  Was Once Player Clubhouse, Gerig Field, Ocala, Florida

Building That Was Once Player Clubhouse, Gerig Field, Ocala, Florida

In 2010, the former clubhouse was renovated and is now used as a Senior Activity Center.

Plaque Dedicating Former Gerig Field Player Clubhouse as the Barbara Gaskin Washington Senior Advisory Center.

Plaque Dedicating Former Gerig Field Player Clubhouse as the Barbara Gaskin Washington Senior Activity Center.

Although Gerig Field is long gone, the site is still very much worth a visit for fans of the history of the game. The ball field where many former major league and minor league players once trained remains at the site. Likewise, Pinkney Woodbury Field is a wonderful gem that harkens back to early days of Florida spring training.

Center Field Fence Looking Toward Infield, Pinkney Woodbury Field, Ocala, Florida

Center Field Fence Looking Toward Infield, Pinkney Woodbury Field, Ocala, Florida

For more information about the history of Gerig Field and baseball in Ocala, Florida, be sure to read the excellent article by Carlos Medina on ocala.com, from which much of the factual information for this blog was obtained.

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Dutch Damaschke Field In Oneonta NY

August 6th, 2015

Damaschke Field is located at 15 James Georgeson Avenue in Oneonta, New York, just 24 miles south of Cooperstown, New York.

Entrance to Damaschke Field, Oneonta, New York

Entrance to Damaschke Field, Oneonta, New York

The ball field dates back to 1905 when it was known as Elm Park. Located in Neahwa Park, for a time the ball field also was known as Neahwa Park.

Aerial of Damaschke Field, Oneonta, New York (Postcard McGrew Color Graphics, Kansas City MO, photo copyright 1987 Bruce Endries)

Aerial of Damaschke Field, Oneonta, New York (Postcard McGrew Color Graphics, Kansas City MO, photo copyright 1987 Bruce Endries)

In 1968, the ballpark was renamed Dutch Damaschke Field in honor of Earnest C. “Dutch” Damaschke, the long-time Commissioner of Recreation for the City of Oneonta.

Ticket Booth, Damaschke Field, Oneonta, New York

Ticket Booth, Damaschke Field, Oneonta, New York

The stadium structure has changed over the years, although the concrete and steel grandstand dates back to 1939. Like many other ballparks of that era, it was constructed with funds from the Works Projects Administration. Funds also were donated by William F. Eggleston, owner of the Oneonta Grocery Company.

Damaschke Field, Oneonta, New York

Damaschke Field, Oneonta, New York

Damaschke Field, Oneonta, New York

Plaque Honoring William F. Eggleston, Damaschke Field, Oneonta, New York

in 2007, the city renovated the ballpark, adding new bleacher seating down the first and third base lines, as well as new player clubhouses and concession stands.

Damaschke Field, Oneonta, New York

Damaschke Field, Oneonta, New York

Damaschke Field, Oneonta, New York

Damaschke Field, Oneonta, New York

The view from the grandstand down the first and third base lines is an interesting juxtaposition of the old and the new, with the 1930s WPA grandstand seating along side the modern bleacher seating behind first and third base.

Damaschke Field, Oneonta, New York

Damaschke Field, Oneonta, New York

Damaschke Field, Oneonta, New York

Damaschke Field, Oneonta, New York

In 2008, with the addition of a new clubhouse for the players, the former locker room located under the grandstand was turned into storage space.

Damaschke Field, Oneonta, New York

Locker Room Turned Storage Room, Damaschke Field, Oneonta, New York

Damaschke Field, Oneonta, New York

A Oneonta Yankees Time Capsule, Damaschke Field, Oneonta, New York

Damaschke Field, Oneonta, New York

Damaschke Field, Oneonta, New York

During the first two decades of its existence, the ballpark hosted mostly amateur, college, and semi professional teams. The Brooklyn Royal Giants played an exhibition game at Neahwa Park on August 19, 1920,  defeating the Oneonta Cubs 13-3. Two months later, on October 16, 1920, the Babe Ruth All Stars played an exhibition game against the local Endicott-Johnson team. Babe Ruth hit a home run over the right field fence during the eighth inning of the barnstorming game. In the fifth inning of that game, Ruth reportedly fractured a small bone in his left wrist while attempting  slide into first base, although the following day in Jersey City he hit another of his exhibition home runs, suggesting that his wrist was fine.

Damaschke Field, Oneonta, New York

Damaschke Field, Oneonta, New York

The first professional team to call the ballpark home was the Oneonta Indians, who played in the New York-Pennsylvania League for one season in 1924.

Grandstand Roof, Damaschke Field, Oneonta, New York

Grandstand Roof, Damaschke Field, Oneonta, New York

Professional baseball returned to Oneonta in 1940 with the arrival from Ottawa of the Canadian-American Baseball League (Can-Am) Oneonta Indians. In 1941 the Indians became an affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. Baseball in Oneonta was suspended after the 1942 season, but the team returned in 1946 following the end of World War II as the Oneonta Red Sox. The Red Sox played in Oneonta through the 1951 season, and professional baseball once again was on hiatus in Oneonta.

Damaschke Field, Oneonta, New York, Situated in the Foothills of the Catskill Mountains.

Damaschke Field, Oneonta, New York, Situated in the Foothills of the Catskill Mountains.

