SABR

Hot Springs Historical Baseball Trail to open March 29

From the Hot Springs (Ark.) Convention & Visitors Bureau, featuring SABR members Bill Jenkinson, Don Duren, Mark Blaeuer and Mike Dugan:

On March 29, a one-of-a-kind “baseball trail” documenting Hot Springs’ status as “The Birthplace of Spring Baseball” will open to the public.

“A series of 26 historical markers linked to the very latest digital technology will allow visitors to tour the city and visit places where America’s baseball legends came to play, train and visit during baseball’s golden age,” said Steve Arrison, CEO of Visit Hot Springs. “ More than 45 percent of the people in the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., either played baseball or were in some way associated with baseball training in Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas.”

“One hundred thirty-four of the 295 members of the Hall of Fame can be associated with training, playing, visiting or otherwise being in Hot Springs, many from the late 19th Century,” Arrison said. “Five pre-eminent baseball historians have painstakingly documented the Hot Springs connection to what became known as the sport’s spring training.

“The Historical Baseball Trail that documents Hot Springs: The Birthplace of Spring Baseball will utilize the very latest in digital technology to guide visitors to the 26 locations where baseball history was made. We have incorporated smartphone technology, the Internet and Quick Response Codes [QRC] to make The Historical Baseball Trail a one-of-a-kind experience not only for baseball fans but also for anyone interested in one of the most colorful eras in the national pastime.”

Twenty-six cast-aluminum plaques have been installed all over the city at locations that range from the spot where Babe Ruth in 1918 smacked a home run that traveled 573 feet and landed in an alligator pit at the Arkansas Alligator Farm to the site of the hotel where Ruth flipped a coin with his manager to determine Ruth’s salary for the next year.

At each location, the plaque will contain a QRC that will let smartphone users access an audio narration that adds more information about the plaque’s significance in American baseball history. A dedicated website will allow access to a complete list of the plaques, with the ability to click on a specific site to learn more information related to that location and the player or players associated with it.

A printed brochure showing the plaque locations and how to reach the plaques will be available free at the Downtown Visitor Center in Hill Wheatley Plaza at the south end of historic Bathhouse Row in the center of Hot Springs’ Downtown Historic District.

“What began as our curiosity about why there are so many photos of Babe Ruth at various locations in Hot Springs wound up unearthing a treasure trove of historic associations between the world’s most famous baseball players and Hot Springs, Arkansas,” Arrison said.

“Things really got rolling in the spring of 2011 when we were able to document that Ruth hit the first 500-foot-plus home run while playing spring baseball at Whittington Park.

“Bill Jenkinson, one of the pre-eminent baseball historians in the world, came to Hot Springs and helped us authenticate Babe’s legendary 573-foot shot that zoomed over Whittington Park’s fence, across Whittington Avenue and into the Arkansas Alligator Farm.”

After that ceremony, Arrison said, Jenkinson collaborated with Tim Reid from Florida, Don Duren from Dallas, Mark Blaeuer from Hot Springs, and Mike Dugan of Hot Springs to study spring baseball in Hot Springs. The further they dug, the more they began to be amazed by the documented accounts of baseball legends who had come to Hot Springs to play or to relax.

Jenkinson, Reid, Duren, Dugan and Blaeuer determined that A. G. Spalding and Cap Anson brought the Chicago White Stockings (AKA Colts; now called the Cubs) to train and play spring games in Hot Springs in 1886. The field where they played, known as The Hot Springs Baseball Field and The Hot Springs Baseball Grounds, was located on Ouachita Avenue behind the current site of the Garland County Courthouse. Other famous names from that original group included are Mike “King” Kelly, John Clarkson and Billy Sunday. Anson’s exploits at this locale on March 28, 1887, included hitting three home runs playing against a team from Des Moines, Iowa.

The research turned into a treasure hunt as the historians dug deeper into newspapers, archives and other sources across America that contained dispatches about the increasing popularity of spring baseball in Hot Springs.

Eventually, they were able to document more than 300 players, managers, owners, journalists and other famous names associated with baseball in Hot Springs. The city’s importance with the old Negro League was part of their historical documentation.

“The idea emerged that we needed to let the people of America know about the people, places and events that made Hot Springs a key element in the growth of America’s pastime,” Arrison said.

To learn more about the locations of the plaques, visit http://www.hotsprings.org.

This page was last updated March 13, 2012 at 6:19 pm MST.

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