A piece of Hot Springs history on baseball trail

From Daniel Marsh at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on April 29, 2012, with mention of SABR member Mike Dugan:

It was a walk in the woods Nathan Neighbors will probably never forget.

On April 12, he and a friend were having lunch and listening to a Texas Rangers game on the radio in the old stands overlooking the former Whittington Park, now a stop along the city’s historic baseball trail. Neighbors, recreation superintendent for the Parks and Recreation Department, said he and his friend had been walking the trail when they stopped for lunch.

He said they decided to walk the hill behind the stands looking for the remains of White City Loop the Dips, a roller coaster that adjoined the park in the early 1900s.

“It was the seventh-inning stretch, and not a very exciting game,” Neighbors said. “We got kind of looking around, and I found an object that looked like a Mason jar half-buried in the ground.”

Neighbors said he unearthed the glass container and found it had created “sort of a terrarium” around a baseball — an old, brown one that he at first mistook for an avocado seed. But it was possible the ball had been hit into the stands — or arrived there by some other means — by a visiting player from a professional baseball team like the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Cincinnati Reds, the Philadelphia Phillies or the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Hot Springs was one of the first spring training locations for major league teams, and Whittington Park, built in 1894, was “the epicenter” of baseball in the Spa City. Such players as Babe Ruth and Cy Young were frequent visitors. Whittington Park closed in 1942 and is now featured in an interactive walking tour that brings the city’s baseball heritage to life.


Mike Dugan, a local baseball historian and member of the Brooks Robinson-George Kell Chapter of the Society for American Baseball Research, inspected the ball and agreed with Neighbors’ initial opinion.

“It’s definitely a Reach ball,” Dugan said. “Reach did alternating blue and red stitching for the American League until 1932. This ball is pre-1932, though there is not one trace of ink or writing on it that I could find.

“I’m just amazed at the condition the ball is in. It is very weathered and brown. It just seems like one of those miraculous stories.”

Neither Dugan nor Neighbors believes the ball has any value aside from being a piece of local history.

“They’ve got more of these at Cooperstown than they know what to do with,” Neighbors said.

Read the full article here: http://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2012/apr/29/dirt-20120429/?f=trilakes

Related link: A group of SABR members helped open the Hot Springs Historical Baseball Trail this spring (March 13, 2012)

Originally published: May 1, 2012. Last Updated: May 1, 2012.