The entrance to Rickwood Field.

photo by: Bill Chapman

Preservation Magazine, Spring 2018

Cover All the Bases at These Eight Historic Baseball Sites

For those who aren’t baseball fans, it may seem hard to understand how the sport earned its designation as America’s national pastime. In the minds of many modern viewers, sporting events are meant to be action-packed bundles of constant excitement, and baseball, with its languid pace and infrequent bursts of action, doesn’t quite fit in with that picture. In fact, Major League Baseball games have seen an 8.7 percent decline in attendance since 2007.

However, the very trait commonly cited as one of the sport’s shortcomings might be its greatest virtue. Perhaps more than any other professional sport in the United States, baseball has less to do with the game itself than with the experiences we create around it. Baseball is just as much about enjoying a game with friends and family on a warm July evening, breathing in the scent of freshly mowed grass in between pitches, or lazily shagging flies in your backyard as it is about rooting for your team to win the World Series.

Of course, the game is not lacking in beauty or drama, either. Few things can match the sublimity of a perfectly executed double play, or the split second of utter silence after a well-hit ball. And when the ninth inning of a tied playoff game rolls around, you don’t have to be a fan to appreciate the tension in the air that escalates with every pitch.

The places and stories associated with the sport remain integral to our collective identity. Some of those places need no introduction, such as Fenway Park, Wrigley Field, and Dodger Stadium. Here are eight more reminders of baseball’s past that are worth a visit.

A game being played at Doubleday Field.

photo by: Jean Fruth/National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

Doubleday Field (often used by the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum) is named after Abner Doubleday, whom many believed to have invented the sport of baseball. This claim has been deemed false by most modern baseball historians.

Take away the blue-and-red signs divulging its identity, and you’d walk right past The Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum without suspecting it to be the childhood home of one of baseball’s most enduring icons. The brick Baltimore rowhouse and three adjacent rowhouses faced demolition in the 1960s, but Hirsh Goldberg, a Babe Ruth fan and the press secretary for the mayor of Baltimore, led the way to transform them into a space honoring the former New York Yankees legend. The site opened in 1974.

Quaint Bosse Field in Evansville, Indiana, serves as the home field of the Frontier League’s Evansville Otters. Constructed in 1915, Bosse has hosted more than a century’s worth of baseball games. Scenes from the 1992 film A League of Their Own were filmed there, and five eventual Baseball Hall of Famers, including Bert Blyleven and Warren Spahn, called it their home field while playing in the minor leagues.

Hank Aaron grew up in the Mobile, Alabama, neighborhood of Toulminville, but the Hank Aaron Childhood Home and Museum now sits in the shadow of the minor league Mobile BayBears’ home park. That’s because the city, which owns the house, and the team, which operates it as a museum, lifted the 30-ton structure and hauled it 6 miles south to its current location. Catch a BayBears game at Hank Aaron Stadium, then head right next door to learn more about the fabled slugger’s life.

The concrete, Art Deco–style Hinchliffe Stadium in Paterson, New Jersey, completed in 1932, is thought to be the last surviving regular home field of a Negro League team in the Mid-Atlantic. The National Trust named Hinchliffe a National Treasure in 2012 in response to vandalism and neglect since its closure in 1996. In April of 2014, several hundred volunteers from the Trust’s HOPE Crew program helped repaint its interior walls. Rehab work on the exterior walls and cast concrete signs began in September of 2017, and has been further boosted by a recent $500,000 grant from the National Park Service. Two of the stadium’s original ticket booths are also being restored, thanks to a $300,000 grant from American Express.

After 120,000 Japanese-Americans and U.S. residents of Japanese descent were forced into internment camps by the federal government in the discriminatory aftermath of the Pearl Harbor attack, baseball and softball became a refuge for many of the imprisoned. One of the camps, Minidoka in Jerome County, Idaho, had at least 12 diamonds, all built by the prisoners themselves. The games played there served as unifying diversions, and Minidoka’s semi-professional baseball team even competed in Idaho’s state championship. While the original fields are gone, the nonprofit Friends of Minidoka worked with National Park Service staff to reconstruct one of them at the Minidoka National Historic Site in 2016.

The baseball field at Mindoka National Historic Site.

photo by: Ryan Kozu

Center Field, the largest baseball field at Minidoka during its time as an interment camp, was rebuilt at its historic location.

Of all the sports museums in the country, few are more revered than the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, New York, and for good reason. With a collection of baseball cards, artifacts, and memorabilia unmatched by any in the world, this storied 1939 building is a must-visit for every baseball fan. Highlights include the jersey presented to Jackie Robinson when the Los Angeles Dodgers retired his number and two copies of the T206 Honus Wagner card, the most valuable baseball card in the world.

The only company that still assembles baseball gloves in the United States, Nokona Athletic Goods Company in Nocona, Texas, has handcrafted gloves for more than 80 years. (It started in 1926 as a leather goods manufacturer.) The company’s original factory burned in a 2006 fire, but Nokona turned out its first post-fire glove only 51 days later. Tour the current location—an old boot factory two hours north of Dallas—and get a behind-the-scenes look at how baseball gloves are produced.

You might expect the oldest extant professional baseball park in the country to have a higher profile, but Rickwood Field, built back in 1910 in Birmingham, Alabama, remains a little-known gem. While Rickwood ceased operating as a full-time stadium in 1987, the minor league Birmingham Barons (who shared use of the park with the Negro League's Birmingham Black Barons) return to the park every year to play a regulation game known as the Rickwood Classic, donning period uniforms that help transport spectators to the past. The park is currently undergoing structural repairs, which are scheduled to be completed in time for this year's Classic in early May.

Nicholas Som is an editorial assistant at Preservation magazine. He enjoys museums of all kinds, Philadelphia sports, and tracking down great restaurants.

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