Professional baseball returned in 1966, with the arrival of the New York-Penn League Oneonta Red Sox. In 1967, Oneonta became a farm team of the New York Yankees, thus beginning the city’s longest affiliation with a single major league team. Over the years, MLB players such as Don Mattingly, Bernie Williams, Andy Pettitte, Al Leiter, Jorge Posada, Curtis Granderson, and Willie McGee began their careers at Damaschke field.

Wall of Fame, Damaschke Field, Oneonta, New York

Wall of Fame, Damaschke Field, Oneonta, New York

Future National Football Hall of Famer John Elway also began his professional baseball career at Damaschke Field in 1981. The following year he was drafted by the Denver Broncos. In 1985, Buck Showalter started his professional managerial career as skipper of the Oneonta Yankees.

Former Locker Room, Painted Yankee Blue Located Under Grandstand, Damaschke Field, Oneonta, New York

Former Locker Room, Painted Yankee Blue, Located Under Grandstand, Damaschke Field, Oneonta, New York

The Oneonta Yankees departed Damaschke Field after the 1998 season. The Oneonta Tigers arrived the following season, and played at Damaschke Field through the 2009 season.

Oneonta Tigers Sign, In Storage in Former Players Lockerroom Underneath Grandstand at Damaschke Field, Oneonta, New York

Oneonta Tigers Sign, In Storage in Former Players Lockerroom Underneath Grandstand at Damaschke Field, Oneonta, New York

Although professional baseball no longer is played at Damaschke Field, it still is possible to take in a baseball game at the ballpark during the summer. Damaschke Field currently is the home of the New York Collegiate Baseball League Oneonta Outlaws, who play during the months of June and July. The city of Oneonta still uses the ballpark for civic events such as graduations, holiday celebrations, and concerts.

Grandstand Seating, Damaschke Field, Oneonta, New York

Grandstand Seating, Damaschke Field, Oneonta, New York

The ballpark most certainly is worth a visit. Given its proximity to Cooperstown, there should be a steady stream of visitors each summer, looking for a wonderful baseball experience in what is known as one of the coziest ballparks in the country.

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City of Palms Park – The Red Sox First Spring Training Home In Fort Myers

February 27th, 2015

City of Palms Park is located at 2201 Edison Avenue in Fort Myers, Florida. Constructed in 1992, it is the newest Grapefruit League venue already abandoned as a major league spring training home. Only Tucson Electric Park in Tucson, Arizona, built in 1998 and abandoned by major league baseball in 2010, is newer.

City of Palms Park, Fort Myers, Florida

City of Palms Park, Fort Myers, Florida

City of Palms Park was the spring training home of the Boston Red Sox from 1993 through 2011. The Gulf Coast League Red Sox also played at City of Palms Park during those same years.

City of Palms Park, Fort Myers, Florida

City of Palms Park, Fort Myers, Florida

The Red Sox relocated to Fort Myers from Chain of Lakes Park in Winter Haven Florida, where they had trained since 1966.

Lee County Sports Authority Sign, City of Palms Park, Fort Myers, Florida

Lee County Sports Authority Sign, City of Palms Park, Fort Myers, Florida

As a spring training facility, City of Palms Park was a great place to watch a ballgame. It’s one major drawback, which helped lead to the Red Sox’s departure, was its lack of sufficient training fields located adjacent to the stadium to handle all of the Red Sox major league and minor league players. As such, the Red Sox played their exhibition games at City of Palms Park, but trained (both major and minor league players) two and a half miles away at the Lee County Player Development Complex.

Entrance to City of Palms Park, Fort Myers, Florida

Entrance to City of Palms Park, Fort Myers, Florida

Because of its relatively young age, the stadium featured many of the more modern upgrades teams and fans have come to expect at spring training venues.

Starting Lineup , City of Palms Park, Fort Myers, Florida

Starting Lineup , City of Palms Park, Fort Myers, Florida

The stadium entrance was sufficiently wide to allow fans easy entry.

Front Entrance Gates, City of Palms Park, Fort Myers, Florida

Front Entrance Gates, City of Palms Park, Fort Myers, Florida

Still, the uncovered concourse around the stadium could get fairly packed during sold out Red Sox games.

Concourse, City of Palms Park, Fort Myers, Florida

Concourse, City of Palms Park, Fort Myers, Florida

Entrance to the Concourse, City of Palms Park, Fort Myers, Florida

Entrance to the Concourse, City of Palms Park, Fort Myers, Florida

The ballpark included plenty of options and places to purchase food and souvenirs.

Souvenir Stand, City of Palms Park, Fort Myers, Florida

Souvenir Stand, City of Palms Park, Fort Myers, Florida

Red Sox Souvenirs, City of Palms Park, Fort Myers, Florida

Red Sox Souvenirs, City of Palms Park, Fort Myers, Florida

One of the ballpark’s best features was its wide, expansive roof over the grandstand, providing plenty of shade to fans sitting underneath.

View of Grandstand from Left Field Line, City of Palms Park, Fort Myers, Florida

View of Grandstand from Left Field Line, City of Palms Park, Fort Myers, Florida

Press Box and Suites, City of Palms Park, Fort Myers, Florida

Press Box and Suites, City of Palms Park, Fort Myers, Florida

Down the right field line was a covered eating area featuring Red Sox retired jersey numbers.

Red Sox Retired Player Numbers Honored at City of Palms Park, Fort Myers, Florida

Red Sox Retired Player Numbers Honored at City of Palms Park, Fort Myers, Florida

Near the right field corner was berm seating.

Right Field Berm, City of Palms Park, Fort Myers, Florida

Right Field Berm, City of Palms Park, Fort Myers, Florida

The right field porch included a bench table seating area, similar to seating at Fenway Park above the Green Monster in left field.

