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The forgotten heritage of Boston’s ‘Braves Field’

The year 2012 was a time of pageantry for Boston sports fans. The city celebrated the hundredth year of the founding of Fenway Park, the hallowed home of the Boston Red Sox. The year 2015 commemorated the hundredth anniversary of another major league park in Boston, Braves Field, but unlike Fenway, there were few if any commemorations for this now largely forgotten stadium.

When it was completed in August, 1915, it was the most majestic stadium in the land. It could hold crowds of forty thousand or more, its facilities were the most modern, it had the most spacious outfield, and it was accessible from downtown Boston by a trolley car that ran west along Commonwealth Avenue. “The Wigwam” as it was called was the epicenter of Boston baseball, for many years outshining its nearby neighbor, Fenway Park.

Braves Field 1915

Braves Field in 1915

Boston is the “cradle” of modern baseball. The Braves, now happily housed in Atlanta, are the oldest continually playing professional team of any kind in the United States. Created in 1870 as the Boston Red Stockings, they joined the National League in its inaugural year of 1876 and have remained there ever since. They played in Boston from 1870 through 1952 after which they moved first to Milwaukie and later to Atlanta. They were a very mediocre team while in Boston, rarely finishing above .500 and appearing in only two World Series in 1915 and 1948. They were just forming the nucleus of a great team when they moved to Milwaukie with the signing of such future stars as Hank Aaron and Warren Spahn.

Braves Field saw its share of baseball history. When the stadium opened for its first full season in April 1916, it was the home of the defending World Series champions, the Boston Braves. When the American League champion Boston Red Sox played the Brooklyn Robins (later Dodgers) in the 1916 World Series, the Red Sox were led to victory by their new young star pitcher, Babe Ruth. Ironically, Ruth ended his career at Braves Stadium with three consecutive home runs in 1935. Field Years later Braves Field was the site of the 1948 World Series between the Braves and the Cleveland Indians.

Ticket OfficeSoon after the Braves left Boston the team sold the stadium to neighboring Boston University. Much of the stadium and its surroundings were torn down and the land was reconfigured as a playing field for the university. BU renamed the stadium Nickerson Field to honor a longtime member of its Board of Trustees. BU’s football team played there until it was disbanded in the 1990s and it was the home stadium for the fledgling Boston (now New England) Patriots in the early 1960s. Today it is used as a playing field for the school’s soccer and lacrosse teams.

I have gone to close to two hundred games at Fenway Park, but for years I had wanted to venture to BU to see what was left of Braves Field. I decided that I would pretend that I was an erstwhile fan going to watch the Braves. On a warm December day in 2015 I clambered on to the old Commonwealth Avenue trolley at Kenmore Square. Fifteen minutes later I got off at the Babcock Street stop and quickly spotted the old Braves Administration Building and Ticket office which today houses a child care center and the headquarters of the BU campus police. I could well imagine myself purchasing a ticket and entering through the still intact entry gate.

Entry on to the playing field gives one a very different perspective of what was Braves Field. All of the seating areas, the bull pens and the like have long since disappeared, but much of the right field pavilion remains. Underneath the pavilion one finds a large concession area

Empty seats at Braves FieldFans could buy pretzels, peanuts and hotdogs along with a wide assortment of drinks and souvenirs. My father-in-law, Russell Menelly, now aged 91, remembers as a young lad working in one of these concessions booths. “We had a wild time down under there. We sold all sorts of stuff, much of it junk, to young kids and their fathers. It was a good chance to make some good money, but it was very hard work.”

I walked around the area and was able to configure the dimensions of the field. Standing in what was long ago center field I could see the crowd cheering as Babe Ruth stepped up for his last major league at bat—a towering home run into the right field pavilion. I later found a historical marker summarizing the field’s history. The stadium itself is largely gone, but there is enough still there to imagine the rest.

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