1. The final home opener at Kavanaugh Field on April 15th, 1931.
|Opened||1895, Rebuilt 1915|
|Used by/for||Little Rock Travelers (MILB A, B) 1895, 1901-1909, 1915-1931
Spring Training (MLB) 1895, 1898, 1907-1910
|Location||1400 South Park St., Little Rock, AR|
|Capacity||1,500-2,000 (1894), 4450 (1915)|
|AKA||West End Park (1894-1915), Highland Park Baseball Field|
Kavanaugh Field, originally called West End Park, was the home field of the Little Rock Travelers in 1885 and again from 1901-1909 and once more from 1915-1931. The field was also home to numerous major league spring training camps from 1895-1910.
In 1885, a private park was built on the west side of Little Rock and by 1893, baseball became a popular attraction at the park, which was known simply as West End Park. So in 1894, a baseball field and grandstand was built on the property, and it became the premier baseball park in the city.
2. An 1887 map of Little Rock showing West End Park before the ballpark was built.
The original ballpark featured a fair-sized wooden grandstand –probably the best ever built in the state at the time. The park seated somewhere in the range of 1,500 to 2,000 spectators and was bordered by 14th, 16th and Park streets.
The first professional team to call West End Park home was the 1894 Little Rock team in Arkansas State League. The league was comprised of Camden, Hot Springs, Morrilton, Little Rock and at one point, Fort Smith. The league folded in June.
In July of the same year, a particularly notable event took place at West End Park. It was Friday the 13th when the first ever game of night baseball was played in the state of Arkansas. The field was lighted by electric lights, and was “as though played in broad daylight”.
The game was between the “Uncle Joes” and a Little Rock team known as “Rose City”, the latter winning by a score of 6-4. In addition, the game was probably one of the very first night games played in the south, and the next in Arkansas wasn’t for another 36 years.
A whole new kind of baseball came to West End Park the next year in 1895. Not only did Little Rock’s first fully professional baseball team enter the Southern League, a class b minor league, but as fate would have it, the park also became a major league spring training site. The St. Louis Browns of the National League had planned on holding spring training in Hot Springs, AR, but because of an outbreak of small-pox in that city, the team decided to train in Little Rock instead.
The Browns trained at West End Park, playing numerous exhibition games against the Little Rock Travelers, as the citys’ new team was called. Naturally, the Browns won the majority of the exhibitions. St. Louis had less luck following their departure of the Little Rock though, going 39-92, 11th worst in the National League.
The Little Rock Travelers didn’t do much better than the Browns though. The team won only 25 games while losing 47, dropping out of the league in July during mid-season.
West End Park’s next professional tenant came two years later when Little Rock joined the second carnation of the Arkansas State League. In 1898, Little Rock had a team in the Southwestern Association. The same year, major league baseball returned to West End Park when the Pittsburgh Pirates held spring training in Little Rock.
The Little Rock Travelers once again joined the Southern League in 1901, the first fully professional team to call West End Park home in 6 years. They continued to play there for 9 seasons before moving to Chattanooga following the 1909 season. During that time, they never won a league championship.
3. The 1907 Red Sox at West End Park.
In 1907, the Boston Red Sox decided to hold spring training at West End Park, and it must have been a successful spring because the team returned again in 1908 for a second year. Among the players to practice in Little Rock included the great Hall of Fame pitcher Cy Young.
In exchange for the use of West End Park in 1908, the Red Sox traded a young ballplayer named Tris Speaker to the Travelers. Speaker went on to hit .350 for the Travelers before being repurchased by the Red Sox. He went on to play 22 seasons in the majors and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1937.
Boston did not return for a third year of spring training in 1909. So 14 years after they originally practiced in Little Rock, St. Louis, by now known as the Cardinals, returned to West End Park where they held spring training from 1909-1910. The Cardinals were led by Rogers Bresnahan, a player-manager later inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Between 1911-1914, little occurred at West End Park. The St. Paul Saints, a AA minor league team, held spring training there in 1912, but otherwise, the park was only used by amateur and semi-pro teams. That changed in 1915, when the Little Rock Travelers were admitted to the Southern League for a third time.
In bringing professional baseball back to Little Rock, it was agreed that a new ballpark must be built, because West End Park’s grandstand was in poor condition. So, in spring of 1915, the original grandstand was razed, and a new 3,500-seat wooden grandstand was built at the park. The diamond was set back to make the field larger, allowing a quarter mile track to be placed within the property.
4. Judge William Kavanaugh (left) and an article from then March 4th, 1915 edition of The Sporting News.
The principal person responsible for Little Rock’s return to professional baseball was Judge William M. Kavanaugh, who was a native of Little Rock and the president of the Southern League since 1903. He helped secure Little Rock a place in the league, but before the season ever started, he died suddenly on February 21st, 1915 at age 49.
After what was the greatest funeral Little Rock had ever seen, the city decided to name the new ballpark in Kavanaugh’s honor. On April 13th, West End Park reopened as Kavanaugh Field.
The Little Rock Travelers played at Kavanaugh Field for next 17 years, but never won a league championship. They came close in 1920, but lost in the final rounds. More than 165,000 people showed to watch the Travelers that season, a franchise record that stood until 1951.
5. Travis Jackson (left) and Bill Dickey (right) with the Travelers.
But despite the Travelers lack of success, the team did feature several notable players, including Travis Jackson and Bill Dickey. Jackson played for Little Rock in the 1921-1922 seasons, and Dickey played for the team in 1925, 1926 and 1928. Both were later inducted into the Hall of Fame.
By the late 1920s, Kavanaugh Field began to show some wear and tear. The ballpark wasn’t that old, but most new ballparks by then were built of steel and concrete rather than wood. In 1927 Little Rock Central High School was built just to the east of Kavanaugh Field, and decided to buy the ballpark.
The original agreement between the school board and the Travelers was that they would be allowed to use the park through the 1929 season. After that, the team must build a new park to play in. But by the end of the 1929 season, no new ballpark was built, forcing the Travelers to lease the park from the school for the 1930 season, despite that fact that the grandstand had been condemned by the city engineer.
It was in that year of 1930 that 189,000 watts of electric light were installed at Kavanaugh Field. The first night game played there since 1894 took place on July 21st in front of 8,000 spectators. After 10 innings of play, Little Rock beat the Birmingham Barons by a score of 9 to 8.
But by the end of that season, there was still no new ballpark for the Travelers to move into. The fences at Kavanaugh Field were moved back even further, making it possibly the largest baseball field in professional baseball at the time. The team tried to lease the park for another year, but were declined. Instead, the team was allowed to play there one more season, under the condition the team would pay for the construction taking place at the park.
1931 would be the final season the Little Rock Travelers would play at Kavanaugh Field. The following season, the team moved into an all new steel and concrete stadium known as Travelers Field, later renamed Ray Winder Field, where the team played for the next 74 years.
The Little Rock Central High School continued to use Kavanaugh Field for several more years, but razed the park sometime during the mid 1930s. In 1937, the high school built a football field known as Quigley Stadium partially on the former site of Kavanaugh Field, and the stadium is still used today.
More recently, Coleman Field, Little Rock Central’s baseball park, has been built on what once was Kavanaugh Field’s outfield, once again returning baseball to the grounds of West End Park.
Photo 2 is courtesy of the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies.
Photo 2 is courtesy of the Arkansas History Commission.