The Senate League baseball season opened Tuesday on the hallowed grounds of League Park.
John Hay Campus and James Ford Rhodes High School went head to head at East 66th Street and Lexington Avenue, on a site that was home to the Cleveland Indians in the first half of the 20th Century. It’s the same spot where Babe Ruth hit his 500th career home run and Joe DiMaggio’s record hitting streak topped out at 56 consecutive games. Cy Young, with the Cleveland Spiders, pitched the first game played there, in 1891.
The park also hosted the 1920 World Series, in which the Indians beat the Brooklyn Dodgers. In Game 5, Cleveland second baseman Bill Wambsganss executed the only unassisted triple play in postseason history.
The 1945 Negro League champion Cleveland Buckeyes played at League Park; so did professional football’s Cleveland Rams before the team moved to Los Angeles in 1946. At one time, the Browns used the field for practice.
CMSD teams began playing at League Park last year, after the city completed a handsome restoration. It is John Hay’s home field, but the league’s other nine teams are scheduled to play there at least once.
John Hay coach Tim Hogan, a 28-year Senate veteran, tries to instill an appreciation for the site’s history in his players. He is not certain they grasp much more than the fact that the Indians used to play there, but he is in awe.
“It’s like heaven to me. The only thing better is playing in Cooperstown,” said Hogan, who was on an adult team that competed at the home of the sport’s Hall of Fame.
The significance of the field's location wasn't lost on Rhodes senior Michael Gonzalez as he waited to lead off Tuesday in the top of the first inning. A few feet away was home plate, in the same position it was when the "Sultan of Swat" hit that milestone homer.
"It’s a blessing to be here, because Babe Ruth stood right there," he said. "It’s just wonderful out here."
Joe Zellers of Vermilion was going to be headed east Tuesday, so the devoted baseball fan made plans to visit League Park. He had not stopped since 1994, when the park was falling apart, and marveled at the transformation.
"It's unbelievable," Zellers, 64, said during a break from taking photographs. "This is a thrill. I didn't know anyone was going to be playing here. I got to come in."
The restoration was a pet project for the late Councilwoman Fannie Lewis, who represented the surrounding Hough neighborhood. The city spent $6.3 million on the park, which after years of deterioration had been left with only a ticket house and a grandstand wall.
Senate teams will play regular-season games at League Park (as well as five other sites) until early May, but won’t get to use it for the league championship, which is scheduled for May 19.
That game will be played at Progressive Field.
For the Senate schedule, click here