View of Grandstand From Right Field Porch, City of Palms Park, Fort Myers, Florida

View of Grandstand From Right Field Porch, City of Palms Park, Fort Myers, Florida

Right Field Porch,  City of Palms Park, Fort Myers, Florida

Right Field Porch, City of Palms Park, Fort Myers, Florida

The bullpens were located beyond the outfield fence.

DSCN1597 copy

John Lackey Warming Up In Outfield at  City of Palms Park, Fort Myers, Florida

John Lackey Warming Up In Outfield at City of Palms Park, Fort Myers, Florida

The scoreboard at City of Palms Park was old school, although not as old school as Fenway Park’s manually operated scoreboard.

Scoreboard, City of Palms Park, Fort Myers, Florida

Scoreboard, City of Palms Park, Fort Myers, Florida

Right Field, City of Palms Park, Fort Myers, Florida

Right Field, City of Palms Park, Fort Myers, Florida

City of Palms Park was  picturesque, a wonderful place to watch a ball game. After the Red Sox announced they would be leaving ,Cit of Palms Park it seemed a shame that professional baseball no longer would be played there.

City of Palms Park, Fort Myers, Florida

City of Palms Park, Fort Myers, Florida

In 2012, the Red Sox relocated 14 miles southeast of City of Palms Park to brand new Jet Blue Stadium.

Jet Blue Stadium, Spring Training Home of the Boston Red Sox, Fort Myers, Florida

Jet Blue Stadium, Spring Training Home of the Boston Red Sox, Fort Myers, Florida

Unlike City of Palms Park, which is located near the heart of downtown Fort Myers, Jet Blue Stadium is located far from downtown, on land next to the Southwest Florida International Airport (which is appropriate given the name of the ballpark).

Jet Blue Stadium Construction Site, Circa 2011, Spring Training Home of the Boston Red Sox, Fort Myers, Florida

Jet Blue Stadium Construction Site, Circa 2011, Spring Training Home of the Boston Red Sox, Fort Myers, Florida

The Boston Red Sox are long-time spring training residents of Florida’s Grapefruit League. The ballparks they have called home have reflected the ever changing style of stadium construction:

"Baseball Spring Training Boston Red Sox in Action, Sarasota, Fla." (Postcard M.E. Russell, Sarasota FL, Photo by Burnell. Cureich-Chicago C.T. Art-Colortone

Payne Park, “Baseball Spring Training Boston Red Sox in Action, Sarasota, Fla.” (Postcard M.E. Russell, Sarasota FL, Photo by Burnell. Cureich-Chicago C.T. Art-Colortone

from Payne Park in Sarasota in the 1940s and 1950s, to Chain of Lake Parks in Winter Haven in the 1960s,

Chain Of Lakes Park, Winter  Haven, Florida

Chain Of Lakes Park, Winter Haven, Florida

to City of Palms Park,

View From the First Base Grandstand, City of Palms Park, Fort Myers, Florida

View From the First Base Grandstand, City of Palms Park, Fort Myers, Florida

to Jet Blue Stadium.

Jet Blue Stadium, Spring Training Home of the Boston Red Sox, Fort Myers, Florida

Jet Blue Stadium, Spring Training Home of the Boston Red Sox, Fort Myers, Florida

After the Red Sox departed City of Palms Park, Lee County attempted to convince the Washington Nationals to train at the stadium. After those efforts proved unsuccessful, City of Palms Park and practice field was reconfigured as a college softball and baseball park. Currently, the ballpark is home to the Florida SouthWestern State College Buccaneers baseball and softball teams. The good news is it does not appear that City of Palms Park will any time soon become a lost ballpark. And with a college team now resident there, it is still possible to see a game at City of Palms Park.

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Plant Field and the Roots of Spring Training in Tampa, Florida

February 21st, 2015

Plant Field was located near the northeast intersection of North Boulevard and West North B Street in Tampa, Florida. Constructed in the 1890s, the athletic facility was on the grounds of the Tampa Bay Hotel and included a variety of athletic fields, including horse racing, for guests of the hotel. Plant Field was named after Henry Plant, the owner of the hotel. After his death in 1899, the hotel and accompanying grounds, including Plant Field, were purchased by the City of Tampa. In 1933, the city leased the Tampa Bay Hotel to what is now the University of Tampa. The University also was allowed to use Plant Field for school athletic events.

Florida State Fair in Full Swing at Tampa, Florida - Postcard (Curteich C.T. Art-Colortone)

Florida State Fair in Full Swing at Tampa, Florida – Postcard (Curteich C.T. Art-Colortone)

Plant Field was one of the first sites to host Spring Training in Florida (Jacksonville, Florida, lays claim to the first major league spring training site in Florida, first in 1888 and then in 1903, while St. Augustine  hosted spring training in 1890 at Flagler Grounds). In 1913, Tampa Mayor D.B. McKay convinced the Chicago Cubs to train at Plant Field by actually paying the team to play in Tampa. The following season, St. Petersburg businessman Al Lang likewise convinced the St. Louis Browns to train nearby at Sunshine Park (also known as Coffee Pot Park), and the Grapefruit League was born. The Cubs trained at Plant Field through the 1916 season.

In 1919 the Boston Red Sox trained for one season at Plant Field. That spring season was memorable if for no other reason thanon April 4, 1919, then-Boston Red Sox player Babe Ruth hit what is considered to be his longest home run – a 587 feet blast (albeit in an exhibition game).

