In Search of a Few Ballparks.

Bob Dorrill of SABR surveys the turf at “Eagle Park.”

On Tuesday, March 30, 2010, good friend and fellow SABR member Bob Dorrill, our esteemed Larry Dierker Chapter leader and field manager of our vintage base ball Houston Babies, and I spent the day in search of some old local ballparks. For the most part, we knew that all of them on our list were long gone in physical form, but we were searching for something a little harder to see. We wanted to make whatever contact that might still be possible with the essence of these neighborhoods that spawned them long ago. Going in, we also knew that most of the cultures that once existed in each area we visited had long ago either mutated or been run off to the hinterlands. It was a daunting task, sort of on the level of trying to travel through time without a time machine, but that’s the very nature of historical baseball research. You always end up yearning for that one-hour direct view of the game or event or place itself that is under study – or for that one interview moment with the last eyewitness on the fiftieth anniversary of their burial in the cemetery. Neither ever happens.

Here’s a thumbnail on what we found and didn’t find.

(1) Buff Stadium.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Buff Stadium 1928-1961 (Forget the years they called it Busch Stadium.)

As I described yesterday, Buff Stadium was our first and main stop. The memory of the grandest old ballpark in Houston baseball history is well protected by the Finger family on the site of their store on the Gulf Freeway at Cullen. The Houston Sports Museum is again operating within the store in a vastly improved and tasteful presentation of Houston baseball history under the capable direction of Curator Tom Kennedy.

(2) Eagle Park.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eagle Park, 1947-54; Sandlot Home of the Pecan Park Eagles.

Eagle Park was the name a few of us Japonica-Myrtle Street kids gave the little city park we claimed as home field of our Pecan Park Eagles. The place represents all the thousands of sandlots that once filled daily in the Houston summertime from dawn to dusk for some serious non-stop baseball. We had to stay inside during the so-called “heat of the day” (12:00 PM to 3:00 PM) in 1950 due to the threat of polio, but we made up for lost AB’s once we were again paroled to the streets.

The above featured photo shows the field perspective from where home plate used to stand. All of that dumb playground equipment and the water fountain weren’t around back in 1950. We would have torn that stuff to the ground for getting in the way of baseball back then. Now the kids don’t play sandlot ball on their own out of some natural love for the game. If they play the game at all. it’s the Little League version under constant adult supervision. No wonder the kids lost interest in the game. Organized youth sports offer no freedom and about two games and six at bats per week. We had days on the sandlot when the individual times at bat ran well into the hundreds.

 

6646 Japonica Street, Houston 17, Texas.

The front door of my childhood home was just about ninety feet from home plate at Eagle Park. The house wasn’t blue back in the day, but neither was I. The world of hope spread out before me as the endless lawn of summer fun with other East End street urchins as we pursued our all-day, no matter what, from here to eternity passion for the game of baseball.

(3) East End Park.

East End Park, 1920s, on Cline off Clinton Drive.

Thanks to team owner John and James Liuzza, East End Park was the thriving home of black baseball for several years in Houston during the early decades of the 20th century. Both the Houston Monarchs and their later named selves, the Houston Black Buffs, played here, especially to enthusiastic crowds on Sundays.

Everything in the photo is gone or changed beyond recognition today. Some dilapidated one-story shanties now stand on the street where the two-story homes once stood. The ballpark is completely gone, now replaced by a large and fairly new and well-kept looking garden apartment building project. Because of the old fifth ward neighborhood’s proximity to downtown, new homes and bastille-guarded apartments are springing up like orchids in a patch of architectural weeds in this area, but there is no  sign of baseball  here. Not now.

(4) Monarch Stadium. No picture is available to us, but the Liuzza Brothers  built a second ballpark in the 1930s near East End Park on Gillespie Street. It also is gone, leaving no trace of where it ever prevailed as a site for baseball. When people change directions, they eventually or sooner change the landscape too.

(5) West End Park.

 

 

 

 

 

 

West End Park, Home of the Houston Buffs, 1907-1927.

We took Smith Street south from downtown to Andrews Street, the little lane that angles off the northern side of of Allen Center and past the southern side of the iconic Antioch Baptist Church. A few short blocks to 601 Andrews put us right where the 1919 Houston Street Directory tells us was the 601 Andrews Street mailing address for West End Park. Today it is some kind of power grid for the electric company. It is only  a short block from where the freeway cuts off Andrews from further movement southwest. Mike Acosta of the Astros believes that the old location for home plate at West End Park would now be found under the freeway. If the field was laid out facing southeast, as we “think” it was, then Mike’s guess is probably right on target. Like the others, West End Park is now gone, without a trace of evidence remaining that it ever existed in the physical world.

(6) Minute Maid Park.

 

 

 

 

 

Minute Maid Park 2000-Now.

