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  • Writer's pictureMatt Colville

Historic Sims-Galle Field - Spring Hill Badgers




Photos by Matt Colville, Stadium Journey


Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.57

Historic Sims-Galle Field 4000 Dauphin St Mobile, AL 36608


Year Opened: 1889

Capacity: 500

 

Oldest continuously used baseball park in the country

Fenway Park and Wrigley Field – two legendary ballparks, each well over 100 years old, have both stood the test of time, and with no sign of slowing down either, they look like they will host baseball for many years to come. But neither of them can lay claim to being the oldest continuously used ballpark in the country; that title belongs to the field at tiny Spring Hill College. Located in Mobile, Alabama, the team is known as the Badgers – the school competes at Historic Sims-Galle Field, more commonly known as "The Pit".


Spring Hill is a small Catholic, Jesuit college that opened in 1830 with an enrollment of 30 students – it was founded by French Bishop Michael Portier as a Jesuit seminary and boarding school. Today the college has about 1,400 students, and is the oldest institute of higher learning in the state of Alabama. In addition, it is one of the oldest colleges in the south, and is the fifth oldest Catholic college in the U.S.


The Pit hosted its first official baseball game in 1889, which predates Fenway by 23 years. Even though it opened in 1889, baseball was believed to be played at The Pit dating back to the 1860s; in the early 1860s two Cuban students from Spring Hill returned to Cuba and introduced the game to the island, after they learned it playing at The Pit. These two students established the first Cuban baseball team, and are considered the fathers of Cuban baseball. Cannonballs have even been found at the field, from when Union troops seized Mobile during the Civil War – though no major battles took place here, federal troops stayed on the campus and used the field for training exercises.


Spring Hill currently sponsors 16 men's and women's sports. In 2014 the Badgers moved to NCAA Division II, joining the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference to compete full time after previously competing in the NAIA Gulf Coast Athletic Conference. Since joining the SIAC the Badgers have won four conference championships and advanced to the NCAA D2 Regionals three times. The field is named after Frank Sims, a former coach of the Badgers, and Stan Galle, who had a stint with the Washington Senators in 1942, but was a long-time coach for the Badgers from 1956 until his retirement in 1982.

 

Food & Beverage   2

There are no permanent stands open here, although fans are free to bring food and drinks into the seating area. Alcoholic beverages are allowed as well, and I saw many students and fans with beers in their hands walking along the first base concourse (more on that later). Out beyond right field they have Stonisch facility, which houses the weight rooms and clubhouse on the first floor, with the second floor having a party deck that overlooks the field – I saw a lot of fans watching the game from up there as well.   

 

Atmosphere   4

One of the things that makes Sims-Galle Field feel so special is that it truly is a throwback to ballparks of the past – the stadium, if you want to call it that, remains virtually unchanged. It is basically a field nestled in between some pretty historic buildings on campus. The Lucy Administration Building, a 3-story structure that opened in 1869, is used to house the University’s main offices. This imposing structure extends from home plate down the entire first baseline to right field, and the sidewalk in front of the building provides the concourse on that side. The field is sunken in, with a fence down the baseline covered in ivy, which adds a nice touch to the historic stadium. Also, the field faces the southwest, with the historic buildings on campus providing a beautiful backdrop to the field behind home plate. In addition, behind home plate you have the beautiful St. Joseph's Chapel (c. 1910) and Burke Library (c. 1931) providing the view.




The field has a few rare features – it lacks a real backstop, as a six-foot wall serves that purpose. Another unique feature is the lights; where most stadiums would have their light towers set up outside the stadium, here the light towers are located along the foul line, meaning they are actually in play, as they stand in foul territory. These lights were only installed in 2002, so prior to then every game here was played during the day. The visiting bullpen on the third base side is also located outside of the field, under a huge live oak tree that is well over 100-150 years old.


There is a small bleacher-style grandstand set up behind home plate which holds about 30 people, while down the first baseline there is no seating, but plenty of fans set up lawn chairs outside the entrance to the Lucy Administration Building, which also doubles as the makeshift concourse. There is one basic scoreboard in left field, and there is also a table set up behind home plate that represents the press box, and doubles as the location from which music is played between innings. At Historic Sims-Galle Field things are kept simple, which is part of the charm of The Pit.

 

Neighborhood   3

The Spring Hill College campus is located on Old Shell Road in the Spring Hill neighborhood, about 6 miles west of downtown Mobile. The Spring Hill neighborhood was built as a summer retreat for the wealthy in the 1800s and is mostly residential, but features many historic antebellum home and old Creole cottages, with many available for touring – if you take Dauphin Street on the back side of campus, or Old Shell Road into downtown, you get to see many of these old houses.


