Diamond in the rough: Renovations planned for local baseball field rich with history

http://518sports.com/diamond-in-the-rough-renovations-planned-for-local-baseball-field-rich-with-history/

Located in the farming areas of Upstate New York, Parkhurst Field in Gloversville remains a hotbed for baseball after 110 years of history.

The story of Parkhurst Field begins on July 12, 1906, as A,J&G Park, owned by F,J&G Railroad, with a game played by Johnstown-Amsterdam-Gloversville, known as the JAGs by locals. The facility had room for 1500 spectators and quickly became a very popular stop on the railroad.

Designed by F.L. Comstock and built by E.A. Satterlee, it was the builder of the diamond itself, Sam Lucas, who hit the big time. He later became the head groundskeeper at the Polo Grounds in New York City and built the grounds at Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field in 1909.

It wasn’t long before big leaguers came to town. On July 5, 1907, the Boston Americans (now Red Sox) stopped by and played a game on an off day, heading from Boston to Detroit. Player/manager Cy Young pitched in that game.

Just under three weeks later on July 24, on the way from Boston to Philadelphia, 14 members of the Pittsburgh Pirates paid A,J&G a visit, including Hall of Famers Honus Wagner, Fred Clarke and Vic Willis, along with owner, Barney Dreyfuss. The players enjoyed playing at the park, as they told the local newspaper, saying that they were, “just stuck on the little park.”

However, it wasn’t just major league players who played on the field. One team in the New York State league was the Scranton Miners, and one of their players was Moonlight Graham. He played for the Scranton team after making his infamous major league debut with the New York Giants on June 29, 1905, where he played one inning in the field and never got a plate appearance. He was immortalized in the 1989 film, “Field of Dreams.” Parkhurst Field has been nicknamed “America’s Original Field of Dreams.”

The field itself is believed to be the only remaining baseball grounds in the country that Graham played on, and is believed to be one of three fields left that Honus Wagner played on, joining Wrigley Field in Chicago and possibly Rickwood Field in Birmingham, Alabama.

This information was all discovered due to the work of David Karpinski, the founder of the Parkhurst Field Foundation, who currently serves as the Executive Director of the foundation. It all began when Karpinski decided to look into a sign at the field that hinted at the history at the grounds. He found an article from 1923, and it mentioned a game from about 20 years prior, which led him to more research. He later found the location of the original site of the field from maps and photos. Extensive research would lead to the field’s known history of today.
Karpinski said about his favorite part of the research, “Not only do I have passion for this history, I got to share this with my son.”

By 1908, the residents of Johnstown boycotted the JAGs games, as they had to pay more for the game than the residents of Gloversville and Amsterdam. After just two seasons at A,J&G, the team relocated to Elmira, 185 miles away in Southwestern New York.

But this would not be the end of baseball in Gloversville. After the JAGs left, the stadium became home to the Danforths team, a semi-pro team in 1913. Over the next decade, they played their games at A,J&G Field. On October 13th, 1913, just two days after winning the World Series as a pitcher for the Philadelphia Athletics (later Kansas City, now Oakland), baseball Hall of Famer Chief Bender played on the grounds.

The Danforths also played exhibition games against the Negro League teams Cuban Giants, Brooklyn Royal Giants and Philadelphia Colored Giants long before Jackie Robinson would step foot on a major league baseball field and open up doors to African Americans in professional sports. The Danforths also played a game against an all women’s team, the New York Bloomer Girls. This made Parkhurst Field a place to play baseball regardless of race, gender or religion.

Despite the rich history behind the grounds, the field does not look like it did during the early part of the 20th century. There are currently plans for a three-phase, three-year project to redevelop the grounds to create a smaller version of the original field on the same spot.

The name of the park changed to Parkhurst Field in 1918, when the grounds were bought by the Parkhurst family from the F,J&G Railroad, and the name still stands today. Another local team, the Elks Welfare Team, played a game at Parkhurst against the Cincinnati Reds. Area baseball legend George Burns played in that game, and they brought future baseball Hall of Famer Edd Roush with them.

Over the next 30 years, the field played host to numerous exhibition games until 1955, when Gloversville Little League began to play on the grounds. The original grandstands were torn down around this time as well, but the exact date remains unknown. The first 36 years of play by the Gloversville Little League at Parkhurst Field was a “handshake agreement” between the Little League and the Parkhurst family, according to Karpinski.

Beginning in 2013, the first annual “Vintage Game” was played at the field. This game is played using MLB rules from 1886. The first game was highlighted by former Yankees pitcher Jim Bouton and MLB managing legend Jack McKeon, who won the World Series as a manager in 2003.

“I go by there every time I come to Gloversville. I go by the stadium,” McKeon told our Dylan Rossiter before a Tri-City ValleyCats game, of his experiences in Gloversville. McKeon was elected to the Fulton County Baseball and Sports Hall of Fame in 2012.

Karpinski said of the creation of the game, “We wanted to acknowledge the history of the park through an event annually which would also create awareness and publicity,” he said. “Also, we are able to integrate Gloversville Little League with the event, by fielding a team of former GLL players to play as the ‘JAGs.’”

The first phase of the planned renovation project will be clearing for and building three new fields on the grounds with dugouts and LED scoreboards on the fields and optional lights on the fields. Phase one will not interrupt Little League play. Once that ends, the league would move to the three new fields, which will be regulation Little League fields, and the construction of new grandstands, a concession stand, and the replica field will begin. With this, a restroom facility and a pavilion will also be built. In phase three, four 15×50’ batting cages will be built, along with an additional parking lot and a vintage train where the F,J&G railroad once stood. Finally, signage, landscaping and commemorative brick walkways will be added to the grounds. A museum and a gift shop will also be added under the grandstands on the replica field. The estimated cost of the full project is $2.3 million, and will begin when the foundation collects the first $500,000 for the project.

Karpinski said he hopes that the renovation will attract youth teams to play in tournaments at the field, as many as 15-20 teams per weekend during non-Little League season. This would bring in 300 families per tournament, and hundreds of thousands of dollars per weekend. It was also create 50+ jobs in the region with the construction and the future at the park.

The future of the field is very bright for the region, and continues to be a very historical spot for this area. Its distance to Cooperstown, home of the Baseball Hall of Fame and the famous Dreams Park, could make it a baseball destination for teams across the country. If this all happens, the Capital Region could become a great attraction for baseball.

Meanwhile, the possibility exists for a documentary and/or feature film highlighting the historical significance of this diamond in the rough. For more information about Parkhurst Field and fundraising efforts for the renovation, visit: http://parkhurstfield.org/.

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