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  • Writer's picturePaul Baker

Eldredge Park - Orleans Firebirds

Photos by Paul Baker, Stadium Journey

Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.86

Eldredge Park

78 Eldredge Park Way

Orleans, MA 02653

Year Opened: 1913

Capacity: 4,000

Filling the Hill for Over a Century

Eldredge Park, in Orleans, MA, is the oldest ballpark in the Cape Cod League, and one of the oldest continuously used ballparks in the country. Featured in pictorials in Sports Illustrated and Baseball in America, it was named the best summer collegiate ballpark in the nation by Baseball America in 2004. Eldredge Park has been described as a “Norman Rockwell painting come to life”.

The land for the park was donated to the town of Orleans by baseball enthusiast Louis Winslow "Win" Eldredge, “in consideration of [his] affection for and interest in the young people of Orleans and [his] desire to provide a playground for them.” The park quickly became a popular community gathering place. Thanks to the nearby transatlantic telegraph cable station, fans at Eldredge were among the first Americans to receive the news that Charles Lindbergh had touched down safely in Paris.

Constructed in 1913, Eldredge Park is a most uniquely designed ballpark. There is virtually no permanent seating anywhere at the facility. Most of the seating here is located on a large, terraced hill, known as “The Hill at Eldredge Park”, which runs the length of the first base side of the field. Fans coming to watch the Firebirds play are encouraged to bring their own blankets or lawn chairs and pick out their favorite spots from which to watch the action.

For much of their existence, Orleans’ team was known as the Cardinals. In 2009, several Cape League teams decided to cease sharing names with a Major League squads, and their name was changed to Firebirds. The team has won 4 Cape League championships in the Modern Era, which began in 1963, and is the only league franchise to boast two baseball Hall of Famers (Carlton Fisk and Frank Thomas) among their alumni. In 2022 42 Firebirds alumni played in the Major Leagues.

Food & Beverage 3

Nauset Food Services operates a concession stand at Eldredge Park. The "Fire Pit" is located in the parking lot atop the right field berm. The menu here covers all the basics, including burgers, hot dogs and sausage and pepper sandwiches. Veggie burgers, nachos and pizza slices are also sold here. A good variety of snacks, featuring chips, candy, peanuts, popcorn, pretzels and ice cream novelties are also available. Fans looking for something a little extra can top their hot dog or burger with cheese, peppers and onion for an extra dollar.

Coca Cola products are sold at the Fire Pit. Alcoholic beverages are not sold at Eldredge Park.

Atmosphere 4

The atmosphere at a Firebirds game is very similar to what you will find in other Cape Cod League venues. The bells and whistles present in so many minor league ballparks today are nowhere to be found on the Cape. PA announcements are limited to upcoming batters, lineup changes, and sponsors advertisements. Children have room to play and chase foul balls. Families and locals mix, enjoying a laid-back night at the ballpark. It’s a baseball purist’s dream.

Neighborhood 4

Orleans is a small town located on the “inner elbow” of Cape Cod. It has a population of just over 6,000 year-round residents, and swells to several times that size during the summer months.

Eldredge Park is located next to Nauset Regional Middle School, about a mile from downtown Orleans. Fans looking to explore what Orleans has to offer should head north on Route 28 South (you read that right, don’t try and understand, it’s a Massachusetts thing) to where routes 28, 6, and 6A come together. There you will find numerous fine seafood restaurants and tourist attractions. If you wish to avoid the large summer crowds, come to the area early in the season in June before schools let out. Everything will be open, and the crowds will not have arrived yet.

The area boasts several excellent beaches and seasonal tourist attractions. Many beautiful homes dating back to colonial times are present along the waterfront. The destination town of Provincetown is located a half hour to the north through the Cape Cod National Seashore.

Fans 4

Orleans consistently ranks at or near the top of the Cape League’s attendance rankings, averaging about 1,500 fans per game. They have a dedicated fan base with some interesting traditions. Since virtually all of Eldredge Park’s seating is general admission lawn seating, fans are allowed to come to the ballpark early, in some cases VERY early, to leave their blankets or chairs on the ground and reserve their spots in advance. The fans then return at game time to the spot they chose hours earlier. One complaint that is heard at times is that some fans will reserve their spot early in the day, only to not show up until the game is well underway, thus depriving other deserving fans of a prime location.

During the season’s prime dates in July and August, these spots can become very valuable indeed. Seeing Eldredge Park’s terraced hills filled with locals and tourists alike enjoying a game under the stars is a fantastic sight and gives Orleans a well-deserved reputation as one of the top ballparks in the league.

Access 4

Eldredge Park is very easy to get to, located about a mile off of route 6. Simply take the exit for Route 6A, follow it to Eldredge Park Way, and the ballpark will be on your left. Adjacent to the ballpark is a skate park, basketball courts, tennis courts, and a playground. There is ample parking beyond the right field fence, and plenty of room for fans to spread out their lawn chairs and blankets.

As mentioned earlier, most of the seating is in the form of lawn seating. The team has placed a new set of bleachers near home plate, and another new set of bleachers beyond the right field fence. While the many children attending the game scale the terraced berm like mountain goats, fans with an unsteady gait should be careful, as there are no paved paths anywhere at Eldredge Park.

The field is located very close to Route 28, necessitating large nets to be placed around the infield to protect passing cars. The screens at Eldredge Park extend from home plate 180 feet down each baseline. They are an inconvenience to fans, to be sure, but they are a necessity here. The placement of the field so close to the road also means that there isn’t a whole lot of room for fans to sit on the third base line. The great majority of fans will choose seats on the roomier first base line. Fans wishing to not look through the nets will have to sit far down the baselines.

With the presence of a busy road (Route 28) so close to the field, children who are chasing foul balls must be reminded to not chase the balls into the street, which the Firebirds do throughout the game. In addition, there are several signs present reminding fans of this important safety rule.

Return on Investment 5

As is the case at all Cape League games, there is no charge for admission at Eldredge Park. The team welcomes donations from fans, and in return you will receive a yearbook and roster sheet. Parking is also free, and regular attendees at Firebirds games will bring their own cooler with drinks and snacks. It is entirely possible to see a game being played by several future major leaguers without paying a cent. For those fans purchasing food at the Fire Pit, concessions are reasonably priced.

Extras 3

A recent addition to Eldredge Park is “The Catch,” a statue located on the top of the hill near home plate, which depicts a young fan stretching to catch one of the numerous foul balls that land in the area.

The original configuration of Eldredge Park located home plate in what is today its left-field corner. After generations of batters struggled to hit against the visual backdrop of a setting sun, the orientation was changed in the mid-1960s. The newly reconfigured park opened for the 1967 CCBL all-star game. The hill was terraced in the mid-1980s, giving the park its current look.

Final Thoughts

Baseball has been played at Eldredge Park since 1913. As a member of the Firebirds' staff put it, "we have three things going for us in Orleans. We have the best beaches on the Cape, we have the hill, and we have the history." While many towns on the Cape will debate the merits of their own beaches against those in Orleans, there is no disputing the unique nature of the terraced hill at Eldredge Park. Being a part of a late summer crowd in Orleans alongside virtually the entire town is indeed a special experience.

In the 2022 major league season 362 Cape Cod League alumni suited up in the major leagues. That's almost one out of every six players to play in the majors. Needless to say, some of the best amateur ball being played anywhere can be found in the small parks on Cape Cod. With all ten ballparks located within an hour's drive of each other, it's a baseball fan's dream come true.

Follow Paul Baker’s stadium journeys on Twitter and Instagram @PuckmanRI.

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