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Thursday, July 3, 2008
Caple: Lost ballparks and old landmarks

By Jim Caple
ESPN.com


• Photo gallery: Lost ballparks and old landmarks

Editor's note: With the Sonics set to sail into the Oklahoma sun, the basketball faithful bid farewell to a storied NBA city. And while the team's old home of KeyArena remains, Seattle fans are left to ponder if this venerable old house will ever again produce the telltale NBA sounds of squeaking sneakers and clanking rims. In honor of the Seattle SuperSonics, we reprise our column "Lost ballparks and old landmarks." Go Sonics … er, stay Sonics?


Sure, it's always fun to check out baseball's newest ballparks. But anyone can go to the stadiums that are there. Sometimes it's even more rewarding to visit what remains of the ballparks that aren't there anymore or are hidden off the beaten path. Here are 10 "lost" baseball sites and other old landmarks worth exploring.

1. Durham Athletic Park, Durham, N.C.
The Durham Bulls moved to a stadium on the other side of town, but if you squint, you can practically see Crash and Nuke at the old DAP, where the greatest sports movie of all was filmed.

The DAP has seen better days, but there are plans to renovate the park for college ball in the near future. So it might not be long before players are again gathering on the mound to discuss the finer points of the game ("Candlesticks always make a nice gift").

Durham is filled with "Bull Durham" film locations, including the Green Room (the pool hall where Nuke punches Crash) and Annie's home (a short walk from the DAP). A great afternoon can be spent wandering the streets and exchanging "Bull Durham" quotes while breathing through your eyelids. Just remember: The rose goes in front, big guy.

Bonus: The original Durham office for Baseball America (dubbed Ballpark Corner) was across the street from The DAP. Also, read how Jim gets "Bullish on Durham."

Travel Ten: Lost ballparks
Now surrounded by the University of Pittsburgh campus, the right- and center-field walls of Forbes Field are still standing.
2. Forbes Field, Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh's new ballpark is the best stadium in baseball, but you can still catch a glimpse of old Forbes Field, the Pirates' home from 1909 to 1970.

Now surrounded by the University of Pittsburgh campus, the right- and center-field walls are still standing, along with the 436- and 457-foot distances painted on the bricks. The spot where Bill Mazeroski's 1960 World Series-winning home run landed in 1960 is marked by a plaque, and home plate is near its original location inside Pitt's Posvar Hall.

3. Wahconah Park, Pittsfield, Mass.
Road Warrior heard from a lot of people after the recent column on Rickwood Field ran, with many insisting America's "oldest" park was actually somewhere else. Well, it depends on the criteria used, and RW still goes with Rickwood as the oldest professional ballpark still used by a minor league team.

That said, baseball has been played on the site of Wahconah Park since 1892, though the field is not currently host to a minor league team.

The park is well worth visiting for its charm, its history and the fact it is laid out in such a way that the batter faces west, into the setting sun. This means that at certain times of the year, there are "sun delays" until the sun goes down behind the trees and the batter can see again. The park is home to high school games and occasionally is used for Vintage Base Ball (played under 19th-century rules and etiquette … and spelling) organized by Jim Bouton. For more on the history of the park and the fight over its preservation, read Bouton's book, "Foul Ball."

Bonus: The University of Vermont's Centennial Field has been in use since 1906, but its grandstand wasn't built until 1922 and for most of its life, the stadium has not been home to a minor league team. But it's definitely a place worth visiting, as well, especially when the wonderfully named Vermont Lake Monsters of the New York-Penn League are playing. There just aren't many old parks like this remaining anywhere, and those that are must be cherished. (By the way, Ethan Allen is buried beyond the center field). And for those readers who suggested Warren Ballpark in Bisbee, Ariz., sorry, but the park needs to host pro tilts, not just high school games.

