West Michigan fire brings back memories of past ballpark blazes

From SABR member Jesse Goldberg-Strassler at Ballpark Digest on January 17, 2014:

Ballpark fires are extreme rare these days, but at one time were a major threat to baseball operations. Jesse Goldberg-Strassler looks at how ballpark design changed because of fire awareness.

On January 3, a fire significantly damaged Fifth Third Ballpark, home of the Midwest League’s West Michigan Whitecaps. Thankfully, no one was injured. 

Photographs of the ballpark reveal just how heavy the damage is, destroying the suite level and concourse down the first base and right field line. I work in the Midwest League, and I can attest to the quality of the West Michigan franchise, from ownership to the seasonal staff. Their heads are up in the face of adversity, preparing for their 20th Annual Winter Banquet on January 23, rebuilding the stadium for Opening Day on April 8 and the Midwest League All-Star Game on June 17.

There was a time, over a century ago, when fires at ballparks were an all-too-regular occurrence.

Boston now boasts Fenway Park, but the pride of Beantown in 1894 was the South End Grounds, nicknamed the Grand Pavilion, a magnificent double-decker stadium at the corner of Columbus and Walpole in Roxbury. It was here where the Great Roxbury Fire began; innocently ignited by boys playing underneath the right field bleachers, it built in intensity during an on-field rhubarb between Baltimore’s John McGraw and Boston’s Tommy Tucker. In all, 117 other buildings burned along with the stadium.

St. Louis’s Sportsman’s Park had endured a fire two years earlier, in 1892, but carried on. In 1898, however, things took a turn for the dramatic. “Ball Players Heroically Snatch Spectators From The Seething Flames” blared The Sporting News.

Read the full article here: http://ballparkdigest.com/201401176982/minor-league-baseball/features/fifth-third-fire-brings-back-memories-of-past-ballpark-blazes

Originally published: January 17, 2014. Last Updated: January 17, 2014.