Sunday, August 6, 2017

There Used to be a Ballpark Here

Everybody loves a good baseball road trip: Plan a few days off of work, make some friends do the same, grab a map, load the van, and you’re off to enjoy America’s pastime.

And baseball has been the pastime for a very long time. While you’re criss-crossing the country catching today’s action, feel free to stop and smell the roses—or in this case, take a quick side jaunt to visit some of the most interesting Major League ballpark locales of yesterday.

MINNEAPOLIS (and, okay, Bloomington, Minn.)
The Megalithic Mall of America stands proudly and retail-y at the junction of Interstate 494 and Cedar Avenue in suburban Bloomington, Minn. But back in the day, the MoA was the site of Metropolitan Stadium, home of the Minnesota Twins from 1961-1981.

Photo: John Seals
The Mall honors that heritage with a replica of the Met’s home plate in its original location, which is now right in front of the SpongeBob SquarePants Rock Bottom Plunge rollercoaster (because we live in a world where SpongeBob SquarePants Rock Bottom Plunge rollercoasters now exist where ballparks used to). And hey, you’re in the middle of a four-level shopping mall with hundreds of stores and dozens of food options. Grab an Orange Julius while you’re there, huh?

Side Trip: Get your urban on (and a White Castle, just one block away!) by visiting the corner of 31st and Nicollet in Minneapolis. Right in front of the Wells Fargo bank is a plaque commemorating the site of Nicollet Park, home of the minor league Minneapolis Millers from 1896 to 1955. Hey, Willie Mays played there!

The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum was opened in 1923 and hosted multiple events for both the 1932 and 1984 Olympics. Today, it’s the home of USC football, with the Trojans and campus located conveniently across the street.

But from 1958 to 1961, the Coliseum was also the home of the Los Angeles Dodgers while Dodger Stadium was under construction. The Coliseum was not built for baseball. Its left field fence was a scant 250 feet from home plate—beer-league softball players could reach that, and in fact when the Dodgers and Red Sox played an exhibition there in 2008, the Dodgers didn’t even bother with a left fielder. They played with a five-man infield instead. Still, a staggering 115,300 fans showed up for a mere pre-season game just for the novelty of seeing baseball back at the Coliseum.

The Coliseum is part of L.A.’s massive Exposition Park, which also features the California Science Center and Natural History museums. The new Expo Park/USC station stop on the Metro Line lets you walk through two blocks of beautiful rose gardens on your way to check out where the Dodgers got their start in L.A.

Side Trip: Just one mile east of the Coliseum is the site of L.A.’s former Wrigley Filed (yes, L.A. had a Wrigley Field, too), home of the Los Angeles Angels in 1961, and the great ol’ 1959-61 Home Run Derby TV show you might have seen on ESPN 8, The Ocho. The site, now a city park at 425 E. 42nd Place, alas, has nothing to commemorate that a real big league park once stood there, but guess what? The Little League team that plays there is called “Wrigley Little League.” Now ain’t that sweet?

Shibe Park, later known as Connie Mack Stadium, was home to the Philadelphia Athletics from 1909 to 1954, and the Philadelphia Phillies from 1938 to 1970. In its time, it was a palace, the first-ever steel-and-concrete baseball stadium that crawled from the Jurassic era of rickety wooden grandstands.

The Athletics moved to Kansas City in 1955, but the Fightin’ Phils kept up the fight until 1970 and their move to new Veterans Stadium. Large portions of the stadium caught fire in 1971, and the property was gradually demolished between 1974 and 1976.

Today, a plaque marks the site of the old ballyard at the corner or 21st St. and Lehigh Ave., right between a church and a shopping center.

Travelers to Kansas City can triple-dip: A Royals game, a trip to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, and Monarch Plaza.

Photo: Cullen Stapleton
The Plaza, home to the historical site of Kansas City Municipal Stadium, is located at 22nd and Brooklyn, a mere three-quarters of a mile from the Negro Leagues Museum (at 18th and Highland). The Plaza does a great job of honoring the heritage of the site, where the Royals, Athletics, and Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues once played. Monuments to past greats such as Amos Otis, John Mayberry, Satchel Paige and Buck O’Neil dot the landscape.

Okay, make it a quadruple-dip: The put-well-near-amazing Gates Bar-B-Q has a location less than a mile away at 12th and Brooklyn, and it’s the only Gates location that serves chili. You’d be crazy to pass that up.

The Seattle Pilots lasted a mere one year—1969—before decamping for Milwaukee to become the Brewers. The site of ol’ Sick’s Stadium, named for brewing magnate Emil Sick, is now…a Lowe’s Home Improvement store at the corner of Ranier and McClellan.

Photo: Brian Randolph
The store does a lovely job marking the site’s history with a large sign and a replica home plate, but please don’t listen to that great bastion of inaccuracy, Wikipedia. The markings for basepaths and the pitcher’s mound, along with the display case of old baseball memorabilia, are long gone. The staff doesn’t know where they are, but the wood screws are on aisle 11.

Originally published February, 2015 at Berkshire Hathaway Travel

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