By Jim McLauchlin
Everybody loves a good baseball road trip: Burn a few vacation days, make some friends do the same, grab a map, load the van, and go enjoy America’s pastime.
Baseball has been the pastime for a very long time, so while you’re criss-crossing the country catching today’s action, take a few quick side jaunts to some of the most interesting major-league ballpark locales of yesteryear – where there used to be a ballpark but there isn’t one anymore.
Minneapolis (and, okay, Bloomington): The Megalithic Mall of America stands capitalistically at the junction of Interstate 494 and Cedar Avenue in suburban Bloomington, Minn. But from 1961-1981, the MoA site was occupied by Metropolitan Stadium, home of the Minnesota Twins. The Mall honors that heritage with a replica of the Met’s home plate in its original location, right in front of the SpongeBob SquarePants Rock Bottom Plunge rollercoaster (because we live in a world where SpongeBob SquarePants Rock Bottom Plunge rollercoasters exist where ballparks used to). And if you get overcome by emotion staring at the replica plate where Killer Killebrew and Tony O took their hacks, remember you’re in the middle of a four-level shopping mall with hundreds of stores and dozens of food options. An Orange Julius will melt away the tears; promise.
Side Trip: Get your urban on (and a White Castle slider, while you’re at it) by visiting the corner of 31st and Nicollet in Minneapolis. Right in front of the Wells Fargo bank is a plaque commemorating the site of Nicollet Park, home of the minor-league Minneapolis Millers from 1896-1955. Hey, Willie Mays played there!
Los Angeles: The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum opened in 1923 and hosted multiple events at the 1932 and 1984 Olympics, in addition to serving as the home of the Los Angeles Rams (remember when Los Angeles had a pro football team?) from 1946-79. Today, it’s the home of USC football, with the Trojans’ campus located conveniently across the street. But from 1958 to 1961, the Coliseum was also the home of the Los Angeles Dodgers while Dodger Stadium was under construction. The Coliseum was, to say the least, not built for baseball. Its left-field fence was a scant 250 feet from home plate; beer-league softball players could reach that, and in fact when the Dodgers and Red Sox played an exhibition there in 2008, the Dodgers didn’t even bother with a left fielder, but played with a five-man infield instead. Still, a staggering 115,300 fans showed up for a mere preseason game just for the novelty of seeing baseball back at the Coliseum. The Coliseum is part of L.A.’s massive Exposition Park, which also features the California Science Center and the natural-history museum. The new Expo Park/USC station stop on the Metro Line lets you walk through two blocks of beautiful rose gardens on your way to where the Dodgers got their start in L.A.
Side Trip: Just one mile east of the Coliseum is the site of L.A.’s former Wrigley Field (yes, L.A. had a Wrigley Field, too), home of the Los Angeles Angels in 1961, and the great ol’ 1959-61 Home Run Derby TV show you might have seen on ESPN 8, The Ocho. The site, now a city park at 425 E. 42nd Place, alas, has nothing to commemorate that a real big-league park once stood there, but guess what? The Little League team that plays there is called “Wrigley Little League.” That beats a plaque any day.
Philadelphia: Shibe Park, later known as Connie Mack Stadium, was home to the Philadelphia Athletics from 1909-1954, and the Philadelphia Phillies from 1938-1970. In its time it was a palace, the first steel-and-concrete baseball stadium to crawl from the Jurassic sump of rickety wooden grandstands. The Athletics moved to Kansas City in 1955, but the Fightin’ Phils kept up the fight until 1970, when they moved to the new Veterans Stadium. Large portions of the stadium caught fire in 1971, and the property was gradually demolished between 1974 and 1976. Today, a plaque marks the site of the old ballyard at the corner of 21st St. and Lehigh Ave., right between a church and a shopping center.
Kansas City, Mo.: Travelers to Kansas City can triple-dip: A Royals game, a trip to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, and Monarch Plaza. The plaza, home to the historical site of Kansas City Municipal Stadium, is located at 22nd and Brooklyn, a mere three-quarters of a mile from the Negro Leagues Museum (at 18th and Highland). The plaza does a great job of honoring the heritage of the site, where the Royals, Athletics, and Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues once played. Monuments to past greats like Amos Otis, John Mayberry, Satchel Paige, and Buck O’Neil dot the landscape.
Side Trip: Okay, make it a quadruple-dip: The well-near-amazing Gates Bar-B-Q has a location less than a mile away at 12th and Brooklyn, and it’s the only Gates location that serves chili. You’d be crazy to pass up that.
SEATTLE: The Seattle Pilots lasted just one year, 1969, before decamping for Milwaukee to become the Brewers. The site of ol’ Sick’s Stadium, named for brewing magnate Emil Sick, is now… wait for it … a Lowe’s Home Improvement store at the corner of Ranier and McClellan. The store does a lovely job marking the site’s history with a large sign and a replica home plate, but please don’t listen to that great bastion of inaccuracy, Wikipedia. The markings for basepaths and the pitcher’s mound, along with the display case of old baseball memorabilia, are long gone. The staff doesn’t know where they are, but the wood screws are on aisle 11.
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Editor’s Note: There used to be some luggage here, too, but an airline lost it. In its place: $1,000, courtesy of Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection. Get covered here.