Wahconah Park in Pittsfield, Massachusetts (KURT BLUMENAU)

Wahconah Park (Pittsfield, MA)

This article was written by Kurt Blumenau


Wahconah Park in Pittsfield, Massachusetts (KURT BLUMENAU)

Wahconah Park: an outdated barn or a precious relic? A swamp or a hallowed slab? A money pit or a landmark? After well over a century, the dichotomy persists.

Baseball players were facing off there before Babe Ruth was born, before “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” was written, before architects sketched the first raw outlines of Wrigley Field or Fenway Park. The cozy park in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, with plastic owls hanging in its rafters,1 has survived multiple threats to its existence and sailed into the 21st century like a four-masted schooner – short on frills, tossed by turbulence, but still afloat.

The name Wahconah derives from a local legend involving a resourceful Native American maiden.2 True or not, the legend has left fingerprints all over the area. The ballpark is located on Wahconah Street, and the nearby town of Dalton is home to Wahconah Falls State Park and Wahconah Regional High School. (Graduates of the latter include pitchers Jeff Reardon and Turk Wendell, as well as general manager Dan Duquette.)

The single-decked structure of Wahconah Park sits amid low-slung commercial development – diners, auto body shops, florists – and a few houses in Pittsfield, the blue-collar hub of the Berkshires, a city of about 44,000 residents as of the 2020 census.3 Modern college baseball has its roots in Pittsfield: The city served as a neutral site for the first intercollegiate baseball game, played by students of Amherst College and Williams College on July 1, 1859. The game was played under Massachusetts rules, considerably different from those we know today, and Amherst ran away to a 73-32 win.

This historic game was not played on the site of Wahconah Park.4 But, as part of the yearlong US Bicentennial celebration, teams of Amherst and Williams students gathered at Wahconah Park on May 29, 1976, to replay the historic matchup under the old rules. With a one-hour time limit in effect, Williams won the rematch, 13-12.5 A plaque near the entrance of the park commemorates the 1859 game.

Thirty-three years after Amherst and Williams pioneered college baseball in Pittsfield, a local team and an Albany, New York, semipro squad called the Gises played the first baseball game on the current site of Wahconah Park. Pittsfield rolled to a 12-1 win in a game shortened by rain – the first time moisture would affect an event at the park, but far from the last. The Berkshire County Eagle described the grounds as “something fine,” adding, “A person on the outside can not imagine what a large grounds it makes and what first class it was in.”6 Admission to the opener cost 25 cents for men and was free for women.7

The land belonged to George W. Burbank, a Civil War veteran responsible for building at least 300 houses in the city.8 Baseball, apparently, was a thick-and-thin business for Burbank in the early days. In 1896, the property was described as “a resort for bums.”9 A 1904 article noted that Burbank was removing the remaining fencing around the park after local residents poached some of it for kindling.10 A news item in 1906 said the property was being used to pasture animals.11

By 1908, though, interest in baseball was back on the upswing, and Burbank was committing to build new grandstand and bleacher seating for 2,000 fans for the coming season.12 It was Burbank’s last season; he died in April 1909. (Mention should also be made here of another early ghost of Wahconah Park, Albert “Bobby” Hubbard of Pittsfield, who broke his ankle in a fall from the bleachers in June 1913. He developed pneumonia, never left the hospital, and died the following month.13)

Burbank’s heirs sold the property to the city in 1919.14 Some trace the roots of the Wahconah Park we know today to that year rather than 1892.15 Nineteen-nineteen was the year the Pittsfield Hillies joined the Eastern League, then an eight-team Class A circuit with teams scattered across New England. The Hillies clinched the league pennant that season in front of 5,000 fans at Wahconah Park as pitcher Gary Fortune won his 16th consecutive game.16

The Hillies stayed in the Eastern League through the 1920s, with players including future Philadelphia A’s outfielder Mule Haas; Earl Webb, who set a major-league record in 1931 by hitting 67 doubles for the Boston Red Sox; 17-year-old Paul Richards, his long career as a player and manager still ahead of him; and longtime former big-leaguer Shano Collins. Twenty-one-year-old Lou Gehrig, playing his third and final campaign with Hartford in 1924, also wrote himself into Wahconah Park legend by hitting a massive home run in the first game of an August 19 doubleheader against Pittsfield. The left-handed Gehrig, facing lefty pitcher Colonel Snover, hit a “tremendous wallop” to the opposite field, over the fence in left-center.17

