In my post about Rickwood Field I wrote that that was the oldes still standing ballpark in the US. Well, today I learned that that is not the case. I have made a correction. It is the oldest standing ballpark where professional baseball is played, even though it is only once per year.
The (arguably) oldest ballpark in the USA is Cardines Field in Newport, Rhodes Island.
Several things are unclear about the year of construction. There are websites that claim that the ballpark was built in 1892. But because of the lacking of facts, some say the date of “birth” of this ballpark was in the 1930s.
But it is said that there are official documents that construction began in 1908. So I keep 1908 as year of birth of this little gem.
The field was first named Basin Field, referring to the previous purpose of the area. It was used by local railroads as a drainage and supply basin for steam engines. But because the neighbourhood complained about the stagnant water that was a breeding place for mosquitos, a drainage was installed. This made the area suitable for baseball to be played in the late 1800s.
The place was first created for sandlot baseball. Only in 1908, the city placed an official backstop and a six-team league was founded. The league was created for railroad workers. Later the railroad disbanded the league because of the many broken windows at the houses that surrounded the area. It is a problem the ballpark is still dealing with today, mainly because of the odd shape of the field (see areal shot).
Only in 1936 the city of Newport purchased the ballfield and started to build concrete and stone bleachers along the baselines. The current grandstand was built by the WPA (part of Roosevelt’s New Deal) following a hurricane in 1938. The characteristic curved grandstand section behind home plate was built in 1939.
During World War II, many MLB players were stationed in Newport. Players like Yogi Berra, Phil Rizzuto and Bob Feller played in the local amateur league. During that period, Negro League players like Larry Doby also played in that amateur leage named the George Donnelly Sunset League, so it was integrated several years before Jackie Robinson broke MLB’s colour barrier.
Nowadays the ballpark has several tennants: Rogers High School, Newport’s Babe Ruth League, the historic Sunset League, Newport’s American Legion team, Salve Regina University, Naval Academy Preparatory School and the Newport Gulls of the New England Collegiate Baseball League.
In 1980 barbaric plans were developed to demolish the ballpark to make room for a parking lot. It would not be the last time that proposals were made to tear the ballpark down in favour of more parking space, but luckily these plans all failed.
Today Cardines Field is one of the top touristic attractions of Newport. I sincerely hope that it will be like that for a long time to come.
Because of the high fences that surround the field, the broken windows at the adjacent houses will belong to the past.
A ballpark with character. They don”t make them like this anymore. 😉