Posts Tagged ‘Naval Air Station Sanford’

Sanford Field, Historic Sanford Memorial Stadium, and Sanford Museum

May 17th, 2020

Historic Sanford Memorial Stadium is located at 1201 S. Mellonville Avenue in Sanford, Florida.

Entrance Sign, Historic Sanford Memorial Stadium, Sanford, Florida

One block south of Sanford Memorial Stadium, at the northeast corner of South Mellonville Avenue and Celery Avenue, is the former site of Sanford Field.

Former Site of Sanford Field, Intersection of South Mellonville, Sanford, Florida (photo taken in 2017; a black painted metal fence now surrounds the site)

The two ballparks coexisted briefly.

Historic Sanford Memorial Stadium and Sanford Field (courtesy of the Sanford Museum)

Sanford Field was constructed in 1926.  It included a simple, wooden grandstand and bleacher seating along third base.

Sanford Field, Sanford, Florida (courtesy of Sanford Museum)

The ballpark was demolished during the early 1950s and replaced, for a time, with dormitories to house players during spring training.

Sanford Minor League Baseball Compound, Sanford, Florida (courtesy of Sanford Museum)

Today, the former site of Sanford Field is an open grass field.

Former Site of Sanford Field, Sanford, Florida, Looking from Center Field Toward Home Plate

Former Site of Sanford Field, Sanford, Florida, Looking from Home Plate Down Left Field Line

Former Site of Sanford Field, Sanford, Florida, Looking from Home Plate Down Right Field Line

According to baseballreference.com, minor league baseball was played in Sanford as far back as 1919, beginning with the Sanford Celeryfeds of the Florida State League.

Sanford Celeryfeds, Sanford Field, Sanford, Florida, with Uniforms Depicting Celery Stalks  (courtesy of the Sanford Museum)

The Celeryfeds, so named because celery was a major crop grown there, played in Sanford from 1919 to 1920, from 1925 to 1928, and again in 1946.

Florida State League Sanford Giants (courtesy of the Sanford Museum)

Other Sanford team names included the Lookouts, from 1936 to 1939, the Seminoles, from 1940 to 1941, and again in 1947, the Giants, from 1948 to 1951, the Seminole Blues in 1952, the Cardinals in 1953 and 1955, and the Greyhounds, from 1959 to 1960.  Major league teams affiliated with Sanford Florida State League teams, include the Washington Senators, from 1936 to 1939, and in 1959, the New York Giants, from 1948 to 1951, the St. Louis Cardinals, in 1953 and 1955, and the Kansas City Athletics in 1959.

The Washington Senators’ affiliate, the Sanford Lookouts, in 1937, included future Hall of Famer Early Wynn.

Sanford Museum Display Honoring Local Hero and Hall of Famer Early Wynn

According to a Washington Post article, “[b]ecause his Aunt Sophie happened to live in Sanford, Fla., where the Chattanooga club was holding a baseball school, and because he happened to be visiting her at the time, Earl Wynn is now a bright young pitching prospect of the Nats.”  “Nats Rookie Parade at Orlando Camp,” Washington Post, February 22, 1940: 20.  Another notable team, the 1939  Sanford Lookouts, posted a record of 98-35, and were ranked by Minor League Baseball the 68th greatest team in minor league history.

Exhibition games and spring training have played an important part of Sanford’s baseball history.  In the 1930s, the Chattanooga Lookouts held spring training at Sanford Field, including games against its parent club, the Washington Senators.  “Exhibition Baseball,” Washington Post, April 2, 1937:19.  Washington also held four-week baseball schools for hopeful rookies at Sanford Field.  “Nats Open Baseball School,” Washington Post, March 1, 1937: 11.  In May 1936, the Ethiopian Clowns played a game at Sanford Field, beating the Sanford team 14-1. “Watching the Scoreboard,” Chicago Defender, May 30, 1936: 14.

In 1942, for one season, the Boston Braves moved their spring training camp from Texas to Sanford Field, with Casey Stengel at the helm for the Braves.  “Training Plans Set By Major Leagues,” Washington Post, January 25, 1942: 55; “Lombardi Slugs Hard, Hitting 19 Over Fence,” Washington Post, March 4, 1942: 18.  That one season, Stengel brought his unique personality to Sanford.  A newspaper account for March 13, 1942, reports “[r]ather than bucking the Friday-the-Thirteenth jinx, Manager Casey Stengel today called off his Boston Braves’ inter-squad game and limited his players to light batting and field drills.”  “Fearing Jinx, Stengel Cuts Out Braves’ Game,” Washington Post, March 14, 1942:15.

In 1946, Jackie Robinson played for the International League Montreal Royals, a Brooklyn Dodgers farm club.  The Dodgers held spring training that year at City Island Park in Daytona Beach Florida, with some of the Dodger’s minor league clubs training 40 miles southwest at Sanford Field.  Alicia Clarke, the now recently-retired Curator of the Sanford Museum, related to me the story of Robinson’s time in Sanford.