The city invested $6,000 in a grandstand and bleachers in 1927.18 But the Hillies dropped out of play about halfway through the 1930 season, and a 1937 article reported that the grandstand at Wahconah Park had been torn down.19 The park appears to have operated with varying amounts of bleacher seating for many years, as city officials held on-and-off discussions about building a permanent grandstand for much of the 1940s.20 Wahconah Park also benefited from work and investment through the federal Works Progress Administration, which cut a new channel for the Housatonic River in another of the many attempts to improve drainage.21

Finally, between the 1949 and 1950 seasons, the city spent $114,000 for a roofed, concrete-steel-and-iron grandstand seating 2,000, giving the ballpark the look and layout it retains today. “Unlike its predecessor, the new structure should stand up for many years to come,” the Berkshire Eagle predicted, accurately.22

Pro baseball returned to the city in 1941 and 1942, and again from 1946 to 1951, in the Class C Canadian-American (Can-Am) League. Future Hall of Famer Al Rosen, 22 years old, played for the Cleveland-affiliated Pittsfield Electrics of 1946; future Cardinal and Red pitcher Brooks Lawrence passed through town four years later. After 1951, Pittsfield hosted affiliated minor-league ball from 1965 to 1976, and again from 1985 to 2001.

Portable lighting systems had been used at Wahconah Park as early as 1930, when a co-ed barnstorming team called the California Owls brought its own “canned daylight” to the park.23 The first permanent lighting system was switched on in July 1942. More than 2,500 people turned out for the first game under permanent lights on July 24 – a benefit for Pittsfield Electrics catcher Fred Winker, who was joining the Marines. Winker hit a 400-foot homer to left-center field as Pittsfield beat Can-Am League rivals the Amsterdam Rugmakers 9-3.24

Wahconah Park’s outfield dimensions have been consistently asymmetrical – no 330-400-330 arcs here. In 1947, the park’s center field measured just 345 feet, the shortest in the Can-Am League.25 A 1949 blueprint of the park showed the left-field fence angling sharply away from the foul line, making left-center field the deepest part of the park; from there, the fence angled steadily inward across center and right-center field.26 A flagpole was in play in deepest left-center, and several light stanchions were also on the field of play in the outfield.

In the mid-1960s, center field at Wahconah Park still measured 345 feet, aiding Pittsfield Red Sox first baseman George Scott as he captured the 1965 Eastern League Triple Crown, hitting .319 with 25 homers and 94 RBIs. Years later, Scott denied that the cozy dimensions had inflated his numbers: “I never bothered myself with dimensions of any park. If I got hold of the ball you usually needed the runway of an airport to hold it.”27 League president Rankin Johnson was less sanguine, telling a reporter in July 1965 that he wanted to see the fence moved back at least 50 feet.28 The dimensions of Wahconah Park didn’t seem to bother Pittsfield pitcher Billy MacLeod, who went 18-0 with a 2.73 ERA in 32 games with the Red Sox in 1965 and compiled a 23-game Eastern League unbeaten streak.

The park’s dimensions, originally friendly to hitters, were significantly enlarged during renovations in the 1970s, particularly in right-center field, which was pushed all the way out to 430 feet. Tom Spencer, who played in Pittsfield as a visiting player from 1971 to 1973, returned to the park in 1985 as manager of the Pittsfield Cubs of the Class A New York-Penn League. “It’s changed a lot since then,” he said. “I remember it was a lot shorter in center, a lot, lot shorter in right-center, and deeper in left.”29

A news photograph before the 1986 season showed workmen installing a short porch to cut the right-center field distance from 430 feet to 365.30 Apparently, it wasn’t permanent. The Associated Press described the park as “misshapen” in 2002, providing dimensions of about 334 feet down each foul line, 374 to dead center, and, once again, 430 to right-center.31

Wahconah Park’s seating capacity has also fluctuated over its long history. The park’s occupants as of the 2022 season, the Pittsfield Suns of the Futures Collegiate Baseball League, gave its capacity as 4,500.32 Other listed capacities from the Berkshire Eagle, some of which no doubt depended on how many sections of bleachers were in place that year, include 1,500 to 1,600 (April 1927); 1,600 (December 1945); “nearly 2,000” (May 1954); more than 4,000 (crowd at the Pittsfield Cubs’ opening day, April 1985), and 3,100 (August 2008).

Wahconah Park in Pittsfield, Massachusetts (KURT BLUMENAU)

The park owes its best-known feature to its 19th-century origin. Because the field was laid out before the advent of night baseball, the sun sets behind left-center field, blinding modern batters, catchers, and home-plate umpires. At the height of summer, a “sun delay” is sometimes required, with the game pausing, usually for up to 20 minutes, to allow the sun to set.33

Wahconah Park is not the only ballpark with this design flaw to survive into the 21st century; Sam Lynn Ballpark in Bakersfield, California, is another.34 Still, the sun delay has become celebrated as a sign of Wahconah’s vintage authenticity, frequently mentioned by visiting journalists and recalled by former players. Some disliked the interruption: Spencer, while managing the Cubs, once told a reporter, “I’d like to get my hands on the guy that designed this ballpark, I really would. I’d have a word or two for him.”35 Others welcomed it: “There were times when you were struggling when you looked forward to it,” outfielder Darrin Jackson recalled. “It was like, ‘When’s that delay going to hit? Maybe things will be different after the break.’”36

Wahconah Park’s natural setting has contributed to other, less romantic issues for players and fans. The west branch of the Housatonic River runs just beyond the outfield fences, and the park sits in a flood plain.37 Fog and field wetness have been chronic problems over the years. On September 19, 1946, the Pittsfield Electrics38 of the Can-Am League held a 6-5 lead over the visiting Trois-Rivières Royals when fog delayed play for a half-hour after the eighth inning. When play resumed, the visitors scored four times to win the game 9-6, and with it, the league playoff finals. In June 1972, Pittsfield Rangers pitchers Rick Waits and Jimmy Blackmon pitched six innings of no-hit ball but lost 1-0 when thick clouds of fog flooded the field, forcing a premature end to the game. (Spencer started in center field for the visiting Trois-Rivières Eagles that day.)39

Back issues of the Berkshire Eagle are rich with stories that mention wet conditions at Wahconah Park and possible remedies, such as raising the playing surface or dredging or redirecting the river.40 A story from late May 1893 noted that the park had been “under water for the past six months” but was “now comparatively dry” and just about ready for baseball.41 In 1928, the Pittsfield Hillies were reported to have sustained “heavy losses from flooded conditions at Wahconah Park.”42 The local paper concluded, “Something must be done so that floods will not keep the club off its park so much.”43 In July 1931, torrential rains flooded the park to the point where children used it for swimming.44 A March 1976 story referred to “the repeated flooding of the playing field.”45 Future All-Star Rafael Palmeiro played in Pittsfield in the mid-1980s and recalled in 2001: “The outfield was so damp, your feet got wet immediately, and since you only wore one pair of spikes all year, you stayed wet all summer.”46

The situation became a hot political issue in the mid-1970s, around the time that rains and flooding prevented 3,000 ticket holders from attending the Clyde Beatty-Cole Brothers Circus47 and forced Pittsfield’s high school football teams to play home games outside the city.48 City officials debated the possibility of building a replacement athletic facility elsewhere in Pittsfield before opting for a substantial renovation and reconstruction of Wahconah, begun in August 1976 and completed the following year at a cost of about $628,000.49

The project – which significantly changed the park’s field dimensions – improved, but did not completely resolve, drainage issues. It also temporarily cost Pittsfield affiliated minor-league baseball. The Double-A Berkshire Brewers of the Eastern League left town after construction began and moved to Holyoke, Massachusetts, the following season. (In a fitting touch, the Brewers had to leave Pittsfield earlier than expected after Hurricane Belle brought yet another soaking to the ballpark and its equally flood-prone parking lot.50) Affiliated ball returned to Wahconah Park in 1985, when the Pittsfield Cubs arrived.

During the absence of pro baseball, Pittsfield’s public safety agencies put the property to use with mixed results. In November 1977, the park served as a staging area for 19 children and teenagers taking part in an emergency response drill. Wearing makeup to simulate injuries, the children were taken by ambulance to the city’s Berkshire Medical Center to test the hospital’s response to a mock “school bus accident.”51 On a bitterly cold day in January 1981, the city fire department’s 17th annual Christmas tree bonfire, held at Wahconah Park, was canceled following complaints from the medical center, which sat downwind of the smoke from 5,000 Christmas trees.52

The park survived another existential crisis at the dawn of the 21st century. Noting Wahconah Park’s advancing age and failure to meet new standards for minor-league stadia,53 Pittsfield civic leaders pushed to build a new park downtown with the backing of the Berkshire Eagle, whose corporate owners pledged $2 million toward construction.54 Rick Murphy, general manager of the Pittsfield Astros in 2001, compared Wahconah Park’s maintenance to the upkeep of a Victorian mansion. His father, Tom, who operated a concession stand, was blunter: “You patch it up here, it bleeds over there.”55

Baseball maverick Jim Bouton, a western Massachusetts resident who hoped to bring a team to Pittsfield, waded into the fray on Wahconah Park’s side. Also in this period of time, Wahconah Park – perceived locally as decrepit – began to draw national attention as a quirky, historic baseball destination, a slice of the past. In June 2000, an article in Money magazine labeled Wahconah one of the five best minor-league parks in the country, and the only one on the East Coast.56 Author Daniel Okrent had previously boosted the park’s national profile in a 1990 Sports Illustrated column headlined “Just a Little Piece of Heaven.” (A sample: “At Wahconah, you get your baseball pure.”)57

In June 2001, voters killed the stadium proposal by rejecting the creation of a Civic Authority that would have operated the new park. Bouton’s two attempts to bring an independent team to Wahconah Park also failed.58 The city parted ways with affiliated minor-league baseball after the 2001 season but kept its venerable park, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2005.59 The ballpark welcomed an independent team in 2010 and 2011 and summer-league college teams from 2017 onwards.

Wahconah Park has always drawn headliners from beyond minor-league baseball. The Boston Red Sox played several exhibitions at Wahconah in the early 1920s, one of which they lost, 4-1, to the Hillies in front of 2,800 fans.60 One year removed from his last full-time stint in the major leagues,61 Satchel Paige barnstormed through Wahconah in June 1954, pitching three innings for the Harlem Globetrotters against the House of David in a part-serious, part-comic exhibition game. Autograph hounds were disappointed when Paige left the park early in his own car – separate from his teammates, who traveled by bus.62

The park hosted wrestling bouts featuring well-known names, including Killer Kowalski, who came to town about a month after Paige and drew just 280 spectators.63 Softball campaigner Eddie Feigner and his team, the King and his Court, appeared at Wahconah numerous times. Their 1954 appearance drew 3,300 fans, far outdrawing Paige and Kowalski combined.64 World featherweight boxing champion Willie Pep won a tame bout over challenger Al Pennino in June 1949.65 Sugar Ray Robinson, 43 years old and well past his prime, won a headlining fight in July 1964.66

On the concert front, folk singer and western Massachusetts resident Arlo Guthrie played a benefit concert for local parochial schools in August 1980. The 1,500 fans who paid $6 each to enter demanded three encores.67 An attempted “Woodstock + 20” benefit for the Berkshire Opera, featuring local and regional bands, was deemed “an artistic success and a financial flop” in July 1989.68 Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson outdrew them all, packing Wahconah Park with 10,000 fans in June 2005.69 Dylan returned with opening act Junior Brown the following summer, drawing 6,000.70

It does not appear that Wahconah Park ever hosted Negro League baseball. In the waning years of Black baseball, a game between the Kansas City Monarchs and Memphis Red Sox was scheduled for July 8, 1958 – less than two weeks after the teams played a doubleheader at Yankee Stadium.71 The game was canceled because of – no surprise – wet grounds and the threat of rain; there is no record of it being rescheduled. “The game was to have marked the first time big league colored teams have played here,” the Berkshire Eagle reported.72 (The weather was good enough the day before for the Philadelphia Phillies to hold a talent camp at Wahconah Park, attended by 31 regional hopefuls. At least two of the young players, Ed Connolly and Dave Wissman, later reached the major leagues – neither with the Phillies.73)

During Pittsfield’s periods of affiliation, the city linked up with eight major-league franchises.74 In addition to those already mentioned, future stars who suited up for Pittsfield teams included Reggie Smith (1965), Sparky Lyle (1966), Carlton Fisk and Bill Lee (1969), Toby Harrah (1970), Bill Madlock (1971-72), Jim Sundberg (1973), Roy Smalley (1974), Jamie Moyer (1985), Greg Maddux (1986), Mark Grace (1987), and Edgardo Alfonzo (1992).

