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Saturday, May 15, 2021

Wahconah Park was once described as offering pure baseball; The park and site have offered it for well over a century

Baseball writer Daniel Okrent frequented games at Pittsfield's Wahconah Park and he told Sports Illustrated readers why in July 1990.

He lauded the field for the fans' proximity to the game, for players who played hard, then greeted kids afterward.

"There," he wrote of the historic field, "you will see why I would rather attend a Class A New York-Penn League game between the Pittsfield Mets and the Oneonta Yankees than a World Series game between their big league brothers. At Wahconah, you get your baseball pure."

By 1990, baseball had been played on the site of the current Wahconah Park for nearly 100 years, since 1892. And baseball has been played there in one form or another almost continually since then. 

In 1990, Wahconah played host to the New York-Penn League's Pittsfield Mets. A few years prior, it had seen action at AA. More recently, Wahconah has played host to collegiate league teams, most recently the Pittsfield Suns of the Futures Collegiate Baseball League of New England are set to continue playing there in 2021.

Along the way, the ballpark on Pittsfield's Wahconah Street has continued to have its quirks, including a sun delay necessitated by its orientation as the sun sets over the left field fence. Its history also placed it on the National Register of Historic Places

The current incarnation of the ballpark, the grandstand visible on Wahconah Park's 1990 Pucko card, dates back to 1950. Some online sources date it to 1919, including a Ballpark Digest feature. But historical and more recent newspaper records place the current stands' construction firmly in 1950.

(Pittsfield baseball history goes back even further, to a 1791 anti-baseball ordinance, the earliest known reference to the game anywhere.)

A Berkshire Eagle timeline from 2007 gave highlights in the park's history, starting with the first game on the site in 1892, the first grandstand built in 1909 and even Lou Gehrig hitting a long home there in 1924. searches highlight those dates further. "GO AND SEE THEM. The Opening game on Wahconah Park, an Aug. 8, 1892 Eagle report reads.

"There is actually a good deal of base ball interest in Pittsfield now that the new Wahconah park has opened, as witness the large attendance Saturday afternoon when the Pittsfields defeated the Renfrews 8 to 4," a Pittsfield Sun report a few days later read.

The first grandstand was then built in 1909. The Eagle wrote the opening "was successful in every way" and the mayor even showed up to throw the first pitch for a strike. 

The city then purchased the property in 1919. That May, a local company offered players a free suit for hitting its sign on the left field fence.

A record of the Gehrig home run could not be found, but several articles on his appearances at Wahconah could be, including a game where he scored a run for visiting Hartford, but didn't get a hit.

The 1909 grandstand then soon fell into disrepair in the depression, as residents started dismantling the structure

Then came the grandstand that continues to watch over games in 2021, the 1950 grandstand. The Wahconah Park Grandstand Commission had pile-driving underway by October 1949, with the piles made from New Hampshire spruce, The Eagle wrote then.

Wahconah played host to Can-Am League teams, then AA Eastern League teams from 1965 to 1976, then from 1985 to 1988, then the short-season Mets from 1989 to 2000 and, finally, the Pittsfield Astros in 2001. After other teams, the Pittsfield Suns took up residence in 2012.

In July 1992, author Dan Valenti wrote in a column published in The Eagle that Wahconah had "intimacy, character and an evocation of the past."

"Pittsfield's chummy ballpark exudes its friendliness and charm in an almost automatic way," Valenti wrote.

1990 Minor League Tally 
Players/Coaches Featured:3,652
Made the Majors:1,250-34.2%
Never Made Majors:2,402-65.8%
5+ Seasons in the Majors:521
10+ Seasons in the Minors:308

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