Take Me Out to the … National Parks
It’s that time of year again. Baseball is back and one of the greatest American traditions is taking over the summer. Everyone is thinking about peanuts, popcorn, and national parks? That’s right, there is baseball history in our national parks. America’s pastime, meet America’s national treasures.
America’s most famous prison was also home to competitive, and sometimes unfriendly, softball games. A small diamond was built in Alcatraz’s Recreation Yard and by 1938, there were eight integrated softball teams. The more competitive league boasted the Cardinals, Cubs, Giants, and Tigers – the names of the four Major League Baseball teams at the time. Detailed player stats were kept at Alcatraz. Who would’ve won the 1938 Silver Slugger? Lorenzo Murrietta, serving 40 years for assault and robbery, was the best batter in the league with a .402 average, 9 home runs, and 45 RBI’s for the Cardinals.
Baseball at Alcatraz was often inmates’ connection to the outside world. Professional baseball players like Warren Spahn, the 6th most-winning pitcher in history, and Stan Musial, outfielder and first baseman for 22 seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals, were popular visitors at the prison. Radio jacks were even installed in cells for Game 7 of the 1955 World Series between the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Yankees.
Fort Pulaski National Monument
In 1862, Civil War soldiers at Savannah, Georgia’s Fort Pulaski posed for one of the earliest known photographs of baseball in America. Infantries from around the country played baseball to pass the time at Fort Pulaski; however, they played by very different rules! The pitcher threw underhand and no one used gloves. At Fort Pulaski, baseballs were made out of small bits of wood and rags instead of the rubber or cork of today’s baseballs. The sport was popular in the Northeast before the Civil War and it’s likely that soldiers from across the country were introduced to baseball at places like Fort Pulaski, contributing to the sport’s rise in popularity after the war.
Hot Springs National Park
Perhaps national parks’ greatest contribution to the history of American baseball is at Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas – where Spring Training began. From 1886 to the 1940’s, professional baseball players travelled to “The American Spa” before the start of the season. Players could get back in form by hiking the mountains, soaking in the springs, and playing baseball in the warmer weather. The first team to make an official Spring Training trip was the Chicago White Stockings, who then made it to the World Series that same year. The Pittsburgh Pirates, Philadelphia Phillies, Cleveland Spiders, Cincinnati Reds, and Brooklyn Dodgers were next to hold Spring Training in the area.
Soon, one of the greatest baseball players of all time frequented Hot Springs – Babe Ruth. The Boston Red Sox held Spring Training in Hot Springs from 1909-1923 and the young Babe Ruth was known by locals for his regular visits to the springs as much as his propensity for home runs.
Sure, when you think baseball you may not think of national parks. But there are countless untold stories of America’s national parks, including stories about some of our greatest American traditions like baseball.
And don’t forget to check out the National Register of Historic Places to see which ballparks are on the list!