Wahconah fans had numerous chances to see Mark Belanger, later an eight-time Gold Glover and World Series champion with the Baltimore Orioles. A Pittsfield native, Belanger played at Wahconah Park as a member of Pittsfield’s American Legion team,75 as a star on the Pittsfield High School team,76 and later as a visiting player with the 1965 Elmira Pioneers.77 Years later, Belanger’s leadership position in the Major League Players Association also owed to his working-class Pittsfield roots.78

Wahconah Park fans also saw a few players who had already been to the majors, like David Clyde, the Texas Rangers’ phenom pitcher of the early 1970s, who was farmed out to Double-A Pittsfield in 1975 and threw a shutout in his home debut. Clyde, accustomed to major-league perks, reportedly commented on the unheated dugouts; teammate Marty Martinez responded, “Welcome to the minor leagues.”79

Pittsfield fans got to see several no-hitters – though not all of them resulted in wins. Jake Joseph and Mike Terry of the Pittsfield Mets combined to lose a 2-0 no-hitter at Wahconah on August 9, 1999.80 Thirty years earlier, Ivy Washington of the Pittsfield Red Sox met a similar fate at Wahconah, earning national attention when he lost a 3-0 no-hitter to Manchester due, in part, to five errors by his teammates.81 Pittsfield pitcher Bobby Guindon, a converted first baseman, managed to win a no-hitter at home on August 25, 1967.

All of the aforementioned moundsmen had better days than starting pitcher Jim McKee of the Waterbury Pirates did on August 7, 1971. A seventh-inning brushback pitch by Waterbury’s Bob Cluck to Pittsfield’s Madlock set off a furious and prolonged brawl that drew city police onto the playing field. McKee, long since removed from the game, mouthed off to several police officers behind the first-base bleachers and was arrested for his trouble. He was found not guilty of disturbing the peace two days later.82

Another plaque at the entrance to Wahconah Park names the playing surface in honor of Paul Dowd, a former Pittsfield Red Sox pitcher in the 1960s who settled in the community after his career ended. Dowd later became a city councilor and a longtime local representative of the Jimmy Fund, the fundraising arm of Boston’s Dana Farber Cancer Institute, which is strongly connected with the Red Sox and well known throughout New England. Dowd died in 2013 of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.83

The legends of Wahconah Park could fill a book. But what lies ahead for the old ballpark? That will depend on the city of Pittsfield, which still owns the property, and its residents, which would have to approve any significant investment to either upgrade or replace it. Some of the most beloved ballparks in American history – like Ebbets Field, the first Yankee Stadium, Forbes Field, and Tiger Stadium – have come and gone in Wahconah Park’s lifespan. For now, the old park by the Housatonic continues to dodge the attacks of time.

 

Acknowledgments

This biography was reviewed by Rory Costello and Keith Thursby and fact-checked by Kevin Larkin.

 

Sources

This biography relied extensively on the research of Kevin Larkin, SABR member and western Massachusetts resident, who has compiled two books about Wahconah Park’s history. The author also referred to Baseball-Reference and Retrosheet for general player, team, and season information, as well as articles in the Berkshire Eagle (Pittsfield, Massachusetts) beyond those specifically cited in the notes.

Photos: Kurt Blumenau, 2013.

 

Notes

1 The owls are meant to keep pigeons from roosting in the grandstand rafters. Mary-Jane Tichenor, “Wahconah Chosen for Money’s 5 Best Parks,” Berkshire Eagle (Pittsfield, Massachusetts), May 28, 2000: B1.

2 The story involves a Mahican maiden – in some tellings, a princess – who uses her intelligence to avoid an arranged marriage and marry the suitor she loves. Debating the truth or appropriateness of Native American legends in the 21st century is beyond the scope of this biography; the information is included here simply to explain the origin of the name. As of February 2022, a version of the Wahconah story could be read on the homepage of Wahconah Regional High School: http://cbrsdwahconah.ss10.sharpschool.com/departments/principal_s_page/our_history

3 U.S. Census Bureau profile of Pittsfield, accessed online February 4, 2022. https://data.census.gov/cedsci/profile?g=1600000US2553960 According to the Census Bureau, the city’s population peaked at about 58,000 in 1960.

4 News accounts and a SABR Games Project story describe the site of the game as next to the Maplewood Institute for Ladies. This school, long since closed, was on Maplewood Avenue between North and First streets, roughly half a mile from today’s Wahconah Park. Derek Strahan, “The Maplewood, Pittsfield, Mass.,” LostNewEngland.com, accessed February 4, 2022. https://lostnewengland.com/2017/02/maplewood-pittsfield-mass-1/ Also, James Overmyer, “July 1, 1859: Baseball Goes to College,” SABR Games Project. Accessed online February 4, 2022. https://sabr.org/gamesproj/game/july-1-1859-baseball-goes-to-college/

5 Ralph E. Brown, “Williams Gets Revenge for 1859,” Berkshire Eagle, June 1, 1976: 1. The students also recreated a chess tournament that followed the original game.

