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Majestic Park

Majestic Park was a baseball park in Hot Springs, AR, used by various major league baseball teams as a spring training site from 1908-1918.

History

Majestic Park was located near the intersection of Belding Avenue and Valley Street in the southeastern section of Hot Springs, AR, just west of Hot Springs Creek. The property was first used for baseball purposes in the spring of 1908 when the Detroit Tigers leased the grounds for the team's preseason practices.1 Years prior, a half-mile racetrack had existed on the property, hosting winter horse races during the 1890s.2 However, by the time the Detroit team leased the site for spring training, the former racetrack had been reduced to little more than an overgrown racing oval.1 With the grounds largely unsuitable for baseball that spring, Detroit's workouts proved unsatisfactory, and the Tigers blamed their poor experience in Hot Springs for the team's slow start to the 1908 season.3 Consequently, Detroit failed to return to Hot Springs in subsequent years, abandoning their intention to transform the former racetrack grounds into the Tigers' permanent preseason training site for future seasons.

The following spring, the Boston Red Sox shifted their training camp from Little Rock, AR, south to Hot Springs. To accommodate the Red Sox, owner John I. Taylor and Secretary Hugh McBreen leased the property vacated by Detroit.4 Work to construct a diamond on the grounds began, and Red Sox management promised that the new field would be as nice as the Huntington Avenue Grounds, the Red Sox' home field in Boston.5 However, even after the grounds were cleared of shrubbery, leveled with dirt and rolled smooth, Boston was largely disappointed with the field conditions they encountered upon arriving in Hot Springs for training.6 The grounds were quickly dubbed Majestic Park in relation to the Red Sox' headquarters at the Majestic Hotel in Hot Springs, but contrary to its name, the new ballpark suffered from a general lack of elegance. In fact, the field's rocky, dirt infield and soggy outfield concerned Manager Fred Lake so much that he concluded it was best to leave Hot Springs early and take his team to Memphis, TN, for the remainder of spring training.7 Furthermore, Boston management considered abandoning plans to return to Hot Springs in the future as well,8 but before departing the city, a proposition to split Boston's interest in Majestic Park with the Cincinnati Reds was made. With reassurance that field conditions would be improved before 1910, arrangements to share Boston' training camp with the Reds were completed and a series of exhibition games between the two teams was scheduled for the next spring.

In preparation for the 1910 preseason, Majestic Park with provided with a sodded infield and a high wooden fence to enclose the grounds.9 The ballpark remained relatively humble, boasting little more than a tall wooden backstop and a row of wooden bleachers, but both Boston and Cincinnati were impressed with the improved field conditions they found when they arrived in Hot Springs for training.10 One drawback to the grounds that concerned both team though was the distance from the nearest electric streetcar line to Majestic Park. Without transportation available directly to the grounds, fans attending exhibition games were forced to walk more than a third of a mile to reach the ballpark.11 Notwithstanding this handicap, attendance during the thirteen-game series between Boston and Cincinnati at Majestic Park was initially fair. In fact, the March 16th series opener drew a large enough crowd to overflow the newly-constructed third-base bleachers and collapse them to the ground.12 During the fifth inning, the small wooden structure broke under the weight of about 200 spectators and numerous Brooklyn Dodgers players, all of whom escaped serious injury.13 In the fourth game of the series, an impressive Sunday afternoon crowd of 1,500 assembled at Majestic Park,14 but as the long series dragged on, Boston and Cincinnati's fears soon became realized. By the last few games of the series, crowds had dwindled down to merely a few hundred or less,15 and without streetcar service, Majestic Park inevitably proved to be an unsatisfactory location for exhibition games.

Babe Ruth at Majestic Park, circa 1916.
Babe Ruth at Majestic Park, circa 1916.

Boston continued to use Majestic Park for the next 10 years, save for 1911 when the St. Louis Browns and Cincinnati Reds train at the park. Among the players to train at Majestic Park over the years include Babe Ruth, Harry Hooper, Herb Pennock, Tris Speaker, and Walter Johnson.

After the 1918 season, Majestic Park was closed because of a railroad built on the property. Since then, numerous other baseball fields have been built on the site. In the 1930s, Dean Field was located on the site, and in 1947, Jaycee Park was built on the southern end of the property. Today, the Hot Springs Boys And Girls Club owns the property and it is known as the Jaycee Park Baseball Complex.


Spring Training Camps

The following is a list of spring training camps at Majestic Park.



