2016-06-08

10 Most Inspiring Baseball Landmarks in the U.S.

By Chris Epting

Baseball's siren song is unlike that of any other sport. It promises us rich American history, mythical figures, and great battlefields in the form of ballparks. These sites are powerful because they take us back to a great moment, a hero, to a piece of our past.

Check out these photos of 10 of my favorite inspiring baseball landmarks around the United States.

Chris Epting is the author of 17 books including "Roadside Baseball" and "The Birthplace Book." He also hosts the syndicated radio show The Pop Culture Road Trip and is national spokesman for the Save-A-Landmark program. Gallery text adapted from his book "Roadside Baseball" (Santa Monica Press).

All photos courtesy of the author.

Former Site of Jackie Robinson's Home

Location: 121 Pepper Street, Pasadena, CA

One of the defining individuals of the 20th century, Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color barrier when he signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. In 1920, an uncle in Pasadena invited Mollie Robinson and her five children to leave Cairo, Georgia, and come live with him. She packed up Edgar, Frank, Mack, Jackie, and Willa Mae and headed west to this spot, where a four-bedroom cottage once sat. It's a vacant lot today, but no matter. This is where Jackie Robinson grew up. This is sacred ground.

Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory

Location: 800 West Main Street, Louisville, KY

The 120-foot bat that stands at the front of the museum suggests something special. The legacy of Hillerich & Bradsby, the company that produces the famous bats, dates back to 1884 when the owner's son attended a local baseball game and, noticing that local star Pete Browning was in a hitting slump, brought him to the shop to have a new bat made. An inspirational beginning to say the least, and the bat-making continues to this day.

Field of Dreams

Location: 28963 Lansing Road, Dyersville, IA

"If you build it, they will come," the voice in the movie "Field of Dreams" promises. And they still do, in droves, to see, experience, dream, and play on the very field where the 1989 classic starring Kevin Costner, Amy Madigan, and James Earl Jones was filmed. Tourists are allowed to run bases, play catch, and bat on the Field of Dreams, or they can simply sit in the bleachers and enjoy its considerable aura. Is this heaven? No, it's Iowa.

Lou Gehrig's Last Game

Location: Municipal Stadium (former site), Kansas City, MO

Few fans know that Municipal Stadium played an emotional role in the tragic career-ending story of Lou Gehrig. It was in Detroit that the Iron Horse pulled himself out of the Yankees' lineup, ending his 2130-game streak on May 2, 1939. But it is widely believed he never played again. But he did, more than a month later on June 12, in an exhibition game at this site. A frail, weakened Gehrig, whose disease had yet to be diagnosed, played three innings. It was not known that he had a terminal illness. Teammate Tommy Heinrich was quoted as saying, "He actually didn't want to do that in Kansas City. But Gehrig, for the sake of those fans, went up to home plate." The day after the game, the Yankees returned to New York while Gehrig took a train to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, where he would learn the details of ALS, today also called "Lou Gehrig's Disease." A marker stands where a brave man bid farewell to the game.

The Birth of Baseball

Elysian Fields (former site), corner of 11th and Washington Streets, Hoboken, NJ

In 1842, several men were inspired to begin drafting rules for a game called "baseball." In 1845, they formed the first actual baseball organization, the Knickerbocker Baseball Club, and adopted 20 rules not previously included in earlier editions of the game, including three strikes per batter, three outs per inning, tags and force-outs in lieu of trying to hit the batter with the ball, and the inclusion of an umpire. On June 19, 1846, the Club, right here, under these new rules, played the first-ever organized game versus the New York Nine. I wonder if they had any idea what they were starting?

Walter Johnson Birth Site

Location: Allen County, Humboldt, KS

Legendary pitcher Walter Johnson was born November 6, 1887, to Swedish immigrants here on a rural farm four miles west of Humboldt. His family left the area for the oil fields of California in 1901, six years before the 19-year-old fireballing right-hander began his phenomenal major-league career with the Washington Senators. I include this site not just for Johnson, but also for the man who made sure the site was marked: local baseball historian Richard Davis, who has worked for more than 30 years to preserve the Johnson legacy. The fact that he has a crippling disease has not slowed him down, but inspires him to follow his heart's calling—preserving baseball history.

Doubleday Field

Location: Cooperstown, NY

So what if Abner Doubleday didn't invent baseball. Here, at the "mythical" birthplace of baseball, a former cow pasture called Phinney's Farm, two professional baseball games are played during each Hall of Fame induction weekend. The field is just a block from the Baseball Hall of Fame, the granddaddy of all sports museums and the ultimate baseball shrine. Cooperstown is where men become little boys again; remembering catches with their dads, while throwing the ball around with their sons and daughters.

Jack Norworth Final Resting Place

Location: Melrose Abbey Memorial Park, Anaheim, CA

Forgotten by many, this is where Jack Norworth, the man who wrote "Take Me Out to the Ballgame," is buried. The 1908 classic song was written on some scrap paper during a train ride to New York City. Norworth then gave those scrap-paper lyrics to Albert Von Tilzer who composed the music. Though Norworth was not a baseball fan per se, he started the first local Little League in the city of Laguna Beach, where he spent the last several two decades of his life. To this day, on opening day in Anaheim, all the kids receive a box of Cracker Jacks in honor of Norworth's song.

Rickwood Field

Location: Birmingham, AL

One hundred years old this year, Rickwood Field has played host to Ty Cobb, Christy Mathewson, Honus Wagner, and Negro League sensations including Satchel Paige, Jimmie Crutchfield, Piper Davis, and Willie Mays. Rickwood Field, technically "the oldest stadium in America," is on the National Register of Historic Places and a fitting place to feel the past, to touch history.

Babe Ruth Final Resting Place

Location: Municipal Stadium (former site), Gate of Heaven Cemetery, Hawthorne, NY

The Bambino is buried (with wife Claire) at the Gate of Heaven Cemetery. When I was younger, each August 16th, the anniversary of his death, I'd visit his grave and leave a Yankee hat in honor of my favorite legendary player. Then I would go buy a new hat and repeat the cycle the next year. The marker is stunning: Jesus with a small boy--a boy wearing a baseball uniform.

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