Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Baseball Place No. 43: Mavericks Stadium; and 43A, Lamphier Park

The path to Michigan minor-league baseball goes through Springfield, Ill. I had no idea.

Josh Pahigian takes us to Mavericks Stadium, home of the High Desert Mavericks in Adelanto, Calif. as place No. 43 in his “101 Baseball Places to See Before You Strike Out.”

He praises it as an intimate park in a beautiful desert setting, not too far from the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles.

My visit to California was brief, and I slipped in some Major League visiting. But I have been to another small park, and that’s when I discovered the Springfield-Michigan connection.

Alternative Spot No. 43A) Lamphier Park, Springfield, Ill.

Springfield’s just an hour from my in-laws, so naturally we went there in 1991 to check out a game, and even stopped at some Lincoln sites along the way.

Actually, it would be difficult to take a step in Springfield and not run into a Lincoln site, but I digress.

Lamphier Park had room for 5,000, though that seems generous. At some point it was named Robin Roberts Stadium at Lamphier Park after the Hall-of-Famer and native son.
Check out the houses just beyond the outfield fence.

It was a small park located in a neighborhood. You’d look beyond the outfield fence and see houses. It didn’t seem all that much bigger than recreation league complex. Heck, if they were short players they might have looked to the stands for volunteers.

The park opened in 1952, and was renovated 1977, and I can only guess what it was like before the renovations. The Springfield Cardinals, Single-A Midwest League, were there from 1982 to 1993.

I like the batter's eye -- evergreens growing behind a short, chain-link fence.

The Cards departed for Madison, Wis. In 1994, becoming the Madison Hatters. The Hatters, for all one year of their existence, had one of the coolest minor-league cap designs ever, with a mouse with a bat, wearing a hat like the Mad Hatter from “Alice in Wonderland.”

I suppose it’s a mouse because mice like cheese, and Wisconsin is famous for it. But I suggest this is the only team in baseball – in all of sports, perhaps – drawing inspiration from Lewis Carroll.

The team left Madison for Battle Creek Michigan, where it was scheduled to be named, and I kid you not, the “Golden Kazoos.” Battle Creek and Kalamazoo are pretty close.

But there was much ridicule – all of it earned – and legend has it that someone went and trademarked the name before the team could, and it opted to get a new name rather than pay what the name-owner wanted. I think they saw an opportunity to drop the name and grabbed it.

So they became the utterly bland Michigan Battle Cats. As if things weren’t bad enough, the team was later affiliated with the Evil Empire, and changed its name to Battle Creek Yankees. Would have been better off with Golden Kazoos.

With instability being a franchise trademark, the team was later liked with Tampa Bay, and became the Southwest Michigan Devil Rays.

Giving up altogether, the team moved across the state to Midland, becoming the Great Lakes Loons, which I suppose is better than Yankees.
Back to Springfield.

After the Cardinals departed in 1993 for their trail of discarded names, it appeared Springfield would be left with many Lincoln sites and no baseball.
But two weeks before the 1994 season, the Waterloo Diamonds could seal the deal on a stadium lease, and bolted to the conveniently open Lamphier Park, and became known as the Sultans of Springfield.

How a team can find a new home and create a new identity in under two weeks is a mystery to me, and “Sultans” is pretty exotic for a place like Springfield. I suspect that “Top Hats,” “Honest Abes” and “Railsplitters” were considered.

Also as an aside, Manny’s Baseball Land, the catalog company, had a warehouse in Hobe Sound, Fla., and used to sell things there at great discounts. So I had all kinds of cool minor-league caps before these were readily available to anyone with an Internet connection. I have both a Madison Hatters cap and a Sultans of Springfield cap, which I used to wear frequently because it was both obscure and fit absolutely perfectly.

The Sultans went to the playoffs their first year, but drew just 54,000 fans. The second year was worse, attracting fewer than 40,000 people.

But someone must have liked the idea of playing in a capital, because the team uprooted after 1995 for Lansing, Mich. where it became the Lansing Lugnuts, and remains there today.

If you see a Lugnut, please do not point out that the logo on his cap is actually a screw, and not a nut, lug or otherwise.

Lamphier Park attracted a Frontier League team, the Capitals, for 1996, but that team, too, departed after 2001 for a lack of fan support.

So there it sits, waiting for another team to come and stay for a while before adopting a nutty nickname and moving to Michigan.

1 comment:

Mcginnis360 said...

My Dad "Robert J McGinnis was #24 for the St. Louis Cardinals farm team between 66-70. I have been unable to locate any information on him, or his career. Any info would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.