Historical Baseball Fields and Baseball Museums

Latest update: 6 June 2016   I have visited sites in italics.   [All photographs by Mark Eberle.]

Which baseball field is the oldest? There is no single answer that is not open to debate. What follows is my interpretation of the various caveats applied to the question derived from several sources. In all cases, a field is present at the site on which baseball is or could be played. Baseball fields lost to redevelopment are not included among the 8 sites in this summary.

The first caveat in my list is the distinction between baseball grounds and baseball parks. Historical baseball grounds are existing fields where the game of baseball has been played or continues to be played. These fields have no associated structures or only the most basic structures (perhaps a backstop and bench seats), or they have extensive structures (such as grandstands) that are relatively recent constructions of substantially less historical significance than the baseball ground itself. Historical baseball parks (sometimes referred to as baseball stadiums) have reasonably extensive historical structures (such as grandstands) associated with the field. For all of the historical ballparks included here, routine repairs and renovations to modernize the parks have been made to existing structures, but these are treated as distinct from structures that have been completely rebuilt, often as a result of damage from fire, storms, or neglect. The orientation of the diamond at some sites has been altered or is unknown. In addition to the distinction between baseball grounds and baseball parks, determining which surviving field is the oldest depends on the importance a person places on attributes such as the extent of changes to the ballpark, whether it is used by major league teams, and how long it has been in continuous (annual) use up to the present day. Following the list of oldest baseball parks is a list of museums devoted to baseball I have visited.

In addition to these 8 oldest baseball fields, I have compiled lists of historical baseball fields or structures that cannot claim to be the oldest under any of the caveats used here but still seem worthy of mention, preservation, and a visit. They are on separate webpages accessible through the 2 links below. I am especially fond of baseball parks with historical wooden grandstands, although few remain. Nearly all of these sites were established prior to 1941, which marks the end of Works Progress Administration (WPA) and similar programs. The WPA built or rebuilt many baseball parks and other buildings as part of the national effort to put people to work during the Great Depression from the 1930s through the entry of the United States into World War II. I have made a special effort to identify and visit all of these older ballparks in my home state of Kansas. Sadly, there are not many remaining in the state, but there are are some real treasures. People from other areas will certainly have their own versions of these lists, especially with regard to baseball fields in their local area, which is as it should be. As with the baseball fields themselves—essentially identical on the infield but unique in the dimensions of their outfields and foul territories—lists of baseball firsts or other noteworthy attributes will have some elements in common, but no 2 lists will be identical, nor should they be. And just as aging baseball fields undergo renovation, my lists will undergo revisions as I learn more and journey to these historical sites. After all, learning so as to better appreciate the subject is a continuous process. The sites I have visited are in italics. I am making my way to the others as time allows. I typically travel to historical ballparks to watch games only where spectators hear the crack of a wooden bat rather than the ping of an aluminum bat (primarily collegiate league, minor league, or major league games).

Historical Baseball Sites in Kansas | Historical Baseball Sites outside Kansas

Oldest Baseball Grounds

1) Oldest Baseball Grounds where baseball could be played
• Fair Grounds of the Winnebago County Agricultural Society, Fairgrounds Park, Rockford, Illinois (1865)
The Rockford Forest City Base Ball Club was a charter member in 1871 of the first professional baseball league, the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players. The Fair Grounds of the Winnebago County Agricultural Society was their home field. The exact location, orientation, and dimensions of the playing field are unknown. The Fair Grounds were sold to the City of Rockford in 1904 and developed into a public park.

2) Oldest Baseball Grounds where the game is currently played, but not continuously through its history
• Hartford Base Ball Grounds at Colt Meadows, 8 Hendricxsen Avenue, Hartford, Connecticut (1874)
This was once a cow pasture on Samuel and Elizabeth Colt’s estate. The exact orientation of the diamond is unknown. The Hartford Dark Blues were a charter member of the National League in 1876 but moved to Brooklyn in 1877 and disbanded at the end of the year. Since 2009, vintage baseball games have been played at the field. The Friends of Vintage Base Ball has a goal of creating an historically accurate 1800s ballpark with grandstands at the site.

3) Oldest Baseball Grounds in continuous use
• Labatt Memorial Park (Tecumseh Park), 25 Wilson Avenue, London, Ontario (1877, 1883, 2001)
The original grandstands were damaged by a flood of the Thames River in 1883, after which the orientation of the field was changed. A flood in 1937 destroyed the second grandstand. A fourth edition of the grandstand was built for the 2001 Canada Games. Summer home of the London Majors (Intercounty Baseball League).

4) Oldest Baseball Grounds in continuous use, with the same field orientation
• Fuller Field (Clinton Base Ball Ground), Worcester and High Streets, Clinton, Massachusetts (1878)

5) Oldest Baseball Grounds used by a major league team in the modern era
• League Park, 66th Street and Lexington Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio (1891, 1910)
Most of the stadium was torn down in 1951, but it has reopened as a community park, featuring a baseball diamond with the original alignment. A visitor center helps support the remaining portion of the original brick façade, and the 2-story former ticket office is a museum. Other ballpark features have been recreated. In addition to League Park, remnants of a few other major league baseball parks still exist. Still standing are portions of the right field and center field walls (with distance markers painted on them) from Forbes Field (Pittsburgh Pirates, 1909–1970). The playing field and flagpole remain from Tigers Stadium (Detroit, 1912–1999). In Boston, a portion of the right field seating, the original outer wall, and ticket office (now the Boston University police station) of Braves Field still stand (Boston, 1915–1952, when the team moved to Milwaukee).

Oldest Baseball Parks

1) Oldest Baseball Park with a reconstructed grandstand of historical significance
• Centennial Field, 287 Colchester Avenue, University of Vermont, Burlington, Vermont (1906, 1922)
The current concrete-and-steel main grandstand was built in 1922 to replace the original wooden bleachers, which burned in 1913 and were initially replaced by a second set of wooden bleachers. Summer home of the Vermont Lake Monsters (Oakland A's, Class A).

2) Oldest Baseball Park with the original grandstand
Rickwood Field, 1137 2nd Street W, Birmingham, Alabama (1910)
Note that the seating along the first base line wraps around the foul pole, while the seating on the third base side projects only a little beyond the base. Rickwood Field served as the home of the minor league Birmingham Barons of the Southern League and the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro Leagues. Once per year since 1996, Rickwood Field has hosted the current Birmingham Barons (Chicago White Sox, Class AA) in a throwback game called the "Rickwood Classic,” in which both teams wear period uniforms. [I attended the 21st Annual Rickwood Classic on 1 June 2016, which honored the 1967 Birmingham A's.]

Rickwood Field Entrance Birmingham AL Rickwood Field

Rickwood Field 3B View Birmingham AL Rickwood Field

Rickwood Field RF View Birmingham AL Rickwood Field

3) Oldest Baseball Park of a major league team
• Fenway Park, Yawkey Way and Van Ness Street, Boston, Massachusetts (1912)
Home of the Boston Red Sox.

Baseball Museums

National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, Cooperstown, New York
http://baseballhall.org/

Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, 18th and Vine Streets, Kansas City, Missouri
http://www.nlbm.com/

Salón de la Fama del Beisbol Profesional de México, Monterrey, Nuevo León
Mexican Professional Baseball Hall of Fame (formerly hosted by the Cuauhtemoc Moctezuma Brewery)
[The brewery withdrew its support in 2011, so the museum is being relocated.]

Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory, Louisville, Kentucky
http://www.sluggermuseum.com/

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