Tuesday, July 7, 2009
This past weekend was the 100th anniversary of the opening of the first double-decked stadium in the American Association, Swayne Field in Toledo, Ohio. Built to replace Armory Park which served as the home of the Toledo Mud Hens for seven-plus seasons since 1902, Swayne Field opened in historic fashion when it hosted the Columbus Senators on July 3, 1909.
With umpires Clarence “Brick” Owens and Ed Eckman officiating, the Mud Hens were first to score, thrilling the Toledo throng of 9,350 in a game which lasted three hours, thirty-five minutes. It was a battle for the ages between two closely matched teams.
In the first inning, Toledo posted three runs off Columbus starter Jacob “Lefty” Geyer. Center-fielder Homer Smoot, hitting third, scored on a two-run single by second-baseman Harry Hinchman, first-baseman Jeremiah Freeman following. Hinchman had five hits in seven at-bats on the day. The third run of the frame was scored by Charlie “Piano Legs” Hickman who crossed the plate on a ground ball by catcher Fred Abbott.
The Senators tallied next in the top half of the fourth, putting up four runs against Toledo starter Frank M. Owen.
Not to be out-done, the Hens stormed back with five runs in the fifth, making the score 8-4 in favor of the locals. Hinchman’s triple highlighted the frame.
Adding a pair in the seventh, Toledo padded their lead.
But then the barn doors blew open as the Senators scored five runs of their own, chasing Owen after 6 1/3. Adding another pair of in the eighth, Columbus had a 9-8 lead. But it didn’t last long.
In the Toledo half of the seventh, Hickman greeted reliever Clyde Goodwin with a Swayne Field salute, the first home run at the new digs, scoring Freeman. Hickman’s drive sailed over the right-field parapet 325 feet away,” according to the Toledo Blade, and gave the Hens a 10-9 lead.
Again Columbus mounted a comeback, scoring twice to recapture the edge in the eighth. A lone Toledo tally in the bottom of the ninth tied the game, breathing new life into the frenzied crowd.
A long string of zeros followed, but, amidst the early evening shadows, Columbus finally scored in the eighteenth inning. Center-fielder Art Kruger tripled to left for his sixth hit in nine at-bats! With two out, shortstop George Moriarty singled to bring home Kruger. The lead held, as Goodwin finished his 11 2/3 inning stint by shutting down the Hens in their half of the 18th. The Senators were the winner in a dramatic, high-potency contest. What a way to open a new ball park! After a 3 p.m. start, the game was finally completed at 6:35 p.m., the longest American Association game on record to date.
Columbus: 12 runs on 23 hits with 2 errors
Toledo: 11 runs on 16 hits with 3 errors.
Located at the corner of Detroit Avenue and Monroe Street, Swayne Field was named for long-time baseball enthusiast Noah H. Swayne (1847-1922), a Toledo lawyer and banker. constructed at a cost of $300,000. It was likely the largest venue in the American Association with an original capacity of 11,800 (West Washington Street Park at Indianapolis was on par with this figure, but the exact capacity is not known). The iron beam-and-concrete park, patterned after Forbes Field in Pittsburgh which had opened only weeks earlier, had a grandstand seating 4,800, while its upper deck could hold 1,000. The bleachers in left- and right-field held 2,500 and 3,500, respectively. Each original wooden bleacher section was replaced with a concrete-and-steel structure in 1928 as the overall capacity increased to 14,800; that included a new center-field bleacher section.
The original dimensions at Swayne Field:
382 feet down LF foul line
505 feet to dead CF
326 feet down RF foul line
72 feet between home plate and grandstand backstop
The park cost $300,000.
Principal Source: The Toledo Baseball Guide of the Mud Hens by Ralph LinWeber (1944).
Photo: Postcard published in 1909 depicting a capacity crowd at Swayne Field during its inaugural season as an American Association park.