- Associated Press - Monday, April 17, 2017

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. (AP) - Preseason baseball not only found a home in Hot Springs in the first half of the 20th century - it brought popularity and permanent change to the city, baseball historian Mike Dugan said recently.

Dugan, of Hot Springs, a member of the Friends of Baseball Hall Of Fame and one of the original collaborators on the Hot Springs Historic Baseball Trail, gave a history lesson about America’s pastime in the Spa City to Hot Springs National Park Rotary last Wednesday. His speech touched on how the city revolutionized the concept of spring training, how baseball drew fans from all over the country to Arkansas and how the sport’s rich history continues to draw visitors to Hot Springs.

The Sentinel-Record (https://bit.ly/2oEBLvo ) reports Dugan began his speech with the year 1886 - the first year that a baseball player set foot in Hot Springs. He said the first team to visit the city was the underachieving Chicago White Stockings (now the Chicago Cubs), which were owned by Albert Goodwill Spalding.

Spalding heard about Hot Springs from a Chicago newspaper article, which claimed the city’s spring water could boil out alcoholic microbes in the human body. He figured his team, with its rampant alcoholism, would benefit from a preseason visit.

“Spalding decided that that’s exactly what the White Stockings needed,” Dugan said. “They decided to come to Hot Springs in March 1886.”



During their visit, the White Stockings were able to lease land on Ouachita Avenue at the present-day site of the Garland County Court House to build a ballpark. Dugan said the White Stockings were pleased with their stay, and would go on to become the champion of Major League Baseball that year.

“They liked it, they practiced, they boiled out the alcoholic microbes,” Dugan said. “The team enjoyed it.”

Due to their championship title, other MLB teams saw the White Stockings’ spring training in Hot Springs as a successful move. In 1887, the Cincinnati Reds followed suit, finding property on Whittington Avenue to construct their own ballpark.

Dugan said the ballpark on Whittington Avenue was an improvement over hilly terrain on Ouachita Avenue. However, while the teams then had a decent field on which to practice and compete, the popularity of that field led to overcrowding and the construction of other ball fields within the city.

Another field was next to what is now the Hot Springs Boys & Girls Club. Dugan noted a building that was constructed as part of the ballpark next to the Boys & Girls Club remains there today.

Economically, Hot Springs’ preseason baseball drew fans in droves to Hot Springs, who partook in the city’s food and hospitality when they weren’t attending the games. One of the more noteworthy instances of this was found with the Boston Red Sox, who took their home base with them to the Spa City.

“When the Boston Red Sox came to town, they brought with them train cars full of fans,” Dugan said.

Dugan said baseball not only stimulated economy and development in Hot Springs, it even reached into high school athletics. He said Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop Honus Wagner, regarded as one of the world’s greatest basketball players at the time, visited Hot Springs High School’s newly founded basketball team with baseball players Christy Mathewson and Walter Johnson, who also played the sport.

“They taught the Hot Springs High School team how to play basketball,” Dugan said. “They went on to be a great success and won several tournaments.”

He said the Hot Springs Trojans’ black and gold colors were originally introduced through the equipment Wagner gave to the basketball team, which bore the Pirates’ black and gold colors.

Preseason baseball remained a fixture of Hot Springs through most of the 1910s. Dugan explained that teams began to make their way over to Florida near the end of that decade due to confidence in the pesticide DDT being able to fend off the state’s malaria-carrying mosquitoes and more consistent weather.

“You know what March and April today is like in Hot Springs,” Dugan told the crowd. “We have off-and-on weather.”

The Red Sox and Pirates, which kept using the Spa City for spring training through 1923, and Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics, who returned to the Spa City for training in 1929 and 1930, were the final MLB teams to use Hot Springs for their respective preseasons. Eleven championships were won by MLB teams that used the city as their training grounds.

Following its time as MLB’s premiere spring training location, Hot Springs hosted Negro League ballgames while the league was still in existence.

“The city fathers figured out that there would have to be a way to make money - we’ve got ball fields, we’ve got everything else in Hot Springs. That’s when they started inviting the Negro League teams,” Dugan said. “We had some of the all-time greats come in each and every year.”

HE said the baseball trail, which will be getting its 32nd sign installed in October this year, was created as a result of this history. He said Visit Hot Springs CEO Steve Arrison reached out to him with the idea as a way to honor the legacy and promote the Spa City.

“(He) said, ‘You know what? I think we’re on to something here. Let’s look and see if we can promote baseball and celebrate the history because it might benefit Hot Springs,’” Dugan said.

Because of the baseball trail, which has brought 938 visitors from 13 countries and 38 states, America’s pastime still brings prosperity to the area, he said.

“Baseball continues to help the economy and bring people to Hot Springs,” Dugan said.

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Information from: The Sentinel-Record, https://www.hotsr.com

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