Sanford Field, Brooklyn Dodgers Spring Training, February 1946, Sanford, Florida

Robinson arrived in Sanford along with his wife, Rachel Robinson, in early March 1946.  Robinson spent March 4, 1946, his first day of training, at Sanford Field, along with teammate Johnny Wright.  Robinson and Wright stayed in a private residence in a neighborhood located less than a mile west of Sanford Field.

Intersection of East 6th Street and South Sanford Avenue, Sanford, Florida

The house where they stayed, located at 612 S. Sanford Avenue, was owned by David C. Brock, and today remains a private residence.

612 S. Sanford Avenue, Sanford, Florida, Where Robinson and Wright Stayed During Their Brief Time in Sanford, Florida

Front Entrance, 612 S. Sanford Avenue, Sanford, Florida, Where Jackie and Rachel Robinson Stayed During Their Brief Time in Sanford, Florida

After the second day of practice, Branch Rickey ordered Robinson and Wright to leave Sanford and travel to Daytona Beach, after Rickey was informed of racial threats made against Robinson and Wright while staying at at the Brock home.

Newspaper Clipping and Photo of Jackie Robinson with Montreal Teammates Bob Fontaine, Johnny Wright, and Hank Behrman (clipping believed to be from Brooklyn Daily Eagle – accompanying article written by Eagle Sportswriter Harold Burr)

Twelve days later, Robinson would make history at City Island Park in Daytona Beach, on March 17, 1946, when he played for the Royals in his first minor league game.

Jackie Robinson Ballpark at City Island Park, Daytona Beach, Florida

The Royals returned to Sanford on April 7, 1946, to play a game against Dodgers’ affiliate, the American Association St. Paul Saints.

Sanford Field, Brooklyn Dodgers Spring Training, February 1946, Sanford, Florida, Much How it would Appear on April 7, 1946, when Robinson Took the Field

Robinson played in the first and perhaps second inning of the game, but departed after being ordered off the field by the Sanford police chief.  The incident was covered in the press, not by the local Sanford paper, but by the Montreal Gazette.

April 8, 1946, Montreal Gazette Article About Jackie Robinson’s One Inning of Baseball in Sanford, Florida (courtesy Sanford Museum)

The ballpark in Daytona Beach is named in Robinson’s honor, and its current resident, the Daytona Tortugas, are in the process of renovating the former site of Kelly Field, located at George Engram Boulevard and Keech Street, in Daytona Beach, Florida, where the Royals practiced after departing Sanford.  On the occasion of 50th anniversary of Robinson’s first major league game with the Brooklyn Dodgers, the Mayor of Sanford, on April 15, 1997, issued a proclamation apologizing for the way in which Robinson was treated in Sanford in 1946.

Jackie Robinson Ballpark, Daytona Beach, Florida

In December 1947, the Giants signed a five-year lease of the former Naval Air Station in Sanford.  “Giants Lease Sanford Air Base Five Years As Florida Spring Camp For 15 Farm Clubs,” New York Times, December 28, 1947: S1.  Naval Air Station Sanford, which played an important role during World War II training carrier-based Navy pilots, was decommissioned in 1946, and the New York Giants leased a portion of the former airfield to the west of the runways for its minor league baseball operations.

Sanford Museum Display of Aerial Photo, New York Giants Farm System Training Site, Sanford, Florida (courtesy of the Sanford Museum)

The Giants constructed eight full size ballfields on what is now the northwest corner of East Airport Boulevard and Carrier Avenue.

New York Giants Farm Clubs Training Site at Former Naval Air Station, Sanford, Florida (courtesy of the Sanford Museum)

Six of the ballfields were clustered just south of 30th Street.  The two additional fields were located north of the six practice fields, one near the southwest corner of 29th Street and Carrier Avenue, and the other near the southwest corner of 28th Street and Carrier Avenue.

Aerial Photo of New York Giants Farm System Training Site at Former Naval Air Station, Sanford, Florida. The road running the bottom of the Photo, Angling to the Right, is Carrier Avenue (courtesy of the Sanford Museum)

Beginning in 1948, 15 of the Giants’ 20 clubs conducted spring training at the former air station.  The Giants took over use of the administrative buildings and dormitories as well.  The Giants also utilized Sanford Field.

Carl Hubbell and Congressman Eugene McCarthy at Sanford Field, 1950 (courtesy of Sanford Museum)

Former Giants great and Hall of Famer Carl Hubbell was put in charge of the Giant’s Sanford operations.

Sanford Museum Display Honoring Mel Ott

On March 17, 1948, Babe Ruth visited Sanford as part of a promotional tour for Ford Motor Company.

Babe Ruth with Babe Ruth Day, March 17, 1948, Sanford, Florida (courtesy Sanford Museum)

The Sanford Museum includes displays highlighting Babe Ruth Day in Sanford, including pictures of Ruth at the local newspaper office and sitting in the grandstand at Sanford Field. Ruth would pass away just three months later, on August 16, 1948.

