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City of Cleveland Set to Restore Historic League Park, Former Home of the Indians

The Home of the Cleveland Indians from 1901-1946 is being fully restored for Public use

 

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A field of grass that sits on an empty corner at East 66 th Street and Lexington Avenue in Cleveland’s Hough neighborhood has sat neglected for decades. But the history contained in that field of grass reaches far into the annals of Baseball. Bob Feller won his first Major-League game there in 1936, striking out 15 batters at a young 17-years of age. Addie Joss pitched a perfect game there in 1908, Babe Ruth hit his 500 th home run there in 1929 and Joe DiMaggio recorded three hits in the final game of his phenomenal, record-breaking 56 game hitting streak in 1941. The empty field also saw the first grand slam in a World Series when Elmer Smith hit one out of the ball park in 1920. In that same game, second baseman Bill Wambsganss recorded the only triple-play in World Series history, an unassisted one at that. That empty field with so much Baseball history is the former site of League Park, the home of the Cleveland Spiders from 1891 to 1899, and the Cleveland Indians from 1901 until 1946.

The land that League Park once sat on has remained more-or-less untouched since the stadium was razed in 1951. By that time, the Indians had moved to the shores of Lake Erie to play in Downtown Cleveland at Municipal Stadium. League Park had been largely abandoned, and the city demolished most of the original structure of the Stadium while leaving the land undeveloped for use as a public park. Portions of the grandstands remained until 2002, when the city had to demolish them due to safety concerns. Previous attempts have been made to restore the land to a functioning baseball field, but all had been abandoned due to lack of funding until February of 2011, when Cleveland City Council announced plans to restore portions of the old ball park, and build a new baseball diamond on the site for public use.

Those plans were set into place last October 27, when leaders including Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson took part in a groundbreaking ceremony at the site to officially kick-off the League Park restoration project. As part of the $6.3 million project, the original building that housed the ticket office, which still stands today, will be turned into a League Park Museum, featuring artifacts and photographs depicting the history of the original ball park. Amongst the items expected to be displayed will be part of the foundation for the original “Great Wall” that stood 60 feet high in the outfield and played havoc with home-run hitters during the park’s heyday. The city will also restore the façade of the stadium that remains standing and will include a Visitors Center adjacent to it.

The city will also be restoring the baseball diamond itself to its original configuration, complete with a new “Great Wall” which is to be erected along with grandstands and pavilions for spectators to use during games. The field surface itself will be replaced with artificial turf in order to keep postponements and weather delays to a minimum. The city is hoping to attract high schools and colleges to the new ball park as well as recreational and Little League teams, and the Cleveland Indians have announced plans to have players present clinics and stage exhibition contests including home-run derbies at the ball park once it is completed. The park will be open to the public free of charge and other areas of the land will be developed into recreational areas and walking trails. The surrounding neighborhood will also get a face lift and the city plans to improve the road conditions around the ball park to allow easier access once it is opened to the public.

To further emphasize the historic presence at the League Park site, Jerome White, a local art teacher from the Cleveland Heights school district, was commissioned to create nine murals which will be placed in the arches of the one portion of the original façade of the stadium that is still standing. The murals will depict six former Indians who played at League Park prior to the Integration of the game of baseball while two will pay homage to Negro League greats Quincy Trouppe and Satchel Paige. Trouppe was a catcher who went on to manage in the Negro Leagues and took Cleveland’s 1945 Buckeyes team to a Negro League Championship. Paige is a Hall of Famer who was one of the all-time great Negro League pitchers and played for the Indians in 1948 and 1949. The final mural will depict a father placing a baseball into his child’s baseball glove. On the ball will be scrawled the word, “Tradition.” Now, after 62-years, the City of Cleveland will have the opportunity to embrace that tradition and share it with future generations when League Park is reborn later this year.

 

 

By Robert Gonzalez
Cleveland Indians Correspondent

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