Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Yankees Say Goodbye; Remembering our Old Ballparks

The New York Yankees have played their last game at the old stadium and are now moving on in history. Well, so long old ballpark. I have been reading essays about childhood memories, and viewing television essays, all weekend long that would make you think that New York is the only city with a rich baseball history. Sure, New York baseball history is rich. But guess what? Baseball history exists elsewhere, and we also have stories passed down to us from fathers, grandfathers, and uncles, concerning that “great old park.”

In my family, that ballpark is “League Park” in Cleveland, Ohio. Its rich history had come and gone before I was even born. Many who grow up in New York will be hearing stories about Yankee Stadium for the rest of their lives, and will never have their own memories of it. It will move into the realm of myth. Unfortunately for them, the old stadium is going to be torn down. In Cleveland, you can still go to the location of League Park and see an empty lot. You can imagine the ballpark. It can still be created in your mind at the corner of 66th Street and Lexington Avenue. The original ticket office still remains and was converted into a recreation hall. There is a historical maker in an open lot, which is the only way you would know that such history took place at this spot.

Cleveland had a team in the National League. They built a park in 1891 for them. The grandstand was made of wood and was placed behind home plate. In 1910 it was dismantled and rebuilt of steel and concrete. We like to think of old ballparks in America as being unique. League Park was all that and more. It was basically a rectangular shape. This was because the owners of the property in right field would not sell. So the right field fence ended up being a very short 290 ft. with a 40 foot wall.

A double deck grandstand extended from the right field fence to home plate, and went around to the left field post. There was a small section in left-center field made of wooden bleachers. The baseball diamond is in the same spot that it was when the Indians played on it.

My uncle William Van Aken, used to tell me stories about how he would skip school and take the train from Shaker Heights down to the park to watch games. Back then all the games were played during the day. There was never a game played at night in League Park. My dad’s stories were all about the “knot hole” gang in Columbus, Ohio. His team was the Redbirds (minor league team for the St’ Louis Cardinals).

Here are just a few of the things that happened there:

Cy Young pitched the first game, on May 1, 1891.

It was a National league park until 1900.

Balls hitting the 20-foot-high screen above the 40-foot-high-right field wall were still in play.

When seats were added in center field for the 1920 World Series, the distance shrank from 460 ft. to 420 ft.

Bill Wambsganss made the only unassisted triple play in World Series history on Oct. 10, 1920, in game five against the Brooklyn Robins. In the same game, Elmer Smith hit the first grand-slam and Jim Bagby became the first pitcher to hit a home run in World Series history.

Joe DiMaggio set a record by hitting safely in his 56th consecutive game, in 1941.

It was where baseball legend Babe Ruth hit his 500th home run on August 11, 1929.

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