|From Baseball's Canadian-American League by David
Talk about Wahconah Park, and everyone says one thing: It's built
backwards. Since it was designed before night ball came to pass, no
provision was made to take into account the setting sun.
Surprisingly, this flaw was never really corrected. Only in 1989 did
management finally install a mesh screen in center field to help shield
batters' eyes from sunset's blinding rays. Nonetheless, somewhat
unique "sun delays" are still common at the scene.
Wahconah Park has been the scene of ball games since at least 1892.
Two seasons later it hosted the city's first pro entry, a New York
State League team. That experiment ended in just a month.
The year 1919 saw significant changes for old Wahconah. First, the
50-acre site was donated to the city. Secondly, the Eastern League's
"Hillies" took up occupancy, remaining until the circuit folded in
The park has undergone renovation after renovation. In 1927, the
even-then badly deteriorated grandstand was repaired. A dyke was
installed on the nearby Housatonic River in an attempt to prevent
recurrent flooding. In 1931, to provide jobs for the unemployed,
1,300 men were hired to regrade the field. They were given work in
three day stints, at a cost of $25,000.
But that was long before the Can-Am League arrived, and actually the
Electrics never meant to use Wahconah, instead planning on a new
park on Dalton Avenue. While construction was still going on, owner
William Connely petitioned the Pittsfield Parks Commission for use of
the Common, downtown.
Despite idle threats from the league that it would pull up stakes if
permission wasn't granted, the Parks Commission just said "No."
Instead they provided rather primitive Dorothy Deming Field on Elm
Street. Aside from its generally poor facilities and lack of lighting, that
"park" was plagued by massive dust swirls a la Candlestick Park.
"They had no place to play," rues John Pollard. "They played in an
open field with just one of those wire fences."
The Electrics arrived at Wahconah late in 1942. Night baseball
followed in 1946, as eight 80-foot light towers were shipped in by
train from Boston. Erected too was a new $1,800 scoreboard,
courtesy of the Sports Service Corporation, a concessionaire. That
year's rental agreement with the city was one cent per admission with
a maximum season payment of $500.
It still needed work. "It was just a lousy ballpark," recalls Spencer
Fitzgerald, "it was old, run down." In the fall of 1949 work began on
major renovations. Heavy pilings were driven into the soggy soil to
provide a firm foundation for the new grandstand. Recurrent rumors
held that Wahconah was built over a city dump, but excavations
revealed nothing of the sort. New fences, toilets, concession areas,
and lockers were among the improvements. The field was again
re-graded. Total cost was $114,000.
The dimensions were uniform, in fact a bit too uniform: 352 to left,
362 to center, and 333 to right.
From 1965 to 1988 the Eastern League located franchises several
times in the park, and in 1989 the New York Mets relocated the Little
Falls team of the New York-Penn League there. In 1976 it was again
renovated, this time with $700,000 in federal funds. Once more, the
major emphasis was on halting floods from the Housatonic.
You might ask why in 1949 or 1976, with massive renovations afoot,
the field was never reversed to properly align with the sun. So have a
lot of other people over the years.
That point aside, though, Wahconah is a good place to watch a ball
game from, cozy, comfortable and with excellent sightlines. It's no
pillar of luxury and still looks Class C in a domed stadium world, but
maybe that's part of its charm.