In terms of restaurants or attractions, just down the road from the stadium is a little tavern-style bar called The Post on the Hill, best known for its craft cocktails. You are also only a few miles west of downtown Mobile, and downtown has plenty of restaurants and nightlife options worth checking out; just take Dauphin Street east a few miles and you’ll run into downtown, finding all kinds of restaurants and attractions.

 

Fans   4

Fans showed up in droves to the most recent game I attended – there was a large mix of alumni and students lining the right field concourse. In right field just beyond the outfield is the Stonisch Baseball Fieldhouse; the first floor is used for the team’s facilities and locker rooms, while the upper deck is rented out to groups to watch the game from the balcony overlooking right field. Many students tailgate around the fieldhouse drinking, playing corn hole, and grilling, so it is definitely a festive atmosphere with no ushers or staff working the game, leaving fans free to roam around the grounds wherever they want. At Spring Hill a baseball game is the thing to do on weekends, with many of the students showing up to support the Badgers – at Sims-Galle Field it’s almost like a party with a baseball game being played in the background.


Fans definitely show their pride when coming to games. The old ballpark has kind of a neighborhood feel to it, and you can tell that many of these fans here have been coming to games for generations, with a mix of older folks and young children.


 

Access   4

Finding the campus of Spring Hill College shouldn’t be a problem, as the campus is located right off the interstate. If traveling from the north or south, I-65 will be your best bet, as the campus sits just off the Old Shell Road exit to the west of the Interstate. There are two entrances into campus: Dauphin Street from the south, with a golf course you’ll have to pass on the winding road into campus, and Old Shell Road to the north.


Once on campus the field itself can be difficult to find, as it sits nestled among some buildings. However, the campus is small enough that you should be able to find it. I also recommend getting there early and spending some time walking around campus – many of the buildings date back to the 1800s, and it really is an impressive site and an absolutely beautiful Southern campus.


 

Return on Investment   4

There is no parking fee, no ticket cost, and no concessions, but you are free to bring your own food and drinks into the stadium, and you can’t beat getting to see a true hidden gem of a stadium and a beautiful college campus – it is worth the effort to come here just to see the country's oldest ballpark.

 

Extras   4

Notable former baseball players for the Badgers who have gone to the Big Leagues include former Tiger and Braves all-star Mobile native Frank Bolling, and his brother Milt who played shortstop with the Red Sox and Tigers in the 1950s (in 1958 the Detroit Tigers two starting middle infielders were the Bolling brothers). In addition, former players at The Pit include Cubs GM and current Yankees assistant Jim Hendry, as well as former pitcher Blake Stein, who had a brief career for the A's (98-99) and Royals (99-02).


The field has also had seen some Major League action, as the 1910 Chicago Cubs played Spring Hill in a spring training game. The Badgers came up just short in the rain-shortened exhibition game, as the Cubs won 4-1 in 5 innings. However, this would not be the last professional game at The Pit, as the venue would host the Cincinnati Reds three years later, with the Reds winning 11-3.


In 1924, however, perhaps The Pit’s greatest historical feat would be accomplished as Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and several Yankees players visited Mobile – while in town the players made it a point to stop off at the college and take batting practice with the baseball team.


Another extra for the town of Mobile's legacy with baseball; this town of a little less than 200,000 people is the birthplace of five players who have been enshrined in Cooperstown, which places it as the birthplace of more Hall of Famers than any other city in the world besides New York and Los Angeles. Hank Aaron, Satchel Paige, Willie McCovey, Ozzie Smith, and Billy Williams were all born and grew up playing on baseball fields around Mobile – Satchel Paige and Hank Aaron even played at The Pit while growing up.


Another extra for the campus of Spring Hill College itself; very little has changed here since the days of the Civil War, and this campus reflects that very much with its beautiful buildings on campus. Get to campus early and take a stroll down Avenue of the Oaks – it is a stretch of campus with lively oaks stretched over the road, providing almost a canopy as you drive down the street. I also recommend just walking around the campus and viewing the architecture.

 

Final Thoughts

Historic Sims-Galle Field is truly a hidden gem of a ballpark, and one that I recommend a visit to if you are in the area, just for its scenic beauty alone. Walking the concourse at The Pit is like stepping back in time; it’s like watching a baseball game from the 1920s – baseball purists will be in heaven with a trip to The Pit.

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