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  • Writer's pictureMatt Colville

Forgotten Stadiums: Admiral Mason Park



 

A visit to Veterans Memorial Park in Downtown Pensacola on any particular day, expect to see many people jogging, walking dogs, or resting on one of the many benches in the park. The 5.5-acre park is one of the more popular of the City of Pensacola’s 93 public parks throughout the city, hosting thousands of visitors and countless events. The park’s many features include a man-made pond with a jogging track shaped like a diamond that circles the pond.


View of the Lake and Jogging Path at Veterans Memorial Park; this would have been from Deep Right Field, Photo by Matt Colville, Stadium Journey


The park also includes countless memorials dedicated to those who gave their life and service in different wars such as both World Wars, Korea, and Iraq. But its most famous feature includes the Vietnam Memorial Wall, which was installed in 1992 and nicknamed Wall South. It is an exact replica of the Memorial Wall in Washington D.C. that displays the names of the 58,217 Americans killed or missing during the Vietnam War. The wall is one of only two Vietnam Memorials of this size in the country. The park includes a salvaged Cobra Helicopter that actually flew in Southeast Asia as well.


Vietnam War Memorial with a Salvaged Cobra Helicopter, along what once was the Outfield Fence at Veterans Memorial Park, Photo by Matt Colville, Stadium Journey


Korean War Memorial, Photo by Matt Colville, Stadium Journey


Some of the Many Statues in the Park, Photo by Matt Colville, Stadium Journey


Some of the Various Memorials throughout the Park, Photo by Matt Colville, Stadium Journey


Veterans Memorial Park remains a beautiful place and properly serves its purpose honoring those who lost their lives fighting for our freedom, and provides a great public greenspace for the City. But 60 years ago a visit to the park would have been a much different experience – when walking the path along the lake you are actually walking along the same path that baseball Hall of Famers like Stan Musial and Don Sutton once walked. From 1957-1974 that diamond shaped jogging track that circles the stormwater runoff was actually the site of a baseball stadium named Admiral Mason Park.


Aerial View of Admiral Mason Park, Photo Courtesy of Baseball in Pensacola


Sign at Admiral Mason Park Entrance, Photo by Matt Colville, Stadium Journey


Named after Charles Mason, a Vice Admiral in the U.S. Navy and two time Mayor of Pensacola, the 2,000-seat stadium opened in 1957 and replaced the aging Legion Field which was located on the west side of town. The stadium was built as the new home for the Pensacola Dons franchise that took part in the Class D Alabama-Florida Baseball League. The park was set up how Blue Wahoos Stadium, just a couple of blocks away, would be set up over 50 years later, with the outfield lining the water and beautiful views of the Pensacola Bay in the background.


But other than the gorgeous view, Admiral Mason Park was actually a miserable place to watch baseball. A sewage treatment plant was located directly across the street which meant when the wind blew west it mixed with gulf air, providing an unpleasant smell that gave the park its nickname Stinko Stadium. In addition, the lone parking lot was small and the humid summer evenings mixed with a large body of water brought mosquitos to the park. But the Dons and later the Pensacola Senators would call the tiny park home at a time when the Florida panhandle was home to six professional baseball teams.


Pensacola Dons in the late 1950s, Photo Courtesy of Frank Hardy Photo


Named after the Spanish explorer and founder of Pensacola, Don Tristan de Luna, the Dons began play in 1957 and competed just blocks away where the site of the first settlement in the United States was discovered in 1559. Other baseball teams were located throughout the Florida panhandle and Southeastern Alabama in cities such as Dothan, Andalusia, Troy, Crestview, Tallahassee, Fort Walton Beach, and Panama City. During the first year the Dons were not affiliated with a Major League team.


Cal Ripken Sr. with the 1959 Pensacola Dons, Photo Courtesy of Baseball in Pensacola


The Dons would later partner up with the Baltimore Orioles for the 1958-1959 season, with Cal Ripken Sr. playing 61 games on the 1959 team. Around this time the tiny park would get to see Major League action as well, as the Kansas City Athletics, the pre-cursor to the Oakland A’s, brought their minor league spring training here in 1958.


Also in March of that year the St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago White Sox met in an exhibition game at the park. Although he later got his 5,000th Major League hit two months later, Cardinals outfielder Stan Musial only had one hit during his first and only time playing in Pensacola.


1960 Kansas City A’s at Minor League Spring Training in Pensacola, Photo Courtesy of Baseball in Pensacola


Admiral Mason Park also offered opportunities for youth leagues to utilize the ballpark for tournaments and such. Pensacola native Buck Showalter had great experiences playing here as a teenager – “I loved hearing my metal spikes click on the concrete of that old park, for me it was like being at Yankee Stadium”. This was years before he was the skipper for the Yankees and Orioles and years before he made his famous appearance on Seinfeld when he switched the Yankees jerseys from polyester to cotton at the recommendation of George Costanza.


In 1960, scouts were in attendance during the Babe Ruth All-Star tournament held at the park. On the mound that day was a curly headed, 16-year-old pitcher for the Pensacola team. The young boy pitching that game would be Don Sutton, who played in countless games at the ballpark as teenager. Sutton would later have a 23-year career with the Dodgers and multiple other teams, and be inducted into Cooperstown in 1998. On the opposing team that day was future NFL Quarterback Kenny Stabler, who had a standout baseball career while at nearby Foley (Ala) High School. Stabler would later win a National Championship at Alabama and have a 17-year NFL career that included one Super Bowl win with the Raiders, as well as four Pro Bowls.


Hall of Fame Pitcher Don Sutton (5th from Right) Pitched in Countless Games as a Teenager Growing up near Pensacola, Photo Courtesy of Baseball in Pensacola


Kenny Stabler (Top Row, 4th from Right) was a Standout Baseball Player at Foley High School in Pensacola, Photo Courtesy of Foley High School Athletics


The Dons would switch affiliations and change their name to the Angels for one season in 1960; the next year they became a Washington Senators affiliate and become the Pensacola Senators before the league disbanded in 1962. When the league folded, Admiral Mason Park would get little use over the next decade.


Ultimately the stadium would be demolished in 1974, and nature would take its toll until the city took over and dedicated a public park here in the 80s, with the Vietnam War Memorial being added in 1992 and a man-made lake serving as a stormwater runoff.


View Today from about where Home Plate would have been, Photo by Matt Colville, Stadium Journey


It would be 50 long years until affiliated baseball would return to Pensacola after the folding of the league. The Blue Wahoos would begin playing in the Southern League in 2012 and have been affiliated with the Reds, Twins, and now the Marlins. The beautiful stadium has been voted the Best View in Baseball multiple times, and the team constantly finishes in the top half of the League in attendance, despite playing in the smallest ballpark in the Southern League.


The next time you visit Pensacola for a Blue Wahoos game be sure to make a stop at Veterans Memorial Park. The park is located about a half mile east of the stadium in downtown Pensacola. The park is beautiful and well-maintained, and makes for a great place for a stroll before a Wahoos game; that sewage plant across the street is long gone as well.


Blue Wahoos Stadium Opened in 2012 and Marked the Return of Affiliated Baseball to Pensacola after 50 Years, Photo Courtesy of the Pensacola Blue Wahoos


Special thanks to Scott Brown, author of Baseball in Pensacola, who assisted me with research for this article and who’s book I used as a reference guide. If you are interested in more of Pensacola’s unique baseball history, I highly recommend getting his book; the book goes into great detail about the history of baseball in the area and is a great reference to use:


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