Travel Ten: Lost ballparks
A bronze statue of Cy Young, who threw the first pitch of the first World Series game in 1903, stands on the former site of Boston's Huntington Avenue Grounds, now home to Northeastern University.
4. Huntington Avenue Grounds, Boston
Fenway Park is so old Road Warrior will forgive you for thinking the Red Sox always played there. They didn't. Back when they were the Pilgrims/Americans, they played at the Huntington Avenue Grounds, which is now part of the Northeastern University campus.

This is also the site of the first World Series ever played, and you can pose by a bronze statue of Game 1 starter Cy Young and pretend you're Honus Wagner stepping up to the plate in 1903. Also worth exploring is a World Series exhibit room with artifacts and history related to the team that would be named the Red Sox.

Bonus: Traces of Boston's old National League team can be found at Boston University's Nickerson Field, where the third-base grandstand from Braves Field remains, along with the building that housed the club's office.

5. Field of Dreams, Dyersville, Iowa
"Is this heaven?" Kevin Costner's character's dad asks in "Field of Dreams." No, Costner replies, "it's Iowa." Well, Dyersville and heaven have at least this much in common: They aren't easy to reach.

But the trip to this small town in eastern Iowa is worth the effort. By midsummer, the field and farmhouse are pretty much as you remember from the film, with people driving up regularly for a game of catch with their fathers or just to walk out to the bleachers; sit in shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon. They'll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they'll watch the game and it'll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters.

Bonus: If you have a car — and how would you get out here if you didn't? — and are in the mood for more movie sites, the home park for the Rockford Peaches in "A League of Their Own" can be found an eight-hour drive away at League Stadium in Huntingburg, Ind.

6. Polo Grounds, New York
You won't find any major leaguers here anymore, but you might catch a top college or NBA star playing on the renowned Rucker Park court that occupies part of the site. It's not baseball, but it's good to know the historic site in Harlem still is home to extraordinary athletics.

Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, by the way, was replaced by a housing complex.

7. Metropolitan Stadium, Bloomington, Minn.
Interesting how the precise location of home plate usually is marked at former stadiums, but no one cares enough to figure out the locations of the goal line. Anyway, you'll find the plate where Rod Carew, Tony Oliva and Harmon Killebrew batted in Camp Snoopy smack dab in the middle of the Mall of America. Road Warrior hates this mall but acknowledges this is a minority opinion. It is fun to take a stance at home plate and speculate where other parts of "the Met" were (including the Vikings' goal line); a Victoria's Secret is suspiciously close to where the Twins clubhouse would have been.

8. Babe Ruth grave, Gate of Heaven Cemetery, Hawthorne, N.Y.
Who is buried in Ruth's tomb? From the sheer size of it, the entire 1927 Yankees roster could be inside. Then again, it's only fitting that a player who was larger than life has a similarly sized memorial. The grave is just a 30-minute drive from New York and is visited frequently by Yankees fans.

9. Crosley Field, Blue Ash, Ohio
Cincinnati tore down Crosley Field a couple of years after the Reds moved into Riverfront Stadium. Although there are some markers at the old site, a better bet for nostalgia is the ballpark's re-creation in the suburb of Blue Ash. The field is built to the same dimensions as Crosley Field, has a five-story replica of the scoreboard (complete with scores from the last Reds game) and 400 original Crosley seats. The field hosts many games, including those of Moeller High School — Ken Griffey Jr.'s alma mater in Cincy.

10. Shoeless Joe Jackson house, Greenville, S.C.
Baseball banned Joe Jackson more than eight decades ago, but the city of Greenville embraces him. It recently moved his former home to a more fitting site — across the street from the minor league Greenville Drive's ballpark, which, by the way, is a replica of the thankfully still-standing Fenway Park. Pay tribute to one of baseball's all-time greats or curse the man who helped throw a World Series; either way, you can touch history and take in a ballgame at the same stop.

Jim Caple, a k a The Road Warrior, is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His Web site is at jimcaple.net, with more installments of "24 College Avenue." His book with Steve Buckley, "The Best Boston Sports Arguments: The 100 Most Controversial, Debatable Questions for Die-Hard Boston Fans," is on sale now.