Take Me Out to the National Parks
One of the quintessential American pastimes, baseball conjures up memories of sunny afternoons, 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 the Recreation Yard of Alcatraz Island 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. 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.
Playing baseball was often inmates’ connection to the outside world. Professional 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 today's Fort Pulaski National Monument; however, they played by very different rules. The pitcher threw underhand and no one used gloves. 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.
Minidoka National Historic Site & Manzanar National Historic Site
During World War II, under Executive Order 9066, thousands of Americans with Japanese ancestry living on the West Coast were imprisoned and taken to one of 10 hastily built military-style camps, allowed to take only what they could carry. Internees established churches, temples, and clubs, built gardens and ponds, and developed recreational programs, including baseball teams. At what is now preserved as Manzanar National Historic Site, 12 leagues of baseball teams played at the baseball field. By the summer of 1942, nearly 100 men’s and 14 women’s softball teams also played here, including the ManzaKnights, a team grown out of a young men’s social club, and the Dusty Chicks, a women's team.
Baseball and softball were also popular at Minidoka War Relocation Center, now preserved as Minidoka National Historic Site. A 1943 issue of the camp newspaper, Minidoka Irrigator, stated that “old man baseball" had “helped make life in this camp more pleasant” and after the war many former internees stated “baseball saved us.” In 2016, the park and Friends of Minidoka, a park partner, held a Field-in-a-Day event, where individuals and groups rebuilt one of the fields which visitors can now view along the park’s walking tour. A powerful symbol of an American way of life, baseball boosted morale and brought a sense of normalcy to these confined communities.
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 shape by hiking in 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 of you may not think of national parks, but you may be surprised to see how great American traditions like baseball are represented in parks. From historic Hinchcliffe Stadium within Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park, home of the first home run hit by an African American player in the major leagues, to the ivy-adorned "Friendly Confines" of Chicago's Wrigley Field, designated a National Historic Landmark in 2020, the legends of baseball are remembered in our national parks.