6 “Wahconah Park Successful Opening Yesterday,” Berkshire County Eagle, August 10, 1892: 5. Some retrospective stories written decades later spell the Albany team’s name as the Gizes.

7 “The Opening Game,” Berkshire Eagle, August 5, 1892: 3.

8 “George W. Burbank Dies in Easy Chair at His Home,” Berkshire Eagle, April 15, 1909: 2. Interestingly, Burbank’s obituary makes no mention of Wahconah Park, but other news articles from the period connect him to the park.

9 “Looking Backward,” Berkshire Eagle, August 22, 1946: 14.

10 “Russells,” Berkshire Eagle, May 23, 1904: 4.

11 “Russells,” Berkshire Eagle, April 7, 1906: 7.

12 “Season Will Open May 16,” Berkshire Eagle, February 11, 1908: 3.

13 “Fall from Bleachers Results in Death,” North Adams Transcript, July 15, 1913: 8.

14 Trudy Tynan (Associated Press), “Fans Go Out to Ballgame – For 100 Years,” Los Angeles Times, September 8, 2002: A13. This story misidentifies the original owner as “Charles Burbank.” The amount of money involved in the property transfer also varies from story to story, ranging from $1 to $10,000.

15 Bob Ryan, “Fading into Sunset?” Boston Globe, August 30, 2001: D1.

16 “Hillies Win Pennant by Staging Great Rally Against Worcester,” Berkshire Eagle, September 2, 1919: 10.

17 “Southpaws Subdue O’Connor Clan,” Hartford Courant, August 20, 1924: 5. Also, “Pittsfield Wins Both Games of Double Bill with Champs,” Berkshire Eagle, August 20, 1924: 10. Subsequent legend has Gehrig’s round-tripper landing in the Housatonic River, but game stories do not include this detail.

18 “Rushing Work at Wahconah Park to Switch the Position of the Infield,” Berkshire Eagle, April 15, 1927: 26.

19 “Wahconah Park to Be Repaired,” North Adams (Massachusetts) Transcript, April 15, 1937: 17.

20 For instance, the Berkshire Eagle reported in April 1947 that new bleachers to seat 3,030 fans were on their way from Illinois. Combined with a single remaining section of current bleachers, the park’s capacity would top 4,000. “New Bleachers to be Here for Opening Game,” Berkshire Eagle, April 15, 1947: 12.

21 “Heavy Welfare Load Features Second Year of Charter,” Berkshire Eagle, January 1, 1936: 5.

22 “Wahconah Park Grandstand to be Ready for Wednesday,” Berkshire Eagle, April 22, 1950: 5.

23 “Fun and Faults in Owls’ Night Baseball Game,” Berkshire Eagle, August 21, 1930: 15.

24 John M. Flynn, “Winker Hits 400-Foot Homer with Two on as Electrics Beat Rugmakers 9-3,” Berkshire Eagle, July 25, 1942: 4. Fred Winker later became chief building official in the city of Ormond Beach, Florida. He died of a heart attack, aged 54, in August 1976.

25 John M. Flynn, “The Referee’s Sporting Chat,” Berkshire Eagle, May 8, 1947: 24.

26 The blueprint, which is not marked with field distances, is reproduced on the back cover of Kevin Larkin’s Wahconah Park: Berkshire County’s Field of Dreams, Part One, the first of two self-published books detailing the park’s long history.

27 Brian Sullivan, “‘Boomer’ Dominated That Summer of ‘65,” Berkshire Eagle, September 3, 1990: D1.

28 Roger O’Gara, “Eastern League President Criticizes Wahconah Fence,” Berkshire Eagle, July 8, 1965: 1. Johnson also said the park needed better outfield lighting and improvements to the visitors’ locker room.

29 Ray Lamont, “Chestnut Draws Opening-Game Duty,” Berkshire Eagle, April 12, 1985: 29. From 1971 to 1973, Spencer was a Cincinnati Reds farmhand, playing for the Trois-Rivieres (Quebec) Aigles of the Double-A Eastern League.

30 “New ‘Short Porch’ at Wahconah Park,” Berkshire Eagle, April 8, 1986: 23.

