Photo Courtesy of Google
Some ballparks don’t die; many are just distant memory. Many have been torn down and replaced with other structures that bear little connection to the former baseball home. However, there is one ballpark still standing and posing a striking resemblance to its past glory. That former ballpark is Coble Grimes Stadium in Fredericksburg, Pennsylvania.
The site is now home to the D.E. Richard Garage. It is also home to the Speedway Mart gas station, a car wash, and a truck bay on its premises. It also provides 24-hour towing and PA safety and emission testing. If you need a new tire, this is the place to be; if you are looking for a baseball game down the road to either Harrisburg or Reading.
A walk around its premises, and you can see the outfield walls, the old covered grandstand, the backstop, and the general shape of the ballpark. The right field is gone, and a sea of cars now occupies the outfield, but to a trained ballpark hunter, this was once home to a baseball team. It is one that had a meteoric rise and fall right after World War II.
Charlie and Coble Grimes were founders of College Hill Poultry; they were baseball fans, most notably Coble, who supplied the financial backing for the semi-professional College Hill Chix baseball club. They operated at the Lebanon High School baseball field for their first season in 1945, attracting an impressive audience.
A crowd of 3,000 witnessed the first game, File Photo Lebanon Daily News
The Chix averaged around 500 fans per game and revived interest in semi-professional baseball in Lebanon County. It was important enough that the two brothers decided to build their ballpark the following year. One that would be big enough to satisfy the baseball-hungry crowds proceeding the war.
They found a parcel of land at the intersection of the recently constructed Route 22 and Main Street, 10 miles north of town in Fredericksburg. The new highway merged with the old Rt. 22, creating a natural triangle. Foul balls could land on the new route and home runs over the center field, or left-field walls could land on the old Rt. 22.
The privately financed stadium housed 3,500 fans and would be ready by June of 1946. The grandstand itself would be able to accommodate close to 2,000 fans. It included a press box, an announcer's booth, light towers, and concession stands underneath selling refreshments. The local newspapers called it the “finest in the east” upon its completion. A crowd of 3,000 packed the stadium to witness a 2-0 12-inning loss to Cornwall.
“Coble was a real ball nut, and he could afford it,” former site owner Dale Richard, Sr. told the Lebanon Daily News in 1990. “He built the baseball diamond out of his pocket. The Chix got players from all over the area, Lebanon, Fredericksburg, and Meckville. I’d say maybe 100 guys played here over the years.”
The stadium hosted various ball games from semi-pro games to exhibition games against the House of David clubs, local area high school and college teams, and Negro League teams passing through the area to delighted fans. The first-ever Keystone Semi-State Baseball tournament was held, in which the Chix won.
Opening night for the Chix in 1949, File Photo Lebanon Daily News.
In 1949, the Chix joined the Class D Mid-Atlantic League and was affiliated with the St. Louis Cardinals. The Grimes added box seating closer to the field level, along with infield grass for the first time. The newly named Lebanon Chix featured an 18-year-old Ken Boyer beginning his professional career. He would win the NL MVP with the Cards in 1964. The first-ever game produced a crowd of 1,800, and the following year they were champions of the league.
Unfortunately, the Chix would never play again after its championship series victory. The club announced it was withdrawing from the league in January 1951 due to military involvement in Korea and disappointing attendance during the season. The death of Coble in October was a devastating hit on the ball club – due to his financial backer of the team. Without his support, College Hill Poultry got out of the baseball business, but would still allow local clubs to play free of charge from time to time.
The ballpark would become home to the Fredericksburg High School baseball team, along with a series of events that included another semi-state baseball tournament, local twilight games, Little League baseball, Lebanon Valley College baseball, and Negro League games. Wrestling, boxing, and donkey baseball would find an audience at Grimes Stadium.
After the high school built a new campus and athletic field in 1958, they moved off the premises. By this time, the ballpark was renamed Norelco Stadium and is still housing local baseball leagues. That would change in 1965 when Dale E. Richards, Sr. purchased the 10-acre site and converted the baseball facility into a race track. It resulted in a few cosmetic changes that would alter the baseball pattern.
The right-field wall was demolished to extend the track into the area once used as the parking lot for baseball games. The oval featured two turns, one of them where home plate once stood in front of the grandstand. Additional bleacher seating was added where the left field once stood to increase the venue’s capacity to 3,800.
The ballpark when it was the Fredericksburg Speedway, File Photo Lebanon Daily News.
“I guess you got to be a little bit crazy to buy something like this,” said Richard to the Lebanon Daily-News in 1990. “But the main reason I bought it is that I had property adjacent to it. I was thinking I’m going to have to live next to it the rest of my life anyways.”
Richards operated the now-named Fredericksburg Speedway until 1972, before closing it down due to the track not making any money for him, despite his time and effort into renovating the building. It reopened in 1975 under new promoters but closed for good after the following racing season.
The D.E. Richard Garage opened its doors in 1977, but the old grandstand would remain standing, but no longer a home for racing, but a haven for used cars and spare automobile parts. In the 1990s, a 4-bay truck and car wash and Speedy Mart grocery store opened on the site. Richards passed away in 2010, and his son Richard, Jr. would take over the business that he continues to operate today.
“I’ve got people stopping quite a bit, people who went to the races, people who like baseball,” said Richard to the Lebanon Sports Buzz in 2013. “But when the younger people drive by, they have no idea what it was. I’d bet money on that.”
The grandstand seats are visible and old cars line the infield, Photo from Lebanon Daily Buzz.
If you visit the site you can see the 70-plus-year grandstand with new siding, but still with its concession and ticket windows intact. The first and third base sides of the building have had garage doors installed, but a look inside its interiors tells a much different story.
A birdseye view of what the former ballpark looks like today.
The grandstand is warped with splintered pieces of wood that are filled with used auto parts, most notably car rims. There is now tall grass and trees sprouting up through parts of the concourse, and the original protective screen is tattered, but still hanging from the ceiling of the structure.
A look towards the old playing field will result in a strewn of used automobiles rusting in the sun. A new building was constructed in left field, and the old track is visible where motorcycles and stock cars once zipped at fast speeds.
What is left of the outfield wall has been painted white with blue and red striping, a nice look for the old baseball palace. The lights were removed a long time ago, and only memories of baseball and racing remain at the site, but the station does offer a collection of photos from its days as a speedway.
The exterior of the grandstand, Note the original concession windows, Google Docs Image
The site is an anomaly since most former minor league stadiums from this era were knocked down decades ago. The Schenectady, New York, grandstand stood until 2002 as the golf course storage unit, but that might be the only other structure of its kind that existed after being used for baseball. It is an example of baseball fever that took place soon after the war in Europe and Japan ended. Many cities and towns across the country built new stadiums or renovated existing ones for the minor leagues.
The College Hill Chix lasted six seasons and only used the stadium for five years; built at a unique time in the country where almost every town, large and small, built or renovated a stadium for a baseball club. Many have faded into history, but the former Grimes Stadium is a quiet history lesson to ballpark fans in the 21st century.
I wish I had known about this place a little bit earlier; I definitely would have visited. Then again, what fun would that be? Harrisburg isn’t far off the beaten path, and it is just another reason to hop in the car to make a future ballpark trip.