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  • Writer's pictureDave Cottenie

Labatt Memorial Park - London Majors

Photos by Dave Cottenie, Stadium Journey

Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.71

Labatt Memorial Park 25 Wilson Ave London, ON N6H 1X2

Year Opened: 1877

Capacity: 5,200

The Oldest

Baseball was first played on the grounds of the former Tecumseh Park in 1877, and has been played there ever since. This makes the current Labatt Memorial Park the official “oldest continuously operating baseball grounds in the world.” There has been plenty of speculation about the validity of this claim with Clinton, Massachusetts’ Fuller Field staking claim to the term World’s Oldest Baseball Park. However, the Guinness Book of World Records currently lists Labatt Park as the World’s Oldest Baseball Park. After the nearby Thames River flooded the park in 1936, the Labatt Family of the Labatt Brewing Company purchased the park, financing repairs, and deeded the park back to the City of London on the auspices that it would be continually available for recreational use and that it be name John Labatt Memorial Park in perpetuity.

The main tenant currently at Labatt Park is the London Majors of the Intercounty Baseball League. The league itself dates back to 1919 with the Majors joining in 1925. One of the cornerstone franchises of the league, the Majors have enjoyed 12 league championships, but have a near 50 year drought. The amateur league marks the highest competition for baseball in Ontario outside of the Toronto Blue Jays of Major League Baseball.

Labatt Park has been home to affiliated baseball with the London Tigers of the Double-A Eastern League from 1989-1993 as well as the short lived (1940-41) London Pirates of the PONY League. The Frontier League’s London Werewolves and London Rippers as well as the short-lived London Monarchs of the Canadian Baseball League also called Labatt Park home. The Western Mustangs of USports also make use of the facility. However, through all of this, the London Majors have continued to compete and come out still standing while other franchises have faded away.

Food & Beverage 3

Labatt Park features a fairly common snack bar type concession. Hot dogs, burgers, sausage, nachos, popcorn, peanuts and chips are available. A bit of a unique option is the actual hand scooped ice cream that is available in a variety of flavours. Freezies (an Intercounty League staple) and other ice cream bars can also be found.

Coca-cola products are the soft drink of choice at Labatt Park but Powerade, water, coffee and tea can also be found. A variety of canned beer and hard seltzer is available for purchase at the dedicated concession stand for alcoholic beverages. Unique to London is the London Majors Lager, provided by Railway City Brewing and can also be found here.

Atmosphere 4

Even though Labatt Memorial Park has such a historic moniker, the ballpark structure is not entirely dissimilar to other ballparks in the IBL. The exterior of Labatt Memorial Park is surrounded by wrought iron fencing, immediately giving the park a classy look. Similar to many other Intercounty ballparks, Labatt Park is essentially a main grandstand with bleachers down the third base and first base lines. However, it has been created in such a way that it does not seem disjointed. The main grandstand was rebuilt in 2001 after the 1937 grandstand required replacing. The light brown brick exterior does give the park a professional look to it. Inside the fencing, past the ticket gates, fans have the opportunity to really dig into the history of Labatt Park, with the numerous historical placards around the ballpark that are the focus of the ballpark tour.

With the Thames River just past the outfield fences, and Riverside and Harris Parks surrounding the Labatt Park grounds, there is a wonderfully green backdrop for baseball. The simple baseball scoreboard is in right centerfield and behind the plate there is traditional baseball mesh, which is not found in all of the Intercounty venues. Seating is traditional stadium “flip” seats in the first few rows with steel benches with backs behind them. Bleacher seats along the bases are simply steel benches.

Unfortunately, the Majors do not provide markers, flags, pennants or banners of their 12 IBL championships (1925, 1936, 1937, 1943, 1944, 1945, 1947, 1948, 1951, 1956, 1969, 1975). Also, the Majors have retired the numbers of Jon Owen, Norm Aldridge, Russ Evon, Gabby Anderson, Richard Thompson, Wayne Fenton, Bob Deakin, Roy McKay, Tommy White, Mike Kilkenny, Dave Byers, Fergie Jenkins and Arden Eddie. However, there are no markers in the ballpark that commemorate these players and their numbers.