Tampa Historical Society Plaque Honoring Babe Ruth's 587 Foot Home Run on April 4, 1919

Tampa Historical Society Plaque Honoring Babe Ruth’s 587 Foot Home Run on April 4, 1919

The ball cleared Plant Field and came to rest in an open space near what is now the John Skyes College of Business, which formerly was the City of Tampa Municipal  Auditorium, constructed six years after Babe Ruth hit his mammoth shot. A historic plaque on the University of Tampa campus marks the approximate spot where the ball was found.

John Skyes College of Business (Formerly the City of Tampa Municipal Auditorium Erected in 1925)

John Skyes College of Business (Formerly the City of Tampa Municipal Auditorium Erected in 1925)

According to local newspaper accounts, the ball rolled a considerable distance once it landed. New York Giants Manager John McGraw (his team was playing the Red Sox) is said to have chased down the ball, calling the home run the longest he had ever seen. McGraw presented the ball to the Reverend Billy Sunday, a former ballplayer who was in town for a Christian revival and had thrown out the first pitch that afternoon.

Aerial Photo Courtesy of University of Tampa, Special Collections, With Direction of Babe Ruth's 587 Foot Home Run

Aerial Photo Courtesy of University of Tampa, Special Collections, With Direction of Babe Ruth’s 587 Foot Home Run

From 1920 to 1929, the Washington Senators trained at Plant Field. The Detroit Tigers trained at Plant Field for one season, in 1930, and the Cincinnati Reds trained at Plant Field from 1931 to 1942 and 1946 to 1954. Beginning in 1955, the Reds continued to train at Plant Field, but played home exhibition games at Al Lopez Field.  The Chicago White Sox also trained at Plant Field for just one season in 1954, before relocating their spring training four miles northeast to Al Lopez Field in 1955. The Reds took over sole occupancy of Al Lopez Field in 1960 when the White Sox moved to a refurbished Payne Park in Sarasota, Florida.

Tampa Florida From The Air Overlooking Hillsborough River and Florida State Fair Grounds, Postcard (Curtechcolor Art Creation, Hillsboro News Co.) (Courtesy of University of Tampa, Special Collections

“Tampa Florida From The Air Overlooking Hillsborough River and Florida State Fair Grounds,” Postcard (Curtechcolor Art Creation, Hillsboro News Co.) (Courtesy of University of Tampa, Special Collections

For much of its existence, Plant Field was co-located on the Florida State Fairgrounds, surrounded by a horse and automobile race track. Plant Field encompassed a significant portion of the southern half of the fairgrounds.

The Florida State League Tampa Smokers played their home games at Plant Field from 1919-1927. In 1928, the Smokers changed their name to the Tampa Krewes, still playing their home games at Plant Field. The Smokers changed their league affiliation to the Southeastern League in 1929, and played at Plant Field until the end of the 1930 season. In 1946, the Smokers returned to Plant Field as an affiliate of the Florida International League, playing their home games at Plant Field through the 1954 season.

Aerial Photo Courtesy of University of Tampa, Special Collections (Sandy Gandy Photographer)

Aerial Photo of Plant Field and the Tampa Bay Hotel, Courtesy of University of Tampa, Special Collections (Sandy Gandy Photographer)

By 1960, professional baseball had departed Plant Field. Over the years Plant Field was reconfigured for soccer and baseball for use by the University of Tampa. In 1971, the University of Tampa acquired ownership of Plant Field and the facility was renamed Pepin/Rood Stadium. In 2002 the grandstand constructed in the early 1920s was raised.

Pepin Stadium, University of Tampa , Tampa Florida, Former Site of Plant Field

Pepin Stadium, University of Tampa, Tampa Florida, Former Site of Plant Field

A new grandstand was installed in approximately the same spot as the original grandstand (the new grandstand is not as close to North Boulevard and is centered a few yards south of the original grandstand). Straz Hall, a residence hall for the University, is located on the site of the uncovered bleachers which were once attached just to the north of the covered grandstand.

Pepin Stadium, University of Tampa , Tampa Florida, Former Site of Plant Field

Pepin Stadium and Straz Hall, University of Tampa, Tampa Florida, Former Site of Plant Field

The actual infield may be long gone, but the field is still used for athletic events.

Pepin Stadium, University of Tampa , Tampa Florida, Former Site of Plant Field

Pepin Stadium, University of Tampa , Tampa Florida, Former Site of Plant Field

Home plate was located just a few feet east of the current running track that parallels the grandstand. The current running track also cuts through center field on the opposite end of the track. A row of one-story buildings remain at the site today. The deepest part of center field once edged close to those buildings, separated by the original fair grounds race track.

Pepin Stadium, University of Tampa , Tampa Florida, Former Site of Plant Field Home Plate and Infield

Pepin Stadium, University of Tampa, Tampa Florida, Former Site of Plant Field Home Plate, Infield, and Center Field

The first and third base foul lines ran at 45 degree angles away from home plate, as seen in the photograph below.

Aerial Photo Courtesy of University of Tampa, Special Collections (Tampa News Bureau Photo)

Aerial Photo of Plant Field and Downtown Tampa, Courtesy of University of Tampa, Special Collections (Tampa News Bureau Photo)

Today the left and right field lines are part of the soccer field. Out beyond the former site of left field is Frank and Carol Morsani Hall

Pepin Stadium, University of Tampa , Tampa Florida, Former Site of Plant Field Third Base Foul Line

Pepin Stadium, University of Tampa, Tampa Florida, Former Site of Plant Field Third Base Foul Line, with Morsani Hall in Background

Sykes Chapel sits beyond the former site of right field.