Exhibition Games

The following is a list of Major League exhibition games played at Majestic Park.


Criterion
  • Includes exhibition games between two teams representing major league clubs.
  • Excludes games between intersquad teams (e.g. games between Regulars-Yannigans or Colts-Veterans), as well as games against collegiate teams, minor league teams, independent teams, semi-pro teams, all-star teams and picked nines.

Excerpts

The following are newspaper excerpts related to Majestic Park.

"By a deal recently put through by [Red Sox] President Taylor, a five years’ lease of the field formerly used by the Detroit team has been secured."16

"Secretary McBreen of the Boston American Club will leave Boston for Hot Springs, Ark,. Dec. 28, to superintend the laying out of a new ball grounds on property leased by the club for five years. The Boston club is to have its choice of a suitable area in a 45-acre plot of land with easy access of the centre of Hot Springs. Mr. McBreen expects to be in Hot Springs a month at least and, and it possible that Jerome Kelly, the Boston American Groundkeeper, may join him if the conditions demand his presence. It is proposed to have a grass diamond. . . . The Red Sox are to have their own training grounds for five years at least. President John I Taylor when he switched from Little Rock to Hot Springs as the place to condition his players took a five-year lease of a lot of land a short distance from the hotel at which the men will stop at Hot Springs. This lease gives him to right to select the best portion of a tract of forty-five acres, and upon this land he will have laid out an up-to-date-ball field. Treasurer Hugh McBreen leaves Boston for Hot Springs Dec. 28 to see that the work is carried out properly, and in other ways to prepare for the first training stunts of the men under Manager Fred Lake. Will Equal Home Grounds. Mr. McBreen will remain until the work upon the diamond and outfield is completed and everything ready for the team. It is Manager Lake’s intention to put the land in such shape that his men will have almost as fine a field to practice upon as the one on Huntington [avenue in Boston] . . ."5

"Land in the Ozark Mountains, south of Hot Springs, Ark., formerly used as a race course, has been leased by the Boston Club as a spring training ground. The lease for five years has been signed by Hugh McBreen, treasurer of the Boston Club. The team will be at Hot Springs March 1."17

"Early this morning, after some of the team had returned from church, Ground-keeper McKay, Manager Lake, Secretary Riley, Trainer Green and one or two of the players, besides the newspaper [?] a trip out to the new park. The day was a hot one, and everybody donned his summer clothes, so that there was no much evidence of any great desire to begin right away to reduce weight. The grounds are situated about 15 minutes’ ride from the hotel, and a week from today perhaps they will be in bang-up condition for work, but as yet only the infield has been in proper shape. This has been filled in a and rolled, and 50 feet back of second base it is little better than a filled in marsh, and McKay and his subordinates will have to work overtime to get it in readiness for Thoney and the rest of the speed merchants to show their stride."6

"Hot Springs, March 8. President Taylor says this is the last season that the Red Sox will train at Hot Springs, owing to the poor condition of the grounds. The diamond is full of pebbles, making it hard for the players, and will use up a ball after it lands a half dozen times. There is also a spring on the field and the outfield is full of hummocks."8

"No club ever showed more enterprise than did the Boston Americans in securing its grounds at the Hot Springs. It took a lot of money and a lot of work to bring this about, but money is no object when benefit is concerned and the club now has a splendid permanent place to send its men. The first day that President Taylor arrived he arranged with groundkeeper McKay to look out for the ground the year round so that there will be nothing lacking so far as the care of the field is concerned when the players get there in the spring."18

1. Saginaw News, 3/3/1908
2. Garland County: Our History and Heritage, p. 206
3. Sporting Life, 1/16/1909, p.10
4. Boston Post, 12/19/1908, p. 8
5. Boston Journal, 12/19/1908
6. Boston Post, 3/1/1909
7. The Sporting News, 3/18/1909, p.5
8. Sporting Life, 3/13/1909, p.2
9. Boston Journal, 3/8/1910
10. Cincinnati Enquirer, 3/5/1910
11. The nearest streetcar line to Majestic Park was on Central Avenue. Years prior, a streetcar line had run directly to the racetrack, but this line had ceased operation by the time Majestic Park was built.
12. Cincinnati Enquirer, 3/17/1910, p.8
13. New York Times, 3/17/1910
14. Boston Journal, 3/21/1910
15. Boston Journal, 3/28/1910
16. Boston Post, 12/19/1908, p.8
17. Sporting Life, 1/16/1909, p.5
18. Sporting Life, 3/13/1909, p. 3