The Majors gameday atmosphere is fairly traditional and simple. There are not too many promotions, musical interludes or gimmicks. The vibe is for a mature and sophisticated baseball audience, rather than an over the top promotional machine that is often found in American independent and minor leagues.

Neighbourhood 3

Labatt Park is located in West London, west of downtown proper and south of Western University. The neighbourhood, located on the western bank of the North Thames River at the confluence of the main artery, is mainly residential. There are a couple of small spots for a pre or post game meal, including Under the Volcano, however a short drive across the river will drastically increase the options. Covent Market, across the road from Budweiser Gardens, has a number of options. Waldo’s On King might be a good choice.

London has a number of sporting options. The London Knights of the OHL, who are famous for being owned by the Hunter brothers and their massive success, play at Budweiser Gardens downtown. Western University also fields a full complement of athletic teams north of Labatt Park. The Western Mustangs are known for football at TD Stadium as well as basketball at Alumni Hall and hockey at Thompson Arena. Right across the road from the stadium are a couple of historic points with Museum London right there. Fanshawe Pioneer Village and Covent Garden Market are also options for other things to do. The Labatt Memorial Park tour should not be forgotten, especially with a low cost of $5.

There are a few downtown hotels for fans who wish to stay in London. Delta Hotels London Armouries and Residence Inn are downtown options a short drive from Labatt Park.

Fans 3

Assessing the fans of the London Majors is challenging as the IBL does not sufficiently report their attendance figures. That being said, the London Majors seem to be one of the top draws in the IBL. The game that was reviewed featured attendance that appeared to be near the COVID adjusted capacity of 3,000. London fans are hearty, continually enduring a massive championship drought, and living through various other baseball iterations at Labatt Park. They are smart and somewhat reserved, but enjoy their baseball and support the Majors.

Access 4

Getting to Labatt Memorial Park requires fans to travel through downtown London. The park is a significant distance from the main artery through Southern Ontario, Highway 401. Traffic is not usually a major challenge for baseball games. There is some limited parking on site for Majors games, but it is not overly convenient. Parking on one of the side streets in the West London neighbourhood is probably a better option. Leaving plenty of time before the game is a good idea. For fans wishing to take public transit, London Transit buses travel along Riverside Drive and Wharncliffe Road North. Fans should consult the London Transit website for fares, maps and schedules.

Labatt Park is small enough that it is easy to get around. Concessions and washrooms are on the outer side of the ballpark.

Return on Investment 5

Tickets for the London Majors are consistent with the other clubs in the IBL. Adults get in for $10 and students/seniors get in for $8. Children under four are $2, which is a bit of a surprise. The Majors provide a traditional baseball experience in a truly historic venue that is worth the price of omission alone. The parking is free on the street and concession prices are very reasonable. Overall, when it is all put together, the Majors have an excellent return on investment.

Extras 4

An extra mark for the Labatt Memorial Park Tour, which can be taken on a gameday. For a mere $5, a trip through the stadium and “Clubhouse” with a discussion of the stadium’s unique history can’t be beat.

An extra mark for the London Majors and the 2020 Legacy Classic. With the 2020 IBL season cancelled due to the pandemic, the Majors hosted the Guelph Royals in a single game to continue the legacy of Labatt Memorial Park.

An extra mark for the history shared on the London Majors website. What the park lacks in displaying retired numbers and championships, is made up for with the massive repository of history on the Majors’ website. Definitely worth checking out!

An extra mark for the ospreys who have built a nest at the top of one of the light standards. The City of London attempted to move the nest to a safer location, on a perch past leftfield. However, the large birds decided to move the nest back, piece by piece, to the light standard.

Final Thoughts

It is hard to argue with the staying power that the London Majors have demonstrated along with the Intercounty Baseball League. Getting to see a game at Labatt Memorial Park is a treat and those hardcore baseball travellers who want to see a piece of history should definitely take advantage of an opportunity to catch the Majors.

Follow all of Dave’s sporting adventures on Twitter @profan9.

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