By Douglas S. Malan
Baseball’s connection to its past lends itself to storytelling and an appreciation for players from earlier eras. After a summer in the New England Collegiate Baseball League and the Futures Collegiate Baseball League of New England, hundreds of players will return to campus with stories about kicking up dirt where Babe Ruth, Satchel Paige, Ted Williams, Vince Lombardi and dozens of other legends played many years ago.
Such an incredible opportunity is owed to civic leaders in these New England towns and cities who are committed to preserving the integrity and rich history of these ballparks and fields. In earlier times, these places served as homes for minor league teams with budding superstars on the rosters and hosted barnstorming teams back when pro players had to scratch out a living any way possible.
Many of these ballparks served as primary gathering spots during the spring and summer where local residents socialized and enjoyed America’s pastime.
Parents and coaches in the New England Collegiate Baseball League made stops at MacKenzie Stadium, home of the Valley Blue Sox built in 1933, and Cardines Field in Newport, Rhode Island, one of the oldest ballparks still standing in America where support is strong for the local Newport Gulls.
Teams in the Futures League have even more opportunities to become part of venerable ballparks’ significant histories.
With the 2015 debut of the Bristol Blues, many played and coached for the first time at Muzzy Field in Bristol, Conn., which officially opened in 1914 and has hosted dozens of baseball and football Hall of Famers in its time. It’s the only field still in use where both Babe Ruth and Vince Lombardi played. Over in Torrington, Conn., the Titans play at Fuessenich Park, which dates back to the late 1910s.
Not far up the road in Pittsfield, Mass., Wahconah Park has a long history as a minor league field since its opening day in 1919. This wonderful ballpark, home of the Pittsfield Suns, is on the National Register of Historic Places and has received significant national exposure in recent years, especially when it hosted a vintage baseball game televised on ESPN.
Two other Massachusetts-based ballparks are popular road trip destinations over the summer. Fraser Field is home to the North Shore Navigators and has hosted the likes of Ted Williams and Josh Gibson since it opened in 1940. Futures League players will strive to be there on July 21 when the league’s All-Star Game is played.
In Worcester, Mass., the local Bravehearts play on Fitton Field, which has been home to all Holy Cross baseball teams since 1905, including the 1952 College World Series championship team. Fans can appreciate the history of that field while also enjoying more modern-day amenities from the grandstand that was constructed in 2005.
The Futures League’s two New Hampshire entries – the Nashua Silver Knights and Seacoast Mavericks – also play in historically significant parks. The Silver Knights play at Holman Stadium, built in 1937, and some of the ballpark’s most interesting moments occurred when it was home to a Brooklyn Dodgers farm team in the 1940s. In Portsmouth, N.H., the Mavericks play at Leary Field, a site that has served as baseball grounds since the late 1800s.
Between innings this past summer, players and coaches had the opportunity to take a moment to realize they are adding their names to the long list of accomplished athletes and iconic stars who played on these same fields.
Douglas S. Malan is a Connecticut-based writer, and author of “Muzzy Field: Tales from a Forgotten Ballpark” and “Let’s Go to the Ballpark!”