What Happened Here


Baseball’s Leftover Footprints
March 23, 2013, 10:12 pm
Filed under: Closed, Landscapes | Tags: , , , , ,
New England SportsPlex, 2010

The calendar says it is spring, and with it the start of another baseball season is just around the corner.

Baseball can be played anywhere there’s room, but formal baseball fields require a pretty distinctive kind of place to be carved out—one that stays recognizable well after baseball stops being played.

In the spirit of the season, let’s take a look today at some evidence that has hung around long after baseball went away.

 

UNFINISHED BALLPARK
SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA

Sleep Train Arena is the aptly-named home of the basketball’s hapless Sacramento Kings.  Next to it is the foundation of a baseball stadium begun in the late 1980s.

Sacramento ballpark site, 2012

The stadium was part of a larger scheme by the Kings’ owner to eventually bring the NFL’s wandering Raiders to Sacramento.  That plan fell apart amid scandal, and construction stopped in 1991.  A minor league ballpark was later built in another part of town

The remaining foundation, wrapped around one corner of a sunken field, is clearly a stillborn baseball ground in the above Bing photo from 2012.  It’s not apparent what goes on there now, but if you look closely, there’s even a little hump almost where the pitcher’s mound ought to be.

Unfinished Sacramento ballpark with Sleep Train Arena

The foundation today sits untouched just north of the arena, and is one of the few places trees grow in this 2013 Google Maps view.

The service tunnel from stadium to arena is now used as a clown dressing room.

 

NEW ENGLAND SPORTSPLEX
VERNON, CONNECTICUT

In 1994, a new private softball park opened along I-84 in Vernon, CT, with four diamonds arranged in a circle.  For years as I passed the sign advertising the New England SportsPlex, advertising its availability for leagues, parties, and outings.

New England SportsPlex, 2003New England SportsPlex, 2002 or before
Top: Google Earth photo, 2003.
Bottom: Photo from a softball website from 2002.

In the photos above it’s still looking relatively operational.  Sometime in 2002 or 2003, it closed.

First, the sign remained but the grass got tall, then the weeds got taller than the grass, and soon a thick mass of shrubs began to consume the whole facility.

New England SportsPlex, 2010
New England SportsPlex, overgrown in 2010 (Google Earth)

At least once a month for years I have passed by as the fields, then the fences, have disappeared.  The dugout roofs finally stood only slightly above the vegetation, like Mayan ruins poking out from the jungle.  But the overgrowth still followed the shapes of the fields many feet beneath beneath.  The shrubs moved quickly in the bare infield, foul lines, and warning track before filling the outfield.  Though it was deep down under the brush, the shape of baseball remained clear.

New England SportsPlex, 201x (bing)

In 2011, the growth was cleared as shown in the Bing photo above, and “for sale” signs went up.  But weeds don’t relent, and without maintenance, the complex is well on its way to being swallowed up all over again.

 

JARRY PARK
MONTRÉAL, QUÉBEC

The Montreal Expos were enfranchised in 1969, and until their otherworldly Olympic Stadium (itself now vacated) was available in 1977, they played at a small municipal stadium in the city’s Jarry Park, northwest of downtown.

Jarry Park, Major League Baseball configuration
Jarry Park Stadium in its Major League Baseball configuration (image origin unknown)

Jarry is a medium-sized city park, and today has a lot of space devoted to athletics (pool, tennis courts, jogging paths, and more).  Wide open fields host big and small soccer games.

A curved grandstand behind home plate was the only structure standing in the baseball area before the Expos came.  Three added bleacher units increased Jarry Park Stadium’s capacity more than ninefold for the team’s arrival, hosting them until their new facility was available after the 1976 summer games. Still, pictures there’s the informality and scale of a minor league park.

In 1980, after baseball left, the enlarged stadium still remained, but its field was filled with an array of tennis courts and new bleachers.  This picture of unknown progeny pops up around the web and is the only full view I know of the awkward, ad hoc marriage between baseball diamond and tennis courts:

Jarry Park Tennis Stadium

The enduring ballpark shape lasted only until 1996, however, when all of the additions since 1969 were removed, and du Maurier (now Uniprix) Tennis Stadium was built in their place.

Uniprix Stadium, 2012

The diamond is no longer visible in the 2012 Bing view, but the entire pre-Expos structure — the curved center with its elevated press box — still remains at the south end, the focal point in the new design.

 

TIGER STADIUM
DETROIT, MICHIGAN

One of the saddest ends of a baseball park was that of Detroit’s Tiger Stadium, which hung on as the city itself decayed and evaporated around it, only to have a desperate Detroit turn on the stadium and replace it. The experience there was entirely unlike that of modern parks, with fans surrounding the whole diamond and upper decks crammed as close as possible to the on-field action.

Tiger Stadium closed in 1999.  People tried for years to preserve the oldest remaining Major League stadium, a beloved source of pride in a city running out of them.  Those efforts failed, and the park was demolished over 2008 and 2009.

Tiger Stadium

In this inaccurately-dated photo from Bing Maps (it says 2012, by which the stadium was long gone) the still-standing Tiger Stadium looks ready to host a game tomorrow, a bright spot in a neighborhood that poverty, neglect, and fire has turned into a sea of vacant lots.

Tiger Stadium site, 2010

By this 2010 Google Earth view, the hallowed corner of Michigan and Trumbull has joined the emptiness. Nothing remains of the massive structure, but somehow, the diamond still endures right where it hosted ballgames since Bennett Field opened there in 1896. A lone flagpole watches over it past right field.

It shines like divinity shielded it from destruction, but it’s a very earthly force keeping it that way: since 2010, a group of stubborn Detroiters calling themselves the Navin Field Grounds Crew (after the stadium’s original 1912 name) takes it upon themselves to break into the fenced-off field weekly, illegally picking up the trash, cutting the grass, and painting the foul lines.  The city objects to the maintenance, one spokesman declaring “It cannot be a space for playing baseball. That space is not meant for that,” despite 117 years of evidence to the contrary.  But with no municipal resources available to stop them, the Grounds Crew rolls on.

Dave Mesrey cuts the grass at Michigan and Trumbull
(Sarah Aittama/Michigan Radio)

I suppose the lesson is, baseball leaves its imprint long after the playing stops, but if it doesn’t, just wait for spring, and someone will be sure to happily bring it back.

Happy Baseball Season!


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