Labatt Park

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Labatt Park (nee Tecumseh Park in 1877) is believed to be the "World's Oldest Baseball Park in continuous use in its original location." The closest our American cousins have to Labatt Park, is Rickwood Field in Birmingham, Alabama, which was built in 1910. Still, on several official U.S. baseball Web sites, Rickwood Field is mistakenly referred to as the "World's Oldest Ballpark" on the specious rationale that the stadium still retains some of its original 1910 grandstand.
While Labatt Park is currently using its fourth main grandstand, the site and field is the oldest known ballpark in continuous use in the world (baseball was invented in North America). Nineteen-ten isn't even close to 1877. Nestled at the Forks of the Thames River, our landmark field has been the centre for London and area's sports, recreational and cultural activities for 128 years.

Over the years, the park has been used for motion pictures, political rallies, civic receptions, public skating, soccer, baseball, fastball, softball, boxing, football, horse-jumping, the RCMP Musical Ride and even a 21-Gun Salute to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II during to her visit to Victoria Park in 1997. In the summer of 2001, Labatt Park was the main baseball venue during the Canada Summer Games.

1870: According to Canadian baseball historian/ author William Humber, it's likely that this "commons" pasture land in London West was used for baseball (an adaptation of the British game of "rounders") as early as 1870.

1877: The land was purchased by china merchant W.J. Reid as the new home of the semi-pro London Tecumsehs and named Tecumseh Park. The Tecumsehs, with star pitcher Fred Goldsmith (referred to in several newspaper accounts as the inventor of the curveball), won the International Association title, beating the Pittsburgh Alleghenies.

1878: The Tecumsehs started the season with 4,000 spectators but the crowds started to drop off and the team fell into debt.

1890s: Tecumseh Park was home to the London Alerts of the amateur Canadian League and a variety of City league teams. The Tecumsehs were resurrected in 1888 and 1889.

1892: A brick-dust track was built for amateur and professional bicycle racing. 1884: Pitchers are now allowed to throw "overhand."

1895: The first motion picture was shown in London after a bicycle race at Tecumseh Park. London-born and raised catcher, George (Mooney) Gibson (1880-1967) went on to a stellar playing career with the Pittsburgh Pirates, winning the World Series in 1909.

1911-15: London joined the professional Canadian League, producing Earl (Greasy) Neal, who later starred with Cincinnati.

1919-22: The Tecumsehs join the Michigan-Ontario League, winning the pennant from 1920-1922.

1924: Charlie (Mechanical Man) Gehringer, who went on to become a star 2nd baseman with the Detroit Tigers, plays for the Tecumsehs.

1936-37: The park is purchased by the Labatt brewing family and donated to the City along with $10,000 for improvements on the condition that the park be renamed the "John Labatt Memorial Athletic Field" and remain a public recreational park in perpetuity. The Great Flood of 1937 washes away the grandstand; A new grandstand and clubhouse (still standing) is constructed.

1940s: London ball hero Frank Co lman makes it to the Bigs. During the war years, women's ball flourishes at the park. The London Army team wins the Canadian Sandlot title in 1943 and 1944. Renamed the London Majors, the Majors win the Intercounty title in 1947 and 1948. The 1948 Majors also win the Ontario title, the Canadian Sandlot title and the World Sandlot title in September of 1948, beating the Fort Wayne (Indiana) General Electrics in a seven-game series at Labatt Park.

1950s: The Majors, starring Stan and Bill Slack, win the Intercounty title in 1951 and 1956.

1960s: Russ Evon's London TV Cable fastball team, with star pitcher Dick Hames, is one of the best fastball teams in Canada. The London Pontiacs win the Intercounty title in 1969.

1970s: The Majors win the Intercounty title in 1975. Wallaceburg native Arden Eddie, a Majors player since 1967, purchases the Majors in 1976 and moves the team back into the old clubhouse in 1977.

1980s: Hall of Famer Fergie Jenkins pitches for the Majors in 1984-1985.

1990: The London Tigers AA team wins the Eastern League title; the same year the park wins the Beam Clay Award as the best natural grass, minor league field in North America.

1994: The City designates the park under the Ontario Heritage Act with a special plaque unveiling on July 1 (Canada Day).

1996: The by-law "Reasons for Designation" of the park are amended to include the "Roy McKay Clubhouse."

1999: The London Werewolves win the Frontier League title during their first of three years in London.

2000: During the Werewolves' home opener on June 3, Wolves' pitcher Brett Gray pitches a record 25 strikeouts against the Chillicothe (Ohio) Paints. Following the season, the main grandstand (circa 1937) is demolished.

2001: A new, $1.97-million grandstand is completed in the spring, prior to the Canada Summer Games. An interpretive plaque detailing the park's history is installed on the new grandstand.

2002: The 1948 Majors are among the inaugural 10 inductees into the London Sports Hall of Fame at the JLC.

2003: The London Monarchs of the fledgling Canadian Baseball League play part of the season at the park before folding due to financial difficulties.

2004: On Feb. 15, 2004, it's announced that longtime Majors owner-player Arden Eddie has sold the team to 36-year-old mortgage consultant, Scott Dart. Under Dart's tutelage, the London Majors enjoy an outstanding playoff run, finally bowing out to the Guelph Royals in the league final.

2005: Former Intercounty umpire Joe Serratore gets married at home plate by Reverend Susan Eagle on Saturday, June 18, a first for the ball park. Information provided courtesy of Barry A. Wells a founder of the non-profit, volunteer group, The Friends of Labatt Park and also a London freelance writer.

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