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Minor League Baseball Stadium Namesakes

By Zac Richardson -- June 04, 2012 10:40 AM EDT

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What's in a name? Increasingly, when it comes to arenas, stadiums and ballparks, it is a straightforward matter of money and corporate sponsorship. But this is not always the case.

In particular, a look at affiliated Minor League Baseball stadium names offers an interesting breakdown, including a significant number of memorial namesakes. Some of these are famous and familiar, some have a significance that may be unknown outside of the home communities, and still others blur the lines between tribute and advertisement.

We begin with the obvious. The Daytona Cubs play at Jackie Robinson Ballpark-- so-named to honor the stadium's historic role in the integration of organized baseball (it was here that Robinson first played as a member of the Montreal Royals in a game against their parent club, the Brooklyn Dodgers). Equally famous a figure in baseball history, the man who broke Babe Ruth's all-time homeruns record has a ballpark to his name, as well, with the Mobile BayBears playing in Hank Aaron Stadium. Aaron is a Mobile native, and was on-hand to help open the park in 1997.

Old-time Hall of Famers Stan Coveleski and Bill McKechnie are also the subject of stadium tributes. The South Bend Silver Hawks play in Stanley Coveleski Regional Stadium-- named for the spitball-throwing member of the Cleveland Indians' 1920 World Series championship team who is considered among the top pitchers of all time. After his playing days were over, Coveleski lived in South Bend until his death at age 94. And the Bradenton Marauders and Pittsburgh Pirates play in McKechnie Field (Bradenton is Pittsburgh's Class A affiliate, and the Pirates use the facility for spring training), which honors the first manager to win the World Series with separate teams-- the 1925 Pirates and 1940 Cincinnati Reds-- and the only to win pennants with three teams (he also took the 1928 St. Louis Cardinals to the Series). Combined with his Pirates World Series victory, McKechnie died in Bradenton, making the stadium memorial a natural fit.

Like McKechnie Field, George M. Steinbrenner Field also does double duty-- serving as home to the Tampa Yankees, and also as host for New York's spring training. The Yankees renamed the stadium in 2008, two years before Steinbrenner passed away, and a life-sized statue of the man greets fans at the entrance. Another lifelong Yankee, Hall of Fame catcher Bill Dickey, is also part of a stadium tribute. The Arkansas Travelers play in Dickey-Stephens Park, named for Arkansans Dickey and his brother George (who also played in the Majors), as well as for businessmen-brothers Jack and W.R. Stephens.

Dickey-Stephens Park straddles the line in a category of stadiums that honor and promote or advertise, as the Stephens brothers' eponymous business continues as a family-run investment banking firm to this day. Similarly, the Delmarva Shorebirds' Arthur W. Perdue Stadium is named for the founder of the famous chicken processor, which is also based out of Salisbury, Maryland.

Others that strike a curious balance between tribute and vanity project include the Charleston RiverDogs' Joseph P. Riley, Jr. Park, and the spring training home of the Minnesota Twins (as well as that of their Class A affiliate, the Fort Myers Miracle), Hammond Stadium. In both instances, the parks are named for politicians still in office.

There are plenty of other stadiums named for politicians that steer clear of potential endorsement, however. The Potomac Nationals play in Pfitzner Field, for instance-- honoring a past County Board of Supervisors member who was instrumental in bringing the former Alexandria Dukes to town-- and the story is similar for the Huntsville Stars' Joe W. Davis Stadium, which memorializes an earlier longtime mayor who supported the ballpark's construction as part of getting the Double-A incarnation of the Nashville Sounds to move to Alabama.

One of the more interesting tributes along these lines is McCoy Stadium, home to the Pawtucket Red Sox. The ballpark is named for a mayor during the 1930s and '40s whose headstrong mission to build a stadium-- a six-year project in the midst of the Great Depression, with funding from the Works Progress Administration, and on the site of a pond-- led to its being referred to as "McCoy's Folly." With this inauspicious beginning, it is no wonder that the park has also been backdrop to such events as the longest game in professional baseball history (a 33-inning affair in 1981, featuring future-Hall of Famers Wade Boggs and Cal Ripken, Jr.) and current-Detroit Tiger Delmon Young's infamous bat-throwing incident at a home plate umpire (in 2006).

There is also the Wilmington Blue Rocks' Judy Johnson Field at Daniel S. Frawley Stadium-- which honors both the Hall of Fame Negro League star, as well as a former mayor who had brought the Blue Rocks to town, and then died shortly after he left office at the young age of 50.

These sorts of local-interest stories abound with minor league stadiums. There is the Beloit Snappers' Harry C. Pohlman Field and the Portland Sea Dogs' Hadlock Field, for example-- each named for longtime baseball coaches in their respective communities.

The Savannah Sand Gnats play in Grayson Stadium, which stands in tribute to Spanish-American War veteran General William L. Grayson, who worked to get the ballpark built by coordinating city funding with WPA contributions (in similar fashion to McCoy Stadium, though with decidedly less drama involved). And Lakeland, Florida's answer to Leslie Knope is the namesake for Joker Marchant Stadium-- which honors the city's former Parks and Recreation Director (and hosts Detroit's spring training, in addition to being home for the Tigers' Class A affiliate Lakeland Flying Tigers).

In a sporting world proliferated with corporate sponsorship and advertising rights, it is heartening to find exceptions to the new rule, and it can be gratifying to be reminded of or learn anew some of the stories behind the names, as well. In future installments, we will further explore the various leagues for exceptions to the glut of financial/airline/telecommunication stadiums, and continue to seek pleasure and meaning in the increasingly rarer representation of people/places/things.

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