Sunday, April 20, 2008
Red Bird Stadium in Columbus, Ohio: Day 1
“And now, ladies and gentlemen, here are your starting lineups for this afternoon’s ball game...”
The deep-voiced public address announcer sent his richly hued sound waves reverberating through the humming grandstand on a sweltering late spring day at Columbus’s brand new ballpark. Calling fans to its attention, the resonant voice was as welcoming as a lighthouse spotlight to a wayfaring ship. It welcomed baseball fans from near and far who were milling about the grandstand, settling into their seats, and waiting expectantly for the grand occasion of the day to get underway. It represented the start of a new and hopeful era in Columbus as played out upon a virgin sea of green.
Friday, June 3, 1932. The day had finally arrived. A heat wave engulfed the city. Temperature reports on city streets reached the mid-90’s by midday, although the official high was 88˚, more like mid-July than early June. Dressed in flannel garb and seated in their respective dugouts were the members of the starting cast for the day’s drama to be contested between the Columbus Red Birds and Louisville Colonels. They’d be fanning themselves into delirium on such a day, both on the field and off, on this festive occasion. A predicted storm heads for central Ohio, that should cool things down, just as long as it waits until boys have put in their nine innings...This was one time when a hot day along with a hot dog and a cool drink was the nearest thing to heaven.
“Pitching for your Columbus Red Birds, hailing from Anmoore, West Virginia, number twenty-two, KENNY ASH....
A cheer loud enough to be heard for several blocks would likely have been the crowd’s reply to this announcement.
Born Kenneth Lowther Ash on September 16, 1901, Ash was baptized in major league waters in 1925 as a member of the Chicago White Sox after attending West Virginia Wesleyan College. As a member of the Petersburg Broncos of the Virginia League (B) in 1927, Ash established a minor league record for strikeouts in a season (155 games or less) with 209; that same year Pat Malone of the Indianapolis Indians in the set down 214 batters in a 168 game year to set the American Association record. For his feat, Ash was named to the minor league roll of honor for greatest performances in a single season.
He moved up to the National League as a Cincinnati Red in 1928. That same year he entered the American Association when he joined the Columbus Senators, compiling a record of 12-10, pitching at old Neil Park II (built in 1905). The 5’11 righty would not become a fixture in the Arch City until 1931, the first year the club became known as the Red Birds, when he added 16 wins to the Columbus coffers under Harry “Nemo” Leibold while leading the staff in wins, innings (201) and games (37) as the Red Birds finished in the first division as fourth-place finalists with a record of 84-82. Likely his career finish that year influenced Leibold’s decision to start the veteran hurler on this gala day.
Ash made appearances in each of the final two games of the 1931 season, fully expecting them to be his last ever at the historic Neil Park which was built in 1905. Those games, both dropped to the Toledo Mud Hens, were expected to be the swan song for Neil Park as a venue for the American Association, but political wrangling delayed site selection of the new park and construction started late.
Contact the American Association Almanac at email@example.com to find out how to receive a copy of the entire story of the early history of Red Bird Stadium.