31 Tynan.

32 “Wahconah History,” Pittsfield Suns website, accessed online February 4, 2022. https://pittsfieldsuns.com/wahconah-park/wahconah-history/

33 Joe Strupp, “Wahconah Park Has Historic Atmosphere,” Asbury Park (New Jersey) Press, August 1, 2021: 9B.

34 Adrian Wojnarowski, “The Ballpark That Couldn’t See Straight,” Fresno (California) Bee, August 1, 1997: D1.

35 Ray Lamont, “Sun Sets on Cubs’ Winning Streak,” Berkshire Eagle, June 11, 1985: 23. Spencer was frustrated when his starting pitcher, who had recently come off the disabled list, had to sit through a 32-minute sun delay in a game the Cubs lost.

36 Strupp. Jackson played for the Pittsfield Cubs in 1985 and 1986. His 19-season professional career included parts of 12 seasons in the majors.

37 Bill Carey, “Can Wahconah Park Be Restored?” Berkshire Eagle, April 5, 2001: A1.

38 General Electric was a major employer and corporate citizen in Pittsfield for many decades.

39 Kurt Blumenau, “June 26, 1972: Minor League No-Hitter Gets Lost in the Fog,” SABR Games Project. Accessed online February 4, 2022. https://sabr.org/gamesproj/game/june-26-1972-second-game-minor-league-no-hitter-gets-lost-in-the-fog/

40 Another recurring theme in older Berkshire Eagle news stories is that the park was built on a former dump, which would help explain settling and poor drainage. In September 1941, the paper reported that part of the park had sunk by a foot in the previous two years and was still sinking. However, a 1949 news story reporting on construction work at the park said that pile-drivers found “no bog, no bed steads, no bed springs or even beer cans.” “Just Earth at Wahconah Park,” Berkshire Eagle, October 22, 1949: 6.

41 “News of the Week,” Berkshire County Eagle, May 24, 1893: 9.

42 “Wilkinson Is Likely to Head Hillies Again,” North Adams Transcript, January 4, 1929: 13.

43 J.M.F., “The Referee’s Sporting Chat,” Berkshire Eagle, September 27, 1928: 15.

44 “Wahconah Park Used as Lake for Casting,” Berkshire Eagle, July 18, 1931: 8.

45 Kirk Scharfenberg, “Effort Planned to Speed Wahconah Park Project,” Berkshire Eagle, March 16, 1976: 17.

46 Ryan.

47 “Rains Wash Out Circus Here; 3,000 Are Left with Tickets,” Berkshire Eagle, July 14, 1975: 17.

48 “Building of New Athletic Field Must Wait Until ‘76, Mayor Says,” Berkshire Eagle, October 21, 1975: 15. Mayor Evan Dobelle called the exile of Pittsfield’s high school football teams “extremely embarrassing.”

49 “Cost of Wahconah Park Project Is Estimated at $628,175 In All,” Berkshire Eagle, April 15, 1977: 16.

50 Grier Horner, “Wahconah Park Work Set to Begin but Rains Threaten Brewer Washout,” Berkshire Eagle, August 11, 1976: 1.

51 “Mock School-Bus Accident Tests Readiness at BMC,” Berkshire Eagle, November 10, 1977: 15.

52 Associated Press, “Temperatures at Record Lows in 20 Eastern Cities,” Los Angeles Times, January 6, 1981: 18.

53 Carey.

54 Carey. The Berkshire Eagle also reported that its parent company bought the land for the proposed stadium with the intent of presenting it to the city.

55 Ryan.

56 Tichenor.

57 Daniel Okrent, “Just A Little Bit of Heaven,” Sports Illustrated, July 23, 1990: 92. Accessed online February 6, 2002. https://vault.si.com/vault/1990/07/23/just-a-little-bit-of-heaven-pittsfields-wahconah-park-is-baseball-as-it-oughta-be

58 “4. Downtown Stadium Killed,” Berkshire Eagle, December 31, 2009: A4. This end-of-decade retrospective provides a high-level summary of Pittsfield’s hotly debated “ballpark wars.” Bouton’s take on his wranglings with Pittsfield officials can be read in his book Foul Ball, published in 2003 and revised in 2005.

59 National Register of Historic Places entry for Wahconah Park, accessed online February 20, 2022. https://catalog.archives.gov/id/63794270

60 “The Hillies Defeat Boston Red Sox – Worcester Wins Two and Bridgeport One,” Berkshire Eagle, September 1, 1921: 8. Hall of Fame pitcher Herb Pennock went the distance for Boston.

61 Paige’s last full year in the majors was 1953, with the St. Louis Browns. He subsequently returned, as a publicity stunt, for a single start with the 1965 Kansas City A’s.