Babe Ruth at Sanford Field, Sanford, Florida, on Babe Ruth Day, March 17, 1948 (courtesy Sanford Museum)

The American Association Minneapolis Millers wee one of the Giants affiliates who moved their spring training to Sanford.  “Training Sites Are Selected,” Baltimore Sun, January 8, 1949: 13.  In 1948, Giants owner Horace Stoneham purchased the Mayfair Hotel to house players, as well as the Mayfair Country Club, to provide recreation for his players and to increase tourism in the area.

Mayfair Hotel, Sanford, Florida

Stoneham renovated the hotel, renaming it the Mayfair Inn.

Sanford Museum Display of Mayfair Inn Dining Service and Accoutrements

With the onset of the Korean War in 1951, the Navy reclaimed the air station, thereby requiring that the Giants vacate the expansive minor league training camp.  The Giants moved operations just a couple miles north to land adjacent to Sanford Field, and in 1951 constructed a new ballpark, Sanford Memorial Stadium.

Sanford Memorial Stadium Grandstand, Sanford, Florida (courtesy Sanford Museum)

Sanford Memorial Stadium, Sanford, Virginia

The stadium was “Dedicated To The Memory Of The Men And Women Of Seminole County Who Served Their County In All Wars.”

Sanford Memorial Stadium Dedication Plaque, Sanford, Florida

The Giants also constructed additional practice fields near the stadium.  Willie Mays was one of many former Giants who trained as minor leaguers at Sanford Memorial Stadium.

Sanford Memorial Stadium, Sanford, Florida

Three of the practice fields were constructed to the east of the stadium, and a fourth field was constructed just southeast of the stadium.

Sanford Memorial Stadium and Practice Fields, Sanford, Florida

The Giants conducted minor league spring training at Sanford throughout the 1950s.  With the major league Giants’ move to San Francisco in 1958, however, the Giants soon wound down their operations in Sanford.

Today, Hamilton Elementary School sits on the former site of three of the Giants’ practice fields.

Hamilton Elementary School, Sanford, Florida

Located behind Stanford Memorial Stadium is Zinn Beck “Field of Legends” – adjacent to what was once the Giants’ western-most minor league practice field.

Zinn Beck Field Located Behind Historic Stanford Memorial Stadium

Chase Park, located next to the stadium site at 1300 Celery Avenue, includes additional youth baseball fields.

Entrance to Chase Park, Sanford, Florida

The Herbert H. Whitey Eckstein Youth Sports Complex is named in honor of the father of David and Rick Eckstein, a high school teacher and coach in Sanford.

The Herbert H. Whitey Eckstein Youth Sports Complex, Sanford, Florida

Baseball Complex, Part of the Herbert H. Whitey Eckstein Youth Sports Complex

One of the four baseball fields that make up the Eckstein sports complex – Field Four – is located on the former site of one of the Giants’ minor league practice fields.

Eckstein Complex “Field Four” Located on Former Site of Giants’ Minor League Practice Field, Sanford Florida

In 2001, the City of Sanford renovated Sanford Memorial Stadium, renaming it Historic Sanford Memorial Stadium.

Dedication P:laque Historic Sanford Memorial Stadium, Renovated 2001, Sanford, Florida

The stadium, however, retains much of its 1950s charm.

Grandstand, Historic Sanford Memorial Stadium, Sanford, Florida

Press Box, Historic Sanford Memorial Stadium, Sanford, Florida

A Concrete Block Wall Dating to 1951 Surrounds Historic Sanford Memorial Stadium, Sanford, Florida

In 2009, the Seminole County Naturals of Florida Winter Baseball League played their home games at Historic Sanford Memorial Stadium home.  They were the last professional team to call the stadium their home.

Scoreboard, Historic Sanford Memorial Stadium, Sanford, Florida

Currently, the Florida Collegiate Summer League Sanford River Bats play their home contests at Historic Sanford Memorial Stadium home.

Grandstand, Historic Sanford Memorial Stadium, Sanford, Florida

Light Stanchion, Historic Sanford Memorial Stadium, Sanford, Florida

Entrance to Grandstand, Historic Sanford Memorial Stadium, Sanford, Florida

The Sanford Museum is located at 520 East 1st Street, along the shores of the St. John’s River.

Sanford Museum, Sanford, Florida

In addition to the many displays and photographs noted above, the museum includes memorabilia and photographs of notable Sanford residents who played professional baseball, such as Hall of Famer Andre Dawson.

Sanford Museum Display Honoring Sanford Native Andre Dawson

The Eckstein Brothers, David and Rick, grew up in Sanford, and the museum includes a display celebrating David Eckstein’s 2006 World Series exploits.

Sanford Museum Display Honoring 2006 World Series MVP David Eckstein

Sports announcer Walter Lanier “Red” Barber lived in Sanford, beginning at the age of 10.  Barber as the voice of the Brooklyn Dodgers during the 1930s and 1940s, suggested to team executives that the Dodgers hold spring training in Sanford.

Sanford Museum Display for Hall of Fame Sports Announcer Red Barber

If you visit Historic Sanford Memorial Stadium, or find yourself in or around Orlando or Daytona Beach, be sure to stop by the Sanford Museum. It is wonderful place to spend an afternoon, lost in baseball history.

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