Pepin Stadium, University of Tampa , Tampa Florida, Former Site of Plant Field First Base Foul Line

Pepin Stadium, University of Tampa, Tampa Florida, Former Site of Plant Field First Base Foul Line, with Sykes Chapel in Background

A Hillsborough County historical plaque marks the former location of Plant Field.

Pepin Stadium, University of Tampa , Tampa Florida, Former Site of Plant Field with Tampa Historical Marker Honoring Plant FIeld

Pepin Stadium, University of Tampa, Tampa Florida, Former Site of Plant Field with Tampa Historical Marker Honoring Plant FIeld

The plaque summarizes the many athletic events that took place at Plant Field, including football and auto racing.

It states, in part: “The area encompassing the University of Tampa’s baseball, track, and soccer facilities was known as Plant Field from early in the 20th century until the mid-1970s. Plant Field, named for railroad and hotel magnate Henry B. Plant, served as the site for significant sporting events and other community activies. The one-half mile horse racing track that Plant built in the late 1890s was altered to accommodate dirt-track auto racing. From February 1921 until the mid-1970s, races were held each year during the South Florida Fair, later designated as the Florida State Fair. Along with talented local racers, the country’s most famous drivers, including Jimmy Wilburn, Emory Collins, Gus Schrader, Ted Horn, Frank Luptow, Tommy Hinnershitz, and Bobby Grimm raced here during the winter months. Pete Folse, a local driver, became a national champion. Their cars were powered by engines made by Miller, Offenhauser, and Riley, among others. Tampa became known as “The winter auto racing capital of the nation.” Sadly, several drivers lost their lives at Plant Field. Plant Field was also the site for football games. On New Year’s Day 1926, the Chicago Bears, starring Red Grange, defeated a team featuring Jim Thorpe. The University of Tampa played its home games on Plant Field from 1933 to 1936. Tampa high school teams also competed on Plant Field. Plant Field served as the home for several major league baseball teams during spring training. The Chicago Cubs arrived in 1913 and returned each year through 1916. The Boston Red Sox played their home games at Plant Field in 1919, and Babe Ruth, playing for teh Red Sox, hit the longest home run of his career during a game on this field. Plant Field was home for the Washington Senators during the 1920s, for the Detroit Tigers in 1930 and for the Chicago White Sox in 1954. The Cincinnati Reds played here for most seasons starting in the 1930s through 1954. In November 1950, an African American all-star team, led by Jackie Robinson, played an exhibition game against the Tampa Rockets, a semi-professional African-American team. In the minor leagues. the Tampa Smokers played their home games at Plant Field.”

Tampa Historical Marker Honoring Plant Field, University of Tampa

Hillsborough County Historical Marker Honoring Plant Field, University of Tampa

Tampa Historical Marker Honoring Plant Field, University of Tampa

Hillsborough County Historical Marker Honoring Plant Field, University of Tampa

The front entrance to Pepin Stadium is accessible from North Boulevard, just south of Straz Hall on the University of Tampa campus.

Front Entrance, Pepin Stadium, University of Tampa , Tampa Florida, Former Site of Plant Field

Front Entrance, Pepin Stadium, University of Tampa , Tampa Florida, Former Site of Plant Field

Pepin Stadium includes a modest concession stand built where once sat team administrative offices.

Concession Stand, Pepin Stadium, University of Tampa , Tampa Florida, Former Site of Plant Field

Concession Stand, Pepin Stadium, University of Tampa , Tampa Florida, Former Site of Plant Field

University of Tampa Spartans Logo, Pepin Stadium, University of Tampa , Tampa Florida, Former Site of Plant Field

University of Tampa Spartans Logo, Pepin Stadium, University of Tampa , Tampa Florida, Former Site of Plant Field

A curious remnant of Plant Field remains inside Pepin Stadium, namely two antiquated turnstiles, one stored under a stairway and one near the grandstand entrance, although it does not appear that either are currently in use.

Plant Field Turnstile at  Pepin Stadium, University of Tampa , Tampa Florida, Former Site of Plant Field

Plant Field Turnstile at Pepin Stadium, University of Tampa , Tampa Florida, Former Site of Plant Field

Just north of Pepin Stadium and the former site of Plant Field, is the University of Tampa Baseball Field, also known as Sam Bailey Field.

University of Tampa Baseball Field, Tampa, Florida

University of Tampa Baseball Field, Tampa, Florida

The light stanchions of Pepin Stadium are visible from the university’s baseball field.

University of Tampa Baseball Field, Tampa, Florida, Looking Toward Former Site of Plant Field

University of Tampa Baseball Field, Tampa, Florida, Looking Toward Former Site of Plant Field

The baseball field sits within the northern end of the old Florida Fair Grounds. Just north of the baseball field, across West Cass Street, is the former location of Phillips Field (now the site of Tampa Preparatory School). Phillips Field was the long-time home of the University of Tampa football team, as well as the location for several NFL preseason games.

University of Tampa Baseball Field, Tampa, Florida

University of Tampa Baseball Field, Tampa, Florida

It is fitting that baseball is still played on a portion of the old Florida Fair Grounds, in close proximity to the former site of Plant Field. The University of Tampa has an excellent baseball program, having won the NCAA Division II championship six times in the past 25 years.