62 Roger O’Gara, “Paige Breezes Through Three Innings as Trotters Win 4-1,” Berkshire Eagle, June 22, 1954: 18. O’Gara reported that 1,344 fans attended. The baseball Harlem Globetrotters were owned by Abe Saperstein, owner of the better-known basketball team of the same name, and barnstormed from the late 1940s into the middle of the following decade. “Harlem Globetrotters Polo Grounds Appearance (1953),” Center for Negro League Baseball Research. Accessed online February 6, 2022. http://www.cnlbr.org/MuseumGallery/Tickets/tabid/85/mid/412/ProjectId/184/wildRC/1/Default.aspx

63 John Vander Voort, “Wahconah Park Is Practically Empty for Kowolski-Robert Wrasslin’ Scrap,” Berkshire Eagle, July 21, 1954: 46. The misspelling of Kowalski’s name is reproduced from the original headline.

64 “4-Man Softball Team to Play 2 Games Here,” Berkshire Eagle, April 21, 1955: 14.

65 John M. Flynn, “Pep, World’s Champion, Wins Decision Over Pennino in Tame Bout Here,” Berkshire Eagle, June 15, 1949: 26.

66 Roger O’Gara, “Impressive Wins by Robinson and Spence Thrill Crowd of 1,600,” Berkshire Eagle, July 9, 1964: 24.

67 Photo and caption, Berkshire Eagle, September 2, 1980: 19.

68 Seth Rogovoy, “A Summer of Surprises,” Berkshire Eagle, September 3, 1989: E1.

69 Benning W. De La Mater, “10,000 Fill Park,” Berkshire Eagle, June 24, 2005: 1.

70 Jenn Smith, “Dylan Encore Smaller; Fans Still Fervent;” Berkshire Eagle, August 27, 2006: A1. Setlist.fm, an unofficial concert database, has no record of any performances at Wahconah Park except the two Bob Dylan concerts.

71 Duke Goldman, “1933-1962: The Business Meetings of Negro League Baseball,” From Rube to Robinson: SABR’’s Best Articles on Black Baseball (Phoenix, Arizona: Society for American Baseball Research, 2020): 189.

72 “Negro Game at Wahconah Is Canceled,” Berkshire Eagle, July 8, 1958: 8.

73 Roger O’Gara, “Scouts Weigh Decisions After Opening Workouts,” Berkshire Eagle, July 8, 1958: 8.

74 According to Baseball-Reference, between the late 1940s and 2001, Pittsfield teams were affiliated with the Cleveland Indians, Philadelphia Phillies, Boston Red Sox, Washington Senators/Texas Rangers, Milwaukee Brewers, Chicago Cubs, New York Mets, and Houston Astros.

75 Bill Mahan, “Pittsfield Legion, Brockton in State Title Game Tonight at Wahconah,” Berkshire Eagle, August 8, 1960: 18.

76 One sample news story about Belanger as a high-school player: Bill Mahan, “Veterans Woitkowski, Belanger, Tagliaferro Star in PHS Win,” Berkshire Eagle, May 19, 1962: 20.

77 Roger O’Gara, “Jernigan’s Grand Slam Homer Highlights Pittsfield Victory Push,” Berkshire Eagle, April 29, 1965: 26. The article includes a photo of Belanger in his Elmira uniform with his parents, Marie and Ed. Belanger reached the majors for the first time in August of that year.

78 “The Blade [Belanger’s nickname] was the son of a Pittsfield union family and he never forgot the lessons his parents taught him about the General Electric company.” Dan Shaughnessy, “Cancer Claims Another,” Boston Globe, October 7, 1998: F1.

79 H.A. Dorfman, “Marty Martinez, Pittsfield’s New Black Manager, Is Less Interested in Sociology Than Being Boss,” Berkshire Sampler (Pittsfield, Massachusetts), August 17, 1975: 27.

80 Howard Herman, “P-Mets Toss No-Hitter, Lose,” Berkshire Eagle, August 10, 1999: C1.

81 Roger O’Gara, “Fair or Foul,” Berkshire Eagle, May 15, 1969: 25.

82 “Strikeout King Draws a Walk on Riot Charge,” Berkshire Eagle, August 9, 1971: 17. Details of the near-riot can be found on page 12 of the same day’s issue.

83 Brian Sullivan, “Dowd Remembered for Brave Fight Against ALS, Good Works,” Berkshire Eagle, September 10, 2013. Accessed online February 20, 2022. https://www.berkshireeagle.com/news/local/dowd-remembered-for-brave-fight-against-als-good-works/article_efa03485-73a6-5b67-97b9-cad83d0b9e4e.html

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