We live in a time where the lifespan of a professional arena/stadium has become 25 years. Well, the lifespan in the eyes of a team owner as we all know these facilities can go on much, much longer. Places like the Georgia Dome, Turner Field, Knights Stadium and Orlando Arena are just a few of the facilities meeting (or slating to meet) the wrecking ball after a short life. In baseball, specifically the minor-league world, the stadium boom of the 1990s meant that many of those wonderful early 20th century ballparks met their demise or sat empty as the team left a city for greener pastures. That is where Collegiate Summer Baseball Leagues have come in and unintentionally saved these classic wonders.
So what is a collegiate league? The basis is on college players looking to play competitive baseball for the summer and after their school season is done, those with remaining eligibility join up with a summer-league team, where they play from Early June to Early August. Host families give the kids a place to live and all of the leagues feature teams that are a bus trip away. The most well known is the Cape Cod League, which has been featured in documentaries and movies. Many of those teams play on high school fields that are endearing, but of the most basic variety. The Northwoods League often has the biggest crowds and they are part of a growing trend that has seen new teams form in markets that recently lost pro baseball. Battle Creek, Kalamazoo and Rockford are three recent examples. What this has done is keep perfectly functional ballparks alive and communities still enjoying a night out with America’s Pastime. In a similar manner, the Collegiate Leagues have saved the old ballparks. Take two of the teams in the Northwoods League: Duluth and Waterloo. Both were causalities of a changing era, especially Waterloo, who couldn’t meet new minor-league stadium standards. Instead of seeing Wade Stadium and Riverfront Stadium sit empty, the affordable-to-run summer league allowed for crowd-gathering baseball to continue in venerable facilities. These historic beauts feature that classic grandstand, obstruction poles and lack of luxury suites that make those that love baseball sit back and relax in a place that oozes pleasant memories. Inherently, those that love baseball, tend to love nostalgia and “pastime”, thus making the perseverance of a town relic all the more special. Plenty of other leagues aside from the Northwoods have great 60+ year old ballparks to share and a few examples include:
- NECBL’s Cardines Field in Newport, RI
- FCSL’s Sanford Stadium in Sanford, FL
- PGCBL’s Dunn Field in Elmira, NY
- CPL’s Hicks Field in Edenton, NC
- FCBL’s Wahconah Park in Pittsfield, MA (I’ll be there in late July!)
- Prospect Leagues’ Danville Stadium in Dansville, IL
Of all the sports, baseball is the one that draws the most travelers and road-trippers. They often focus on the minor-leagues, which is certainly all well and good. But I urge any out there to include the Collegiate Summer Leagues and make a stop at one of their local charming parks for a special night that often elicits feelings of yesteryear.