University of Tampa Baseball Field Championships Banner

University of Tampa Baseball Field Championships Banner

Former University of Tampa standout (and former New York Yankee, Tampa Bay Ray, and St. Louis Cardinal) Tino Martinez is honored with a retired number plaque located above the grandstand.

Tino Martinez Retired Number Plaque at University of Tampa Baseball Field, Tampa, Florida

Tino Martinez Retired Number Plaque at University of Tampa Baseball Field, Tampa, Florida

Although Plant Field is now a lost ballpark, the field where major league baseball spring training  in Tampa was born, and was held for over 40 years, remains an athletic field. With the  placement of the current grandstand at Pepin Stadium on the University of Tampa campus, it is not hard to imagine how Plant Field must have looked during its heyday. For more information about the history of Plant Field (including vintage photographs) see Tampapix.com. If you find yourself in Tampa for spring training, take a detour to the University of Tampa (located just five miles southeast of George Steinbrenner Field) and see for yourself where spring training was first played in Tampa.

Many thanks to the University of Tampa, Special Collections, for their assistance in sharing the history and photographs of Plant Field.

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Payne Park – Spring Training In Sarasota From John McGraw to Tony LaRussa

January 23rd, 2014

Payne Park was located at the southeast corner of Adams Lane and South Washington Boulevard in Sarasota, Florida. The stadium was part of a 60 acre park named in honor of Calvin Payne, a Sarasota winter resident  who donated the land to the city in 1923. From 1924 to 1988, the ballpark was the spring training home of four major league teams.

Payne Park, Sarasota, Florida (Sarasota County Government, scgov.net/History/Pages/PaynePark.aspx

John McGraw’s New York Giants were the first team to train at Payne Park. John Ringling (of Ringling Brothers Circus), who was a friend of McGraw’s and a Sarasota resident, convinced McGraw to bring his team to Florida.

Payne Park Postcard (M.E. Russell, Sarasota FL, Photo by Burnell. Cureich-Chicago C.T. Art-Colortone

McGraw was so enamored with Sarasota that he invested in local real estate with the hopes of constructing  a housing development  known as Pennant Park on Sarasota Bay. When the Florida real estate bubble burst in 1927, McGraw left Sarasota and the following season his Giants trained in Augusta, Georgia.

Sarasota's "Payne Park" Home of the Chicago White Sox (West Coast Card Distributors, Sarasota FL, Mirror-Chrome Card, H.S. Crocker, Inc.)

From 1929 to 1932, the American Association Indianapolis Indians held spring training at Payne Park. In 1933 the Boston Red Sox moved their spring training operations from Savannah, Georgia, to Sarasota. The Red Sox trained at Payne Park for the next 25 years, until 1958, with the exception of the war years, 1943 to 1945.

Aerial View of Payne Park Circa 1960s (Photo Courtesy of Payne Park Tennis Center)

Once the Red Sox departed, the Los Angeles Dodgers played a few spring training games at Payne Park during the 1959 season, although they also continued to train at their facility in Vero Beach. The Chicago White Sox arrived at Payne Park in 1960, training there until 1988. In 1979, Tony LaRussa began his first of eight seasons training at Payne Park as manager of the Chicago White Sox. LaRussa eventually would win 2,728 games as manager, third on the all time list and just behind fellow former Payne Park resident John McGraw (2,763).

Payne Park, Sarasota County, Florida

Sarasota constructed a new ballpark two miles northeast of Payne Park to replace what was considered, after 65 season, to be an antiquated facility. Ed Smith Stadium, located at 2700 12th Street, opened in 1989 as the new spring training home for the White Sox, where they trained until 1997. Both the Cincinnati Reds (1998-2009) and the Baltimore Orioles (1991) trained there as well.

Ed Smith Stadium, Sarasota, Florida, Pre-Renovation (Circa 2004)

After the Reds departed Sarasota in 2009, the Orioles returned, moving into a completely refurbished ballpark in 2010.

Ed Smith Stadium, Spring Training Home of the Baltimore Orioles, Post-Renovation 2013

Payne Park was demolished in 1990. Sarasota constructed a tennis center on a portion of the former ballpark site.

Payne Park Tennis Center, Located on Former Site of Payne Park

Although the ballpark itself is gone, the player’s clubhouse, located at the intersection of Adams Lane and South Washington Boulevard, was preserved and is used today as offices and a clubhouse for the tennis center.

City of Sarasota Employee Health Center Located in a Portion of the Former Payne Park Clubhouse

In 2011, the City of Sarasota Employee Health Center was opened in a section of the building.

Payne Park Tennis Center Offices and Clubhouse

The tennis center  includes a memorial wall inside the clubhouse that tells the history of the site.

Interior of Payne Park Tennis Center

Included in the display are pictures of the ballpark and the players who called it their home.

Payne Park Tennis Center Wall of Fame Honoring Former Ball Field

Also included is a blueprint for the redevelopment of Payne Park, which shows the former location of the ballpark, and the tennis center that replaced it.

Blue Prints for Construction of Payne Park Tennis Center

The former Sarasota Terrace Inn, seen to the left in the postcard below, once dominated the Sarasota skyline surrounding the ballpark .

"Baseball Spring Training Boston Red Sox in Action, Sarasota, Fla." (Postcard M.E. Russell, Sarasota FL, Photo by Burnell. Cureich-Chicago C.T. Art-Colortone

Built in 1925 by John Ringling, the landmark, along with the old Sarasota County Courthouse tower (both seen in the postcard above), once dominated the skyline.

