This article was written by Stew Thornley
In early April of 1884, the St. Paul Base Ball Club began practicing for the upcoming Northwestern League season on grounds across the Mississippi River from downtown St. Paul (an area known as the city’s West Side even though it was actually south of downtown). As far as a location for their ball park, nothing had yet been decided. No one felt rushed to pick a location. After all, the team’s home opener wasn’t until June.
Finally in early May a site was selected just off Fort Street (also known as West Seventh Street) on the north side of the Short Line Railroad Tracks. The park was bounded by St. Clair Avenue on the north, Duke Street on the east, Oneida Street on the west, and the railroad tracks. (Fire insurance maps aren’t conclusive but seem to indicate that home plate was in the southeast corner of the lot, meaning that the right field fence was parallel to St. Clair with the left field fence running along Oneida Street.)
The St. Paul-Minneapolis Pioneer Press reported that directors of the St. Paul club contracted for work “necessary to put the grounds in order” on Saturday, May 17. The plan was for a grandstand to seat 1,200 with open stands to hold an additional 1,200. It appears the project was completed in time–in all of the 23 days allocated for construction–because the first game was played on schedule on Monday, June 9 with Quincy beating St. Paul, 6-1, before 2,000 to 2,500 fans.
Somehow the capacity swelled when the Minneapolis Millers crossed the river for a game with the St. Paul team. Three of St. Paul’s star players were from Minneapolis but had been shunted away from their home city as the Miller owners ignored local talent, opting instead for “real ball players.” As a result, Billy O’Brien, Charley Ganzel, and Elmer Foster were in St. Paul uniforms as more than 4,000 fans worked their way into the Fort Street Grounds for the first meeting between the Twin City rivals. Led by the Minneapolis exiles–Foster on the mound and Ganzel behind the plate–St. Paul beat the Millers, 4-0, as the “real ball players” were unable to get a runner past second base.
The Northwestern League’s artistic performance was not matched with the same success off the field, as most of its teams were financially unstable. Bay City (Michigan) was the first team to disband, on July 25. By mid-August only three teams remained and three weeks later only Milwaukee and St. Paul were left. The league’s final game was played between the two survivors on September 7. St. Paul left on a barnstorming tour to the west while Milwaukee indicated a desire to close out its season in the Union Association, in its only season as a major league. Like the Northwestern League, the Union Association had seen its share of teams disband in the course of the season and was always on the lookout for clubs to replenish the ranks. It eventually admitted both Milwaukee and St. Paul.
St. Paul played its first major-league game on Saturday, September 27, losing in Cincinnati by a score of 6-1. St. Paul played two more games in Cincinnati, moved on to St. Louis for a two-game series, then went to Kansas City for three games before coming back to St. Louis for what turned out to be its final game. The Fort Street Grounds, erected so quickly and having served so ably, was still considered the home ball park for St. Paul even though the team never played a game there during the time it was in the majors.
Ballparks of North America by Michael Benson, Jefferson, North Carolina, and London: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 1989, p. 353.
“From the Field,” Saint Paul and Minneapolis Pioneer Press, Monday, May 19, 1884, p. 5.
“The Minneapolis Shut Out,” Saint Paul and Minneapolis Pioneer Press, Tuesday, June 24, 1884, p. 3.
“We Have Met the Enemy,” Minneapolis Tribune, Tuesday, June 24, 1884, p. 2.