We finally found a ballpark that still lives, houses baseball, sells beer and hot dogs, puts a Houston team on the field that tries its best to win ballgames, and one that brings the thrill of a pennant race into our lives almost every single year. It’s at this ballpark, where baseball has a present and future to go along with its rich past, that all comes to new life. While we were there, I even managed to pick up a couple of nose-bleed tickets for Opening Day next Monday and the Oswalt-Lincecum match-up between the Astros and the San Francisco Giants.

It was a great day. If those of us who love baseball could have more days like the one that Bob Dorrill and I shared last Tuesday in search of old ballparks, we would all live happily to about the age of 150.

See you at the ballpark, friends!

My Souvenir from Ballpark Search Day.

 

Straight from the Heart. (That’s the Eagle Park dirt in the glass jar.)

My souvenir from the ballpark search day was no accidental find. I planned it by bringing a tall glass jar and a small garden hand spade with me on Tuesday. The bottle now contains something I’ve wanted to bring home for years. It’s a bottle filled with dirt from the home plate area of Eagle Park – and it is just as black and hard as the gumbo we played on sixty years ago. – And why shouldn’t it be black and hard and similar? It’s beyond similarity. It’s the same ground we played on a lifetime of ballgames ago.

Have some fun, folks. None of us are getting any younger.

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8 Responses to “In Search of a Few Ballparks.”

  1. Bob Bluthardt Says:

    Excellent piece of writing and “investigation.” Enjoyed it fully.

    best wishes

    Bob Bluthardt
    Former chair: SABR Ballparks Committee

  2. David Munger Says:

    Bill,
    Thanks for the tour.
    I wish I had a Dollar for every hour I spent at “Eagle Park”.
    That’s where I practiced for three years with The Milby Buffs.

    Have a safe Easter Holliday.

  3. john avila Says:

    Hello David!!!!!!!!!!!!

  4. Bill McCurdy Says:

    These nicely expressed thoughts came in by e-mail from Wayne Roberts today:

    My guess is your old Pecan Street park and neighborhood are older versions of Westbury and Westbury Park where I played sandlot. As of last year, my field was still there. I’ve occasionally stopped and sat in the bleachers and walked around. I think it’s all the original fencing, bleachers, water fountains, etc.

    We’ve all noticed the decline in sandlot which is a real travesty. I spent the majority of my summers in the 1960s down there playing. You just walk over and get worked into the game. I’m not sure there were even a set number of innings. I remember that walk well, my glove wrist band pierced by the bat on my shoulder, a ball just in case, a sweaty hat, jeans, t-shirts, and high top sneakers. Sometimes I’d use my cleats but not often in case we trucked off somewhere else.

    I wasn’t fat then because of the sandlot. On many occasions, my friend Vance would come over and we’d play whiffle ball for hours with “fantasy” teams and keep score for each AB. We alternated houses so we had two “stadiums” configured radically different. We also had two games on my driveway up against the garage door: the bunting game (couldn’t swing away because of windows and a busy street) and the “ground ball game” which was where we’d rocket a hard rubber coated baseball down towards the garage door to a “defender” who had to make the play and throw the runner out back to the “batter” down the drive.

    When no one came over, I spent hours throwing either a tennis ball or hard rubber ball from Woolworth’s at a strike zone taped out on the garage door, usually from the Pony League distance which later expanded to 60’6”. Those hours and years resulted in me being pretty accurate as a thrower but still relatively weak armed for the day. I blew out my rotator cuff about 15 years ago playing in an Austin city softball league but I bet I’m still more accurate than 95% of the kids today.

    The decline and loss of sandlot has led to the deterioration of American culture in my mind.

    – Wayne Roberts

  5. Emory Gadd Says:

    Bill, I was put onto your Pecan Park Eagle. Grew up in South Park down the street from Jones High School. Have been Assoc Pastor at Sagemont Church for 39 years. Enjoyed your article about Todd Herring. Wanted to give you update. I conducted the funeral for Todd Herring, who was a active member at our church along with his wife Jan. Because of a personal decision he made to trust Christ as his Savior, he enjoyed many years. Todd was like all of us, who have made that personal decision, The Old Todd & The New Todd. I made that statement at his funeral that was packed at our church, that some of those present who knew just the Old Todd would be confused with my comments, Also those that just knew the New Todd would also be confused. I closed the service by sharing with those present as I used Todd’s Bible, that there was a list of names in the front of his Bible, of men that he was praying for. I did not read the names aloud. Jan told me later that for weeks she would get phone calls from men, from Todd’s past, wanting to know if their name was on that list. It was my experience to have known and heard of the Old Todd, but also it was my honorto know and be a friend of the New Todd. II Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature. Old things pass away and all things become new”. You can be assured that God did rest his soul. Bill, thank you so much for that article about Todd Herring and your efforts to flood our hearts with memories of our past.

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