Business brought me to Fort Worth this past week, though a tight schedule prevented me from planning any baseball detours as part of the trip. Too bad since I’m currently working on the SABR Games story that took place in Fort Worth in 1952 and would have benefited greatly from even a few extra hours in town. But then I looked at the map. 🤔
Wait a minute! My meeting (at Tarrant County College) is only a mile from LaGrave Field?! Maybe, just maybe, I can pull this off.
Luck was with me as my event ended almost an hour early, so after saying my goodbyes and packing up my gear I set off on my mile-plus walk to the site of the Texas League’s first of two Dave Hoskins Nights. (If the name is unfamiliar, Hoskins was the two-way sensation who not only broke the Texas League’s Color Barrier in 1952 but was also the circuit’s top draw, top pitcher, and third best hitter. Previously he had starred in the Negro Leagues as part of the Homestead Grays Murderers Row!)
While the second Dave Hoskins Night was hosted by the ace’s home fans in Dallas, this first tribute, on August 28, came from the fans of his team’s crosstown rival, the Fort Worth Cats. Hoskins for his part pitched well enough to reward celebrants with a shutout and his 20th victory of the season. He even banged out two hits for good measure.
So this Dave Hoskins history was what was on my mind as I began the short walk to the ballpark, though Hoskins was hardly the most renowned player to take the field at LaGrave. Two of my favorite Dodgers, for example, were Fort Worth Cats en route to the big leagues: Duke Snider and Maury Wills, the latter breaking the team’s Color Barrier three years after Hoskins integrated the league.
The walk itself started out simple enough but got a bit dicey halfway through. Google’s walking directions had me take Main Street, which for several blocks became more highway than street. That there was no sidewalk over this stretch added adventure if not danger to this part of the journey. To boot, wearing a suit and carrying two travel bags wasn’t exactly optimal for dodging traffic, so I was fortunate that there weren’t many cars at this time of day. I was definitely happy to reach the stretch where the sidewalk resumed.
Abandoning the Google directions, I followed this street sign and turned off Main St. early to take a shortcut through a parking lot. I was quickly rewarded by a view of the ballpark. While taking my first photo, a car pulled up to me and asked if I was trying to get onto the field. Before I could respond fully, the driver warned me that the field was patrolled by a security guard whose car I could now see.
Just seeing the old shuttered ballpark, from any angle, made the walk worthwhile, but I had a second goal. To qualify for SABR Landmark status, abandoned ballparks, no matter how historic, need markers. Would my walk around the perimeter lead me to one?
Shadows didn’t permit a clean shot of the marker, but I could still make out the words.
FORT WORTH CATS HISTORIC LAGRAVE FIELD – Nearly 50 members of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown have played at LaGrave Field over the years.
In better days there was actually a bottom half to the sign, which named the Hall of Famers. In fact, the sign sells the old ballpark short as Satchel Paige and many other Negro League greats played here as well.
Having nabbed a picture of the marker, I also managed a picture of the old ticket office just before the aforementioned security guard interrupted my hardball voyaging.
The concerned watchman let me know they really didn’t like people walking around the ballpark, but he softened his stance somewhat when I told him I was from the Society for American Baseball Research. He asked how much longer I needed to be there and I told him I maybe needed just one more picture from a different spot. Reluctantly, he assented, and thanks to his largesse you are now looking at a shot of the centerfield scoreboard, complete with clock.
Here is an image from Google Maps that shows a much better view while testifying to the overall state of neglect and disrepair to which the ballpark has fallen victim. Graffiti runs the gamut from “Pimp” to “See God in everything.” (Click here for a photo not nearly as depressing.)
Between the watchful eyes of security and a plane to catch, my visit to LaGrave came to a quick end, though not without some humor. Having taken the most direct path to a spot I thought Uber could retrieve me, I sent my driver a helpful note.
“It’s Jason. I’m on Main and 7th, right across the street from…wait, what?!”
I enjoyed my short trek to LaGrave but also left saddened at the current state of the ballpark and its even more uncertain future. It’s easy to picture that even a year down the road, the history I was able to visit will be gone entirely, and with it, I believe, no small part of the cultural wealth and heritage of Fort Worth itself.
Baseball can be played in many places, but that isn’t to say they’re interchangeable. Some places are sacred, and I believe this is one of them. Walt Whitman sung of grass as “the beautiful uncut hair of graves.” Taking some liberty with his verse, here’s hoping the uncut hair of LaGrave might once again provide fans and yawpers alike with “the thrill of the grass.” Until then, if you’ll pardon the “potty” humor, I guess there’s always Bud Sellers. 🤣