On The Road:
ON the ROAD with CHRIS EPTING
Author & cultural historian
Chris Epting is an accomplished roadtripper, cultural historian, and the author of eight books including James Dean Died Here, Marilyn Monroe Dyed Here, Roadside Baseball, and Elvis Presley Passed Here. He is a regular contributor to a variety of travel publications and the spokesperson and co-creator for the Hampton Inn's "Hidden Landmarks" program. Originally from New York, Chris now lives in Huntington Beach, California, with his wife Jean and their two children.
THERE USED TO BE A BALLPARK...
by Chris Epting
So what if gas prices are high? To a road
tripper, that merely means being a bit more selective in where
you choose to go. So with the weather warming up, what better
time to start planning those spring and summer road trips?
For a baseball fan, there's no better time to grab a map,
good guidebook, and friends or family to set off in search
baseball, both past and present.
I am very happy this year to be back as spokesman for Hampton Inn Hotel's Hidden Landmarks program (part of their award-winng Save-A-Landmark program). Hidden Landmarks is an online travel resource that lets you explore unique, off- the-wall, historic pop culture landmarks around the country. This year we've added DriveAbouts which electronically maps specific tours for you. There are 10 different tours, including something I'm passionate about -- baseball history. In addition to what you'll find at Hidden Landmarks, I also wanted to share 10 of my favorite former stadium sites around the country. So grab your mitts and get ready to play where the greats once stood.
1. Where Giants Roamed
The Polo Grounds
West 155th Street and Eight Avenue, 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. The First World Series
400 Huntington Avenue, 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 games 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. Baseball in the City of Brotherly Love
Connie Mack Stadium
21st St. & Lehigh Avenue, 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 unusual 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. Steel Town Baseball
230 South 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 1970s, some interesting remnants remain here on the grounds of the University of Pittsburgh. A sizeable part of the outfield wall still stands -- ivy-covered 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. Nothing Erie About It
East 66th Street and Lexington Avenue, 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. History is in the Cards
The Herbert Hoover Boys and Girls Club, 2901 North Grand Avenue, St. Louis
Starting back in the 1870s, 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. 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. Want to Hit the Mall?
Mall of America, Crossroads of Interstate 494 and Highway 77, Bloomington, Minnesota
The Twins played here at "The Met" until 1981. The stadium, which had also hosted Minnesota Vikings 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 the 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. Houston, We Have a Stadium Site
Finger Furniture Center, 4001 Gulf Freeway, Houston
This is probably the only furniture store in the world with a marker on the floor where a home plate used to be. 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 Buffalos. 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. Lights, Camera, Baseball!
42nd Place 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 Angels until the early 1960s, 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 1960s TV show "Home Run Derby." Today, the former site of Wrigley Field is occupied by a public park and recreation center.
10. A Fixer-Upper
Lowe's of Rainier, 2700 Rainier Avenue South, Seattle
The former site of Sick's Stadium is now a home improvement store. 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 1960s, 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.
April 17, 2005