Forgotten Stadiums: Pensacola’s Legion Field
The earliest known sport to be played in Pensacola is baseball, and can trace its roots back to the days of the Civil War when Union and Confederate soldiers both passed the time by playing early incarnations of the game at Pensacola’s strategic forts, Fort Pickens and Fort Barrancas. The sport would continue to grow and evolve and at the turn of the 20th century, Pensacola was home to several semi-pro teams, and a Navy base that supported several intrasquad teams that played against each other.
The popularity of baseball in the area during this time period led to the need to construct a larger stadium to suit the needs of all the teams in the area. Thus in 1911 Maxent Park (later renamed Legion Field in 1927) opened west of downtown on the corner of G Street and Gregory Street.
Legion Field Sign, Photo by Matt Colville, Stadium Journey
There were various ballparks scattered throughout the city but Legion Field remained the go-to place for baseball in Pensacola. In the early years the ballpark had 1,000 wooden seats and was home to various local teams. The 1913 Cleveland Naps (later the Indians) and 1913 Brooklyn Robins (later the Dodgers) held Spring Training here as well. The Pensacola Snappers of the Cotton States League would call the park home in 1913 as well.
A fire in 1915 destroyed much of the stadium, but it was rebuilt to a capacity of 4,000 seats. During this time the park was segregated, with only 3,500 white spectators allowed in the grandstands, while the 500 black spectators were required to sit along the left field line bleachers.
Legion Field Grandstand in the 20s, Photo Courtesy of Baseball in Pensacola Facebook Page
In 1927, the ballpark became home to the Class B (equal to Double A today) Pensacola Fliers of the Southeastern League. The Fliers would fold after the 1930 season and a second Southeastern League team took over in 1937, the Pensacola Pilots, who would play until the outbreak of World War II. During the war many professional ballplayers would enlist, with some even being based in Pensacola. There were various Naval training fields starting to pop up in Pensacola during the war and baseball was very popular with the sailors who were stationed at the bases.
Because of this Pensacola had their own little Navy baseball scene with each base having their own team, and Legion Field served as the neutral field for some of these teams. The 1944 Bronson Field Bombers was the most impressive team in the Navy baseball league, led by an outfielder named Ted Williams, who paused his baseball career to serve as a flight instructor and was stationed in Pensacola.
Ted Williams Served as a Flight Instructor while Stationed in Pensacola, Photo Courtesy of Baseball in Pensacola Facebook Page
Ted Williams’ Bronson Bombers team, Williams is Top Row Sixth from Left, Photo Courtesy of Kenneth Dumas Facebook Page
Over the years Legion Field would see other big time baseball players play on the field; the 1924 and 1929 Yankees would play games here. The 1929 team, coming off back to back World Series, were doing their Florida Spring Training exhibition tour when they scheduled an exhibition with the Fliers. In front of a record crowd at Legion Field the Yankees beat the Flyers 12-2. T
hat Yankees team would have eight future Hall of Famers on the team including Babe Ruth, who led off the game with a triple, and Lou Gehrig who was hit by a pitch in his first at-bat. Before the game a parade was held in the city with the Yankees team being led down historic Palafox Street in downtown Pensacola.
Actual Photo of Babe Ruth at Bat at Legion Field, Photo Courtesy of Baseball in Pensacola Facebook Page
Lou Gehrig at Bat during Spring Training in 1929, Photo Courtesy of Baseball in Pensacola Facebook Page
Babe Ruth Signed Hundreds of Baseballs during the Two Games he Played in Pensacola, Photo Courtesy of Baseball in Pensacola
The Gulf Coast also had a pretty strong Negro League scene with various teams being located all around, from Pensacola to as far away as Mobile and Biloxi. In 1945, the Pensacola Sea Gulls Negro League team would face off against the Kansas City Monarchs, led by a young player named Jackie Robinson. It is unknown if Branch Rickey, the Dodgers GM, was in attendance during this game, but he was in town at the time, as the Brooklyn Dodgers used the nearby Ellyson Fields Naval Base as their minor league Spring Training home during that season.
Nonetheless, several years later Rickey would broker a deal to sign Jackie Robinson to the Dodgers, breaking the baseball color barrier and becoming one of the most legendary figures in all of sports.
Jackie Robinson during his Stint with the Kansas City Monarchs in 1945, Photo Courtesy of Baseball in Pensacola Facebook Page
The stadium would see one more big league game on April 2, 1946 when Warren Spahn and the Boston Braves faced off against the Detroit Tigers in an exhibition game the Tigers won 13-6. Minor league baseball would return to Pensacola after the war, with the teams’ nickname being changed back to the Fliers. The Fliers would be affiliated with the Phillies and would call Legion Field home until the league folded after the 1950 season, which would be the end of Legion Field as a professional baseball stadium.
Professional baseball would return in 1957 with the Pensacola Dons of the Alabama-Florida League, but the Dons would play at a better ballpark downtown. The Dons would fold after the 1962 season and it would be exactly 50 years before affiliated baseball would return to Pensacola in the form of the Pensacola Blue Wahoos.
Color Photo of the Pensacola Fliers, Believed to be from the Early 1950s, Photo Courtesy of Baseball in Pensacola Facebook Page
The grandstand was razed in the 1950s, but soon after the site would be purchased by the City of Pensacola and would see new life as part of the city’s parks and recreation facilities. The site now includes a library, rec center, an outdoor fitness center and jogging track, playground, and a football field which is used for youth football games.
There is nothing left of the baseball field and you wouldn’t even know there was a former ballpark here at one time. But after doing some research I concluded that the ballpark faced southeast, with the outdoor fitness center occupying the site where home plate would have been, and the playground being where the pitcher’s mound was located. The outfield wall ran parallel to G Street, with the houses providing the backdrop.
Random Couch where Left Field Used to be, Photo by Matt Colville, Stadium Journey
In 1929 Babe Ruth Stepped up to Home Plate and Hit a Triple from where the Far Right Slide is Now, Photo by Matt Colville, Stadium Journey
Concessions Stand where the Third Base Grandstand used to be, Photo by Matt Colville, Stadium Journey
Many Home Runs were Hit onto G Street, also Some of the Houses Shown are still Standing Today, Photo by Matt Colville, Stadium Journey
View of Legion Field from Right Field in the 1920s and 30s, Photo Courtesy of Baseball in Pensacola Facebook Page
View of Legion Field as it looks Today, from what was Right Field, Photo by Matt Colville, Stadium Journey
Even though Legion Field is long gone, it still marked the beginning of a minor league sports scene in Pensacola that would evolve into countless teams and countless future big league ballplayers coming through Pensacola over the years.
Blue Wahoos Stadium Opened in 2012 and is where Minor League Baseball in Pensacola is Played Today, Photo Courtesy of Baseball in Pensacola
Special thanks to Scott Brown, author of Baseball in Pensacola, who assisted me with research for this article and whose book I used as a reference guide. Scott answered any questions I had and was a great help. 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 read: