Posts Tagged ‘Carl Yastrzemski’

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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Nicollet Park – Home Of the Minneapolis Millers

October 16th, 2013

Nicollet Park was a minor league ballpark in Minneapolis, Minnesota, located approximately two and one half  miles south of the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome.

Entrance to Nicollet Park (Hennepin County Library – The Minneapolis Collection)

The distinctive Tutor building that was the main entrance to Nicollet Park (shown in the photograph above) was located behind the former right field corner at the intersection of 31st Street and Nicollet Avenue.

Wells Fargo Bank at the Intersection of Nicollet Avenue and 31st Street, Looking Toward Former Right Field Corner

Home plate was located at the corner of Blaisdell Avenue and 31st Street. The ballpark faced northeast.

Aerial View of Nicollet Park (Courtesy of Baseball Bugs)

A Wells Fargo Bank is located in the area that was once right and center field. The former infield is now the bank’s parking lot.

Wells Fargo Nicollet-Lake Office, 3030 Nicollet Avenue, Former Location of Infield Looking Toward Right Field Corner

Located near the former infield is a Minnesota Historical Marker celebrating the 60 years, from 1896 to 1955, that baseball was played at the site.

Historical Marker, Nicollet Park

The historical marker notes that Nicolett Park enjoyed one of the longest running ground leases for a sports venue, running from 1896 until 1951, when the property was purchased by Northwestern National Bank of Minneapolis. The bank building that now occupies the site was originally constructed in 1957.

Historical Marker, Nicollet Park

Beyond the left field fence that ran parallel to Lake Street were several one story brick commercial buildings, since demolished and replaced by a four story apartment building constructed in 1981.

Blaisdell Avenue and West Lake Street Looking Toward Former Left Field Corner

Nicolett Park was home to the Minneapolis Millers of the Western League (1896 -1899), the American League (1900 – in 1900 the American League was a minor league), and the American Association (1902 – 1955). The American Association Millers won nine pennants, including one in its last season of play in 1955. From 1908 to 1911, Nicollet Park was also home to the Minneapolis Keystones, an independent, barnstorming black ball club. The Keystones were not a formal negro league team, having played over a decade before the formation of the Negro National League.

Nicollet Avenue and West Lake Street, Looking Toward Former Location of Center Field

Notable Minneapolis Millers who played at Nicollet Park include future Hall of Famers Ray Dandridge, Willie Mays, and Ted Williams. Dandridge, a standout Negro League  player for the Newark Eagles, played for the Millers at the end of his career, from 1949 to 1952. Mays played for the Millers at the beginning of his career, in 1951, for only 35 games (in which he batted .477, hit height home runs, scored 38 runs, and drove in 30). Williams played for Minneapolis as a 19 year old in 1938. That season he led the American Association in home runs, batting average, and RBI. Other future Hall  of Famers who played for the Millers include Roger Bresnahan (1898-1899), Jimmy Collins (1909), Rube Waddell (1911-1913), Orlando Cepeda (1957), and Carl Yastrzemski (1959-1960). Babe Ruth played in at least two exhibition games (1924 and 1935) at Nicollet Park as well.

Minneapolis Miller Ted Williams in 1938

According to Lawrence Ritter’s Lost Ballparks, it was at Nicolett Park that General Mills (a Minneapolis company) first used the slogan “Breakfast of Champions” in a sign on the outfield fence. The advertising billboard was installed at the park in 1933 following the Miller’s pennant winning season of 1932. Nicollet Park is also the setting for what is perhaps just baseball folklore, when Minneapolis Miller Andy Oyler (a former Baltimore Oriole) purportedly hit the shortest home run in professional baseball. The story goes that a ball off the bat of Oyler got stuck in the mud in front of home plate and before the opposing team could retrieve the ball, Oyler had scored on an inside  the park home run.

Across from the former left field corner, at the intersection of Lake Street and Blaisdell Avenue, is Champions Bar and Grill which dates back to the last few years of Nicollet Park’s existence.

Champions Bar and Grill Dates to the 1950’s And the Time of Nicollet Park

Champions appears to be the only building located next to the ballpark site that remains from the time of Nicollet Park. The historical marker placed in the Wells Fargo parking lot is the only clue that there once was a ballpark located in this nondescript city block south of downtown Minneapolis.

Postscript: Thanks to Rubin Latz for sharing his picture of  a foul ball caught by his father at Nicollet Park on April 28, 1946. The baseball was manufactured by Wilson and is stamped “Affiliate of the American Association.”

Foul Ball Caught at Nicollet Field on April 28, 1946

On that April day, the Minneapolis Millers played a double header against their cross town rivals, the St. Paul Saints. According to Stew Thornley’s  “Baseball in Minnesota: The Definitive History,” a record crowd of 15,761 fans attended the game, with some 5000 fans standing on the field. Twenty-four doubles were hit during those two games, with the Saints victorious in both games.

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