Ballparks serve as iconic landmarks for fans
The past always part of the present at storied stadiums
Last week, Boston celebrated the 100th anniversary of one of baseball's most storied ballparks -- Fenway Park. Another ballpark that remains in our memory debuted on the same day 100 years ago (April 20, 1912), but it did not make the century mark to collect its due as one of the game's historic treasures.
On the same April afternoon in 1912, Navin Stadium opened its doors for the first time. People may not recall Navin Stadium because by the time most of us came to know the ballpark, its name had been changed twice -- first to Briggs Stadium in 1938 and then to Tiger Stadium in 1961.
Frank Sinatra once sang a sad, melancholy, lament ballad title "There Used to be a Ballpark Right Here" which included these lyrics:
And there used to be a ballpark
Where the field was warm and green
And the people played their crazy game
With a joy I'd never seen
And the air was such a wonder
From the hot dogs and the beer
Yes, there used to be a ballpark, right here
We've got to think those words might ring true for the folks in Michigan, as the love affair with Fenway Park was so rightfully renewed last week.
The Royals do have a strong connection to the great history of that former landmark at the intersection of Michigan and Trumbull in Detroit. On Monday, Sept. 27, 1999, the Tigers hosted the Kansas City Royals in the final game at Tiger Stadium. In a fitting twist, the Royals lost that last historic game.
It was at Briggs Stadium on May 2, 1939, when Lou Gehrig removed himself from the Yankees lineup to break his consecutive games played streak at 2,130. Babe Ruth hit his 700th home run there on July 13, 1934. He also hit what is believed to be the longest home run in Major League Baseball history there on July 18, 1921 (but home run distances are always subjective, it seems). Plus, so many other great moments in Detroit Tigers history: Four World Series championships and the careers of Hall of Famers -- from Cobb and Kaline, to Greenberg , Gehringer and more.
Another park that will be celebrated in 2014 is the 'friendly confines' known as Wrigley Field. But did you know a Kansas City team played there a couple of years before the Chicago Cubs? Chicago's iconic park was built by Charles Weeghman for his Federal League ballclub named the Chicago Whales. When it first opened its doors on April 23, 1914, it was known as Weeghman Park. The Whales' opponents in that very first game were the Kansas City Packers. Again, the Kansas City team obliged the home club on their special day with a win.
The Federal League folded following the 1915 season; Weeghman then bought a stake in Chicago's National League club, and the team moved to his "new" ballpark. The Cubs were later sold to William Wrigley, and in 1926, the name of the ballpark was changed to Wrigley Field.
Though it's true that ballparks are just buildings and some are lost to time without much reflection, we think it is also true that in some way they can long outlive themselves in memory. That is true for Tiger Stadium, even if we didn't celebrate it last week.
As a baseball fan, I hope games continued to be played at Fenway Park and Wrigley Field for many decades to come. When you walk into either, you learn anew that the past is always part of the present -- something baseball has a special ability to teach.
Curt Nelson is the Director of the Royals Hall of Fame and has worked for the Royals since the 1999 season. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.