JD’s 2015 Ballpark Tour… Takes a Vintage Blast from the Past!

Between the Bases… of Classic Ballparks

While this technically doesn’t count towards the official tally of ballparks I have recently visited, I got to visit two classic ballpark sites from yesteryear. The experience of getting to set foot in the same fields as Babe Ruth, Bob Feller, Bill Mazeroski, and countless others was more than a thrill for me. We will begin in Cleveland before the trip to Pittsburgh.

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The ballpark: League Park, former home of Cleveland baseball from 1891-1946

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Since this site was only a few minutes away from Mike’s house, we decided to make a day trip League Park just to check it out. I knew this place had become decayed and dilapidated, but upon hearing that the old park had gone through some renovations, we thought it would be worth a visit. Upon first glance, we see a new turf field laid out as if it was in pristine quality. We took a walk around the block to the old ticket building, and the exterior looked very similar to pictures from the 1930’s. When I did a quick search on my phone, I realized that these were the original walls with the building still intact! To me, this was very exciting to touch and feel a piece of history. Just then, we noticed the open gate and a groundskeeper working the field. Because of my curious nature, I asked the groundskeeper if I could take a look around. He said, “Absolutely, come on in!” Needless to say, I was very giddy!

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Nobody else was around, so Mike and I got to tour the whole site and see some of the murals of players that had played there in the past. We saw murals from such players as Bob Feller, Cy Young, Babe Ruth, Bill Wamby, and others. We also saw the newly-opened Baseball Heritage Museum that had artifacts from old League Park. However, this was only open on Saturdays. When we saw the sign, we decided that we might come back to check it out. At this point, the groundskeeper invited us to walk around the field and take it all in! Even though the infield is now artificial turf, this was still the same grounds as those players of the past.

We found a baseball and started tossing it around a bit across the infield. I then decided to step up to the rubber and take a few pitches. I actually managed to get the pitches over the plate a few times, a couple of them right down the middle! Poor Mike had to get out of the way from the pitches. I don’t hit 80mph on the gun, but my fastest pitch is in the mid-60s, which is still pretty darn good! Of course, I’m more of a middle infielder, anyway. I actually got some great pictures from the field! To me, this was a truly unforgettable experience. Yes, I even got to imitate Babe Ruth and Bob Feller… high leg kick and all.

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As I got to the home plate area, I noticed the odd quirks of that ballpark, including the long distance to deep center field which is around 460 feet from the plate. Then I noticed the incredibly short distance all the way to right field. As it turns out, the dimensions are mostly the same as it was nearly a century ago. The right field wall is still only 290 feet from home plate… but there is a forty foot height to that wall. Similar to Fenway Park, more pop flys could go for home runs in this old park. Despite the odd dimensions and wacky configurations, Cleveland did end up winning one World Series while League Park was their home in 1920. More on that particular World Series later.

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I did like that the League Park site is preserved very well, especially the ticket offices that utilize the original architecture. The brick work is far different than most buildings, and the way it was built is something you don’t see nowadays. Because of this League Park has an Ohio historical marker on the site! That means this wonderful place will stick around for a while. Mike and I knew we had to check out the museum on Saturday.

 

But in addition to League Park, we decided to check out the site of old Forbes Field in Pittsburgh before the Pirates game. The stadium is no longer intact thanks to a fire, but the majority of the outfield wall is still up and intact. Also, there is a brick path that shows the outline of where the old wall used to be located. If nothing else, this was a great glance to the past because this was the site of the famous walk-off home run from the 1960 World Series.

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The ballpark: Forbes Field, former home of the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1909-1970

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The wall is located in the middle of the Pittsburgh college campus near the Cathedral of Learning. In order to visit during a weekday, street parking payments are required… but only for an hour at most if you want to see everything. I was fine just getting to see and touch the outfield wall that players like Roberto Clemente played on.

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As for the Forbes Field wall itself, the original flagpole is still standing by the 457 foot marker where deep center field was. Everything looks original and intact. The further down the right field line I went, I approached the 436 foot sign from right-center field. Because it was in the early summer and plenty of rains had just passed, all the greenery looked plush. There actually seemed to be a nice layer of ivy growing on the walls! This looked fantastic, and the site is a great blast to the past. There is also a historical marker at Forbes Field, which tells about Bill Mazeroski’s famous home run, and the final three home runs of Babe Ruth’s career… including a famous one that went over that brick-and-ivy wall!

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When Mike and I returned to Cleveland’s League Park on the Saturday morning of that week, we were met by a very friendly administrator named Morris Eckhouse. Since we got there right when the museum opened at 10am, the volunteers helped us out and pointed out a couple of the artifacts inside the Heritage Museum. Inside, there is a jersey from the Indians 1921 season when they wore jerseys that said “Worlds Champions” on it. They really wanted the world to know that they were the defending champions, and who could blame them? There were also a couple old records, pieces of the uniform worn by Bob Feller, and a few seats from old League Park! Oh, the artwork there was beyond amazing. There are plenty of amazing portraits of former baseball players like Bob Feller and Joe DiMaggio. These are from Joe Gazzo Art, and I fell in love with the classic player portraits when I saw them.

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Meanwhile, over the old-school radio, we noticed a CD that featured the 1920 World Series?!? Yes, this was a recreation of game five of that World Series between Brooklyn and Cleveland! Mike donated $20 to get a copy… and I’m listening to it right now! This CD is a golden gem in baseball history. That particular game features the first grand slam in postseason history, the first time a pitcher hit a home run in the World Series, and the first (and only, as of now) unassisted triple play in postseason history.

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In addition to that, there was a booth dedicated to the Negro Leagues, some old baseball games (pinball among them), and signs from League Park. One of the awesome pieces in that museum is a ticket from 1946 that featured “Jack Robinson’s All-Stars.” Yes, this is the same Jackie Robinson, and this was the year before he made his debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Another fantastic artifact is an old score card where the Cleveland Indians defeated the Philadelphia Athletics, 5-3, in the first game of a doubleheader on June 24, 1936. Having kept score at games for a number of years, I found this highly fascinating.

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Morris was very kind in showing me some of the details in that museum, and I thank him so much for that. The Negro League section is among the best I’ve ever seen. To house the museum in a great historic venue like League Park fits perfectly. If you haven’t checked out this diamond in the rough yet, please give it a visit. The museum is only open on Saturdays from 10am to 2pm, but it’s worth it if you’re in town! If you want to check out their website, you can check it out here! Thank you for reading, and be sure to visit these gems! See you at the classic ballparks!

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-JD

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