The former Sarasota Terrace Inn

The hotel was purchased in 1962 by Arthur Allyn, Jr., co-owner of the Chicago White Sox, to house the team during spring training.

The former Sarasota Terrace Inn, Now a County Administrative Building

The former hotel (seen behind the larger office building to the right in the picture below) is useful in determining where the ballpark once sat.

Former Site of Payne Park, Approximate Location of Third Base Foul Territory, With former Terrace Park Hotel in Background

In 1972, Sarasota County purchased the building. It currently is used as a Sarasota County administration building.

Plaque Commemorating the Sarasota Terrace Hotel (Now the Sarasota County Administration Center)

Payne Park’s former infield, and a portion of the outfield, is covered by 12 regulation-size tennis courts (there are four rows of three courts each).

Former Site of Payne Park, Looking Toward Approximate Location of Home Plate

The former site of home plate is located in what is now the second row of tennis courts closer to Adams Lane.

Former Site of Payne Park, Infield between First and Second Base

The former outfield is encircled by two roads that date back to the time of Payne Park.

Parking Lot Adjacent to Payne Parkway that was Once On-site Parking for Payne Park

The first is Payne Parkway, which straddles the right field corner.

Payne Parkway, Looking South, From Right Field Corner

The second is Laurel Street, which intersects Payne Parkway and runs behind what was once center field, terminating at the former left field corner.

Termination of Laurel Street at Payne Park's Former Left Field Corner

A grass field occupies what was once the deepest part of center field.

Payne Park - Former Site of Center Field

Just to the east of Payne Park was once a mobile home park which opened in the 1920s.

"General View of Sarasota Trailer Park Alongside Baseball Park, Sarasota, Florida" (Marion Post Wolcott, Library of Congress Division of Prints and Photographs, Washington, D.C.)

Although the trailer park is now gone, one vestige remains – the Payne Park Auditorium, formerly known as the Sarasota Mobile Home Park Auditorium. Constructed in 1962, it  is located just beyond what was once center field at 2062 Laurel Street. The auditorium was built as a meeting place for mobile home park residents.

Payne Park Mobile Park and Auditorium

At the intersection of Adams Lane and East Avenue is a historic maker for Payne Park.

Sarasota County Historical Commission Plaque Honoring Payne Park

Behind the historical marker is a small outline of a ball field set in pavers.

Baseball Diamond at Payne Park

The sign is located in what was once a parking lot behind third base. Although Payne Park is long gone, it is still possible to play ball where some of baseball’s greatest stars once trained. You just need racket, not a bat and glove, in order to play.

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Lonaconing’s Own Lefty Grove

February 18th, 2013

Robert Moses “Lefty” Grove was one of the greatest left-handed pitchers of all time. He spent his 17 year major league career with the Boston Red Sox and the Philadelphia Athletics, compiling a record of 300-141 with an ERA of 3.06. Prior to his major league debut, he pitched for several seasons for the Baltimore Orioles of the International League, which played their home games at Terrapin Park, also known as Oriole Park. He complied an impressive record of 108-36 while with the minor league Orioles.

Lefty Grove Baseball Card (1932 American Caramel)

Grove was born in Lonaconing, Maryland (pronounced loan-a-coney), in 1900. Lonaconing is a 19th century coal mining town located in the George’s Creek Valley of Allegany County, Maryland, about 10 miles south of Frostburg, Maryland, off Interstate 68.

Welcome to Lonaconing, Maryland, Hometown of Baseball Hall of Famer Lefty Grove

Grove spent his childhood in Lonaconing, where his father and many members of his family worked in the coal mines. According to local residents, Grove lived in a house on Douglas Avenue. One person I spoke with told me Grove lived in a duplex at 81- 83 Douglas Avenue. That house, although located within the Lonaconing Historic District, is in desperate need of renovation.

Duplex Where Lefty Grove Once May Have Lived, 81-83 Douglas Avenue, Lonaconing, Maryland

The duplex at 77-79 Douglas Avenue, which sits just to the left of what is believed to be Grove’s house, is in much better condition – an example of what Grove’s house might once have looked like.

Duplex at 77-79 Douglas Avenue, Lonaconing, Maryland

After Grove retired from baseball in 1947, he returned to Lonaconing and opened Lefty’s Place, a duck pin bowling alley and pool hall.

Lefty's Place (photo from www.appalachianhistory.net and bandkgreen.net)

In 1996, the building that housed Lefty’s Place at 14 Union Street was destroyed by a flood. On the former site of the pool hall now sits the Lonaconing Republican Club, which is fitting given that Grove was once an active member of that club.

Site of Lefty's Place, Lonaconing, Maryland

Many of the buildings throughout the town of Lonaconing appear as they did when Grove lived there, which is one reason much of the town was designated a historic district as a surviving example of  a 19th century coal town.

Union Street, Lonaconing, Maryland

The George’s Creek Regional Library at 76 Main Street includes a small museum honoring Grove and the history of Lonaconing.

George's Creek Regional Library

A display case in the library’s conference room includes several items that once belonged to Grove, as well as memorabilia from his playing days.

Case Displaying Lefty Grove Memorabilia

Of greatest import is his 1931 American League Most Valuable Player award, which Grove gave to his friend, John Myers, a baseball coach at Valley High School in Lonaconing. Grove made the gift because he wanted the people of “Coney” to enjoy it, rather than give it to the Baseball Hall of Fame where likely no one from the town would ever to see it.

