Major League Baseball will begin soon, and Richmond will be getting a new Minor League team this year. Richmond has a long history of baseball tradition.
Brooks Smith has been rediscovering Richmond’s sports history, and today, Brooks, with baseball season getting ready to open in the major leagues this Sunday night, and on the 15th Richmond getting a new professional team -- we’ll talk about that a bit later -- Richmond really goes way back to the earliest days of professional baseball.
Smith: Indeed you’re right, and one way to look at our baseball history is through the stadiums where our baseball teams played. The oldest ball park in the city dates back 135 years to 1875. It was at the old fairgrounds at Monroe Park. And I have also written and talked in past statements about Henry C. Boschen, the grand-daddy of baseball in Richmond. Boschen built the first enclosed stadium in what was then known as Sheep Hill for his shoe manufacturing team back in the 1880’s.
Farrar: So the first ballpark was in what is now Monroe Park, and then there were a series of fields on islands in the James River.
Smith: That’s right. The most storied location for baseball in the city and I think as recently as a couple of years ago when we were looking for a home for a new baseball stadium we revisited Mayo Island. The very first park there was built in 1890 by the Richmond Athletic Association for a team called the Richmonds. A couple of decades later a modern facility was built on Mayo Island called Island Park and the James River was just beyond the left-field fence. You could sit in your boat and wait for a homer to come over the fence. This field was renamed Tait Field in 1926 in honor of one of the city’s first baseball heroes, Pop Tait.
Farrar: And then the modern era brought some ballparks to Broad Street.
Smith: That’s right, the Broad Street parks date back a long time and were revived in the modern era, but the very first Broad Street park was built in 1896: an enormous field, measured 560 feet to the center field fence. Perhaps most famous game ever played in Richmond was played in the Broad St. Park in 1911 featuring the Major League All Stars with Ty Cobb against the Phildadelphia Athletics, who went on to the World Series. Some 9,000 Richmonders came out for that game. The second Broad Street park was built in 1913 to house the Richmond Colts in its third iteration. Richmond Colts were around in 1894, 1906, 1912, and 1918. But that field was up by the Science Museum. And then, like you said, when the Tait field burned down in 1941, Eddie Mooers, the owner of the Colts, built a new stadium for them called Mooers Field, at Roseneath Avenue, right off of Broad St.
Farrar: The old Richmond Colts of the then Class B Piedmont League -- believe it or not, there were Class B, C and D leagues back in those days -- Eddie Mooers owned the Richmond professional baseball team for a number of years, and then in 1954, the old Baltimore Orioles of the International League had to find a new home because the St. Louis Browns moved to Baltimore and became known as the major league Baltimore Orioles, and the Baltimore Triple A franchise in the International League was moved to Richmond for the 1954 season. A new ballpark had to be built to accommodate that level, and it became Parker Field. Tell us about that.
Smith: Well, it was a built of a hustle to build a stadium for this incoming team. Like you said, Parker Field was built in 1954, in the 3,000 block of North Boulevard. It was the site of an old fairground and also a destination for high school football teams. But the field was built, opened for business April 8, 1954 and actually the first game was an exhibition game between the new Virginians and the New York Yankees.
Farrar: And the Virginians were affiliated as a farm club for the Yankees for several years while they played there at Parker Field. And then came 1965, that was the year Richmond was without professional baseball. The Virginians moved to Toledo, as I remember. And then in 1966 again because of a major league relocation, the Milwaukee Braves moved to Atlanta and moved their Triple A franchise from Atlanta to Richmond, becoming the Richmond Braves in 1966; they continued to play at Parker Field until the Diamond was built, which opened in ’85 I recall.
Smith: That’s right, 25 years ago next month. A more modest homer distance to center field, just 402 feet, and interesting now to reflect back to ’85 that the Diamond was picked as a name to reflect the regional cooperation between the city and the counties as well as the fans and the team. And, of course, we suffer from complaints about the lack of regional cooperation now; it’s interesting to see what we were able to do 25 years ago.
Farrar: And then in 2009, another baseball-less season in Richmond when the AAA Braves moved away and now we’re in the Eastern League as a AA affiliate of the San Francisco Giants. The team known as the Richmond Flying Squirrels will soon be opening their inaugural season and in a spruced-up Diamond.
Smith: All I can say is, “Go Squirrels!”
Farrar: Some work has been done to modernize and refurbish the Diamond, and we’ll be opening the home season on April 15th for Richmond’s new Eastern League baseball team. Brooks, thanks a lot for bringing us some memories about some of those old ballparks in our city.
Smith: Hope to see you at the ball stadium.
Let’s play, two.