NPR Story
7:03 am
Thu April 25, 2013

Bisbee Ballpark History Is In The Bricks

PHOENIX — I got to do a little time traveling a few weekends ago.

It was my first trip to Bisbee, Ariz., a former mining company town southeast of Tucson and just 20 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border. You have to pass through Tombstone to get there.

But once you arrive, you're greeted by turn-of-the-last-century buildings and homes built up by the presence of the Copper Queen Mine. Beautiful and built to last.

The historic Warren Ballpark is just one example. It's one of the oldest professional baseball stadiums in the country. The first game was played June 27, 1909.

I was fortunate to get a history of the park from Bisbee baseball historian Mike Anderson. Jim Thorpe played here, as did Billy Martin, Tris Speaker and a few of the infamous Black Sox players, including Buck Weaver and Hal Chase.

The stadium, originally built from wood, was redone as a Works Progress Administration project in 1937. As we toured the tunnel under the stadium, I noticed the outer wall was brick, but it wasn't smooth like masonry. Anderson confirmed my suspicions.

The bricks were adobe, made by Latino work crews for the WPA. A closer look revealed the telltale bits of rock and hay stuck in the reddish dirt.

Only en la frontera, I thought. It turns out Bisbee isn't the only borderland ballpark constructed from adobe. The now-defunct Dudley Field in El Paso was built in 1924 with an adobe grandstand. I can now say I've been to both.

I learned all this during the Copper City Classic Vintage Base Ball Tournament — a two-day competition between teams using 1860s rules and dressed to the nines in vintage uniforms. Ballists (players) from across Arizona and even from Colorado gingered (played enthusiastically) under the watchful eye of the arbitrator (umpire).

Squinting in just the right spot at the ballpark, it wasn't hard to imagine the West as it was a hundred years ago.

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