Lefty Grove's 1931 American League Most Valuable Player Award

Also included in the display is a Walter Hagen golf club that once belong to Grove, as well as a leather bound golf rule book with “Lefty Grove” imprinted on the cover and a Lefty Grove autographed baseball.

Lefty Grove Memorabilia, Including Grove's Walter Hagen Golf Club

Located in Furnace Park on East Main Street, less than a quarter mile from the library, is a plaque dedicated to Grove. At the rear of the park sits the George’s Creek Coal and Iron Company Furnace No. 1, a historic iron furnace dating to 1839.

Lefty Grove Plaque, Furnace Park

The plaque states:

“A Native of Lonaconing, Lefty Grove was one of baseball’s all-time great pitchers. In 17 season (1925-1941) as a major leaguer, he won 300 games and lost 141 for a .680 percentage.

Pitching for Philadelphia and Boston, he led the American League in earned-run percentage nine times and won 20 or more games on eight occasions. He won 16 consecutive games in 1931, a league record, and 14 straight in 1928. In 1931, when his record was 31-4, he was vote the league’s most valuable player. He was elected to the hall of fame in 1947

In connection with the baseball centennial in 1969, he was selected as the greatest lefthanded pitcher of all time. His career earned-run average in the majors was 3.06. He won 108 games and lost on 36 during six years with Baltimore in the International League.”

Plaque Honoring Lefty Grove

The park is also the former site of Central High School, which Grove attended prior to beginning his playing career with the International League Orioles.

Plaque Honoring Former Site of Central High School

Grove died in 1975 at the age of 75 and is interred ten miles north of Lonaconing in Frostburg Memorial Park (70 Green St  Frostburg, Maryland).

Entrance to Frostburg Memorial Park

Grove’s grave site is located in Section 9, Lot 94, near marker 3A.

Lefty Grove's Burial Plot, Frostburg Memorial Park

Frostburg Memorial Park employee Joe Lavin, who worked for the cemetery at the time Grove was buried there, constructed a memorial to Grove in front of the grave site.

Joe Lavin's Memorial to Lefty Grove

Grove is buried along side his wife Ethel, who died in 1960.

Head Stone of Robert and Ethel Grove

Should you find yourself driving along Interstate 68 in western Maryland and looking for a baseball excursion, head 10 miles south on Route 36 to Lonaconing and pay a visit to the home town of one of baseball’s greatest left handed pitchers, Lefty Grove. And while there, should you find any additional information about Grove’s house on Douglas Avenue, please be sure to let me know. I certainly would appreciate it. In the meantime, be sure to check out Austin Gisriel’s installment of Off the Beaten Basepaths, which features Austin’s take on Lefty Grove and the town of Lonaconing.

"Safe At Home" Author Austin Gisriel Standing Behind the Lefty Grove Plaque at Furnace Park

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Ted Williams – His Boyhood Home When “The Kid” Was Just A Kid

January 18th, 2013

Ted Williams, the Splendid Splinter, grew up in the North Park section of San Diego, California.

Ted Williams’s Boyhood Home at 4121 Utah Street

His boyhood home is located at 4121 Utah Street.

Front Door Entrance to Boyhood Home of Ted Williams

His home on Utah Street is located in the North Park section of San Diego, just northeast of Balboa Park.

North Park Section of San Diego, California, Location of Ted Williams Boyhood Home

North Park Section of San Diego, California, Location of Ted Williams Boyhood Home

The home is a modest, one story bungalow.

Side View of Ted Williams’s Boyhood Home

Williams lived there with his family from 1924 until left San Diego to play for the Boston Red Sox in 1939.

Detached Garage Behind Boyhood Home of Ted Williams

One half block south down Utah Street and one block west on Polk Avenue is North Park Community Park, where Williams played as a child. The park includes a baseball field named in Williams’s honor.

Sign Commemorating Ted Williams and the Ball Field Where He Played as a Child

The Kid played youth baseball on this same field when he was just a kid.

Ted Williams Field, San Diego, California

Both Williams’s house and the ball field look much like they did when Williams lived in the neighborhood.

First Base Side, Ted Williams Field

Williams played baseball for Herbert Hoover High School in San Diego and signed with the minor league San Diego Padres in 1936 when he was just 17 years old. He played two seasons for the Padres, in 1936 and 1937.

Third Base Side, Ted Williams Field

Twenty miles north of William’s boyhood home is the Ted Williams Freeway, California State Route 56, which runs east-west between I-5 and I-15.

Ted Williams Parkway, Route 56, San Diego, California

Ted Williams Parkway, Route 56, San Diego, California

Lane Field, home of the San Diego Padres, was located just five miles south of Williams’s house. Williams played for the Padres at Lane Field the year that it opened in 1936. It was his first season of professional ball. While the ballpark has been gone now for over 50 years, recently the city has constructed a monument to Lane Field, including a historic marker and a granite outline of the infield and the former site of home plate. On top of the home plate monument is a quote from Ted Williams” “There’s only one way to become a hitter. Go up to the plate and get mad. Get mad at yourself and mad at the pitcher.”

Historical Marker, Lane Field, San Diego, California

Historical Marker, Lane Field, San Diego, California (photo courtesy of Jason Papka)

If you are interested in baseball history, certainly Williams’s former home and youth baseball field are worth a stop. They are both just five and a half miles north of Petco Park, home of the San Diego Padres, and easily accessible by taking the Cabrillo Freeway north to Washington Street east and then east on El Cajon Boulevard. Lane Field’s former site is located just a mile and a half northwest of Petco Park, straight up North Harbor Drive.

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