Jaycee Park

Posted by KB | | Saturday 15 November 2008 6:20 pm

1. Jaycee Park one winter in the snow. The grandstand is visible on the right, the bleachers are in the middle and the train tracks and bridge can be made out on the left.

Built 1946-1947
Opened May 1st, 1947
Closed Still Open
Torn Down Still Stands
Used by/for Hot Springs Bathers (MILB C) 1947-1955

Chicago White Sox Spring Training (MILB) 1948-1951

Location 109 W Belding St, Hot Springs, AR
Capacity 4000 (1947); 2600 (1949) 1,100 (2008)
AKA Bathers Field

2. Top: An artistic reconstruction of Jaycee Park when the grandstand stood. Bottom: Jaycee Park today.

History:

Jaycee Park, also sometimes referred to as Bather’s Field, was the home of the Hot Springs Bathers of the Cotton States League from 1947-1955. The field was also used for the Chicago White Sox Minor League spring training facility from 1948-1951.

The Hot Springs Bathers constructed the field in 1946 so that they could play there in 1947. The Bathers had previously played in Ban Johnson Field, formerly known as Whittington Park, from 1938-1941. The team temporarily disbanded from 1942-1946 because of World War II.

During World War II, a German Prisoners of War camp was held at Lake Catherine, near Hot Springs. The camp was an off branch of the Joseph T Robinson camp in Little Rock, AR. These POWs often worked in Hot Springs as bellboys, factory workers and also apparently as construction workers. They are believed to also have built Jaycee Park while stationed there in 1946.

The field boasted a large wooden grandstand with box seats behind homeplate. The dugouts, which, despite their name, sat at ground level, were set into the bleachers along the first and third base lines. Club and umpire rooms were located underneath the grandstand.

Later, concrete bleachers were built on the 1st base lines. Directly behind these bleachers were a set train tracks that sat high up on a bed, plenty high enough to see the ball game from there. The trains that ran on the tracks a nuisance to the park guest, as well as to the African-Americans who sat on the tracks to watch the game.

3. The bleachers as they stand today. Although they can not be seen is this photo, the train tracks still run behind the bleachers.

The location of the field was on the south side of a baseball complex on Belding Avenue and Carson Street in Hot Springs. Just to the east of the complex was Hot Springs Creek, which a little further north runs under Hot Springs’ famous bath house row.

The complex was known as the Jaycee Complex, which had been built in the spring of 1909 by John Taylor, owner of the Boston Red Sox, who brought his Major League team to Hot Springs on several occasions for spring training.

It’s interesting to note that Taylor decided to build his own field for his team, instead of practicing on one of the other diamonds in the city. This might have had something to do with his team’s spring training in Little Rock, AR, the year before.

Taylor had practiced in 1908 at the Little Rock Travelers’, members of the Southern Association, home field, West End Park. In order to practice there, he gave the Travelers a young 20-year old Texan named Tristram E. Speaker.

Speaker went on to play 127 games that season with Little Rock and became a fan favorite. He batted .350, and by season’s end, the Red Sox had already resigned him. Speaker went on to play professional baseball until 1930, and is known as one of the greatest outfielders of all-time. He was inducted into the Hall-of- Fame in 1937.

After Taylor’s loss of Speaker, he must have not wanted to take any chances on losing another good prospect, and instead built his own ballpark for spring training. And with the exception of 1911 and 1918, the Red Sox spent spring training there every year until 1923.

The field Taylor built in 1909, then known as “Majestic Park” because the Red Sox stayed at the Majestic Hotel, was on the north side of the Jaycee Complex, the opposite end of the complex than where the Bathers played.

4. Top: An Artistic reconstruction of Jaycee Park when the grandstand stood. Bottom: Jaycee Park today.

Over the next 25 years, the more of Majestic Park was leveled off and was turned in 2 full size baseball fields.

In 1933, Majestic Park was used by Ray Doan for his All-star Baseball School, a school that was held at the complex on and off again until 1955. The school was for a large portion of the time run by the great Rogers Hornsby.

In 1935, Majestic Park had it’s named changed to Dean Field, in honor of the great Dizzy Dean and his brother Paul Dean, both major league pitcher from Lucas, Arkansas who were frequent instructors at the Ray Doan’s baseball school.

5. Managers of the Chicago White Sox farm teams receiving instruction from farm director Johnny Rigney at Jaycee Park in 1949. Kneeling left to right are Glen Stewart, manager of the Wisconsin Rapids, Bennie Huffman, manager of the Waterloo White Hawks, and scout Frank Parenti. Standing in the back left to right are Otto Denning, manager of the Oil City Refiners, Joe DeMasi, manager of the Madisonville Miners, Pete Fox, manager of the Hot Springs Bathers, and Red Ruffing, manager of the Muskegon Clippers.

In 1941, the Junior Chamber of Commerce of Hot Springs held a contest for the best renaming of Dean Field. A whopping $10 was offered to whoever could come up with the best name. In the end, four people entered the name “Jaycee Park” or something very similar and each received an incredible 2 and a one-half dollars for their winning name.

By this point, the Hot Springs Bathers had already played their first three-year stint of professional baseball at Ban Johnson Field. But then World War II struck and the team did not play again until 1947.

So it was in 1946 when the Bathers were announced to play again and construction on the field began. The area in which the field was to sit had to be leveled off, creating the 3 full size fields at the Jaycee Complex. The complex also had several pitching mounds for pitching practice.

The ballpark was not to be owned by the Bathers, but rather by the Junior Chamber of Commerce. The field was to be for public use and activities other than baseball. The original ballpark had only a bleacher grandstand behind homeplate.

After the Bathers played their first full season of ball there in 1947, improvements were made to the field. These including adding box seats to the grandstand and building bleachers down the right field foul lines.

6. The grandstand as it stands today. Stands in this photo are not original, although the concrete foundation is where the box seats once sat.

The field stood that same way for quite some time. After the Bathers disbanded in 1955, the field was still used as a public field for the Hot Spring Boys’ Club, American Legion and semi-pro baseball.

The complex, which is still known as the Jaycee Park Complex to this day, is still used by the Hot Springs Boys’ and Girls’ Club baseball and softball. The complex now has 8 different fields with Jaycee Park as the largest.

Jaycee Park still stands similarly to the way it did nearly 60 years. Although much smaller, there is still a grandstand behind homeplate. The 1st base side bleachers stand almost exactly the way they did in it’s heyday. The field is still used by the American Legion.

7. The field at Jaycee park as it sits today. The field itself has changed very little since it’s playing days. The dimensions of the field are estimated to be about 300 feet to the corners and 400 to deep center.

Photo Credits:

Photo 1 is courtesy of the Garland County Historical Society.

Photo 5 is from The Sporting News.

For more and larger photos of this ballpark, see the Jaycee Park Gallery.

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