SABR

Downtown Park (St. Paul)

This article was written by Stew Thornley.

In 1897 the St. Paul team in the Western League, then known as the Apostles and later the Saints, moved into Lexington Park, which lasted the club for 60 years. However, there was another ballpark, in the early part of the 20th century, that became a key part of the Saints' heritage. Known as the "Pillbox" and sometimes referred to merely as the "Downtown Ball Park," this short-lived park popped up in the shadow of the emerging state capitol.

Lexington Park was more than two miles from downtown St. Paul, and George Lennon, the owner of the Saints, wanted a more centrally located park. In late 1902, Lennon announced plans for a new park between Robert, Minnesota, 12th, and 13th streets. Work began in early May of 1903, and the first game was played on Monday, July 20, with the Saints beating Minneapolis, 11-2, before more than 4,500 people. The Saints had joined the American Association in 1902.

According to the article "The Downtown Ball Park" by the Junior Pioneer Association, "The 'pill-box' as it was generally called, was not a thing of beauty, and few pictures of it exist. A high fence surrounded the park, topped by a wire screen about 20 feet high. Home plate was in the south-east corner of the block, as the management did not wish to antagonize the people in the area by placing the entrance at Minnesota and 13th. The stands were only 10 to 20 feet from the base lines, which "gave the spectators a good view of the players," according to the papers, although home plate was not visible from some points in the stands. When the umpire worked behind the plate, he had his back against the screen in front of the stands. Catching high fouls was impossible. The right fielder played with his back against the fence, and was only a few feet behind the second baseman even then. A 3-bagger was practically unknown, and would only result from a ball taking a freak bounce off a fence post or thru some other accident. There were plenty of 2-base hits due to special ground rules; balls hit over the right and left field fences counted for two bases, and home runs were scored only over a limited area of the center field fence."

Except for Sunday games, which were normally played back at Lexington Park, the Pillbox was the regular home of the Saints through the 1909 season. One Sunday game was played at the Pillbox, on May 12, 1907. "It was perhaps the most orderly crowd that ever attended a Sunday baseball game in this city," reported the St. Paul Pioneer Press the next day. "It was the first Sunday game ever attempted at the downtown park, and upon the conduct of the spectators largely depended whether or not St. Paul was to have Sunday baseball this season." The Pioneer Press quoted Saints manager Ed Ashenbach as telling the fans, "We hope to play here again, and I hope you will not make any more noise than is necessary."

Although it was a close game--St. Paul beating Indianapolis, 6-5--the fans heeded Ashenbach's request and stayed as quiet as possible. Even so, this was the only Sunday game played at the downtown ball park. At the next home game, two weeks later, the Saints were back at Lexington Park.

Sources

The Pillbox: "The Downtown Ball Park," Junior Pioneer Association, Minnesota Historical Society.

"New Ball Park Is Dedicated," St. Paul Pioneer Press, Tuesday, July 21, 1903, p. 2.

"Saints Scalp Indians Again," St. Paul Pioneer Press, Monday, May 13, 1907, p. 3.

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