As spring training 2012 in the Red Sox new facility at JetBlue Park in Fort Myers Florida draws to a close;
I thought it might be fun to take a look back at spring training in the early days of Fenway Park. Those days were spent in a lovely little place called Hot Springs Arkansas.
Hot Springs Arkansas was one of the first designated spring training haunts dating all the way back to 1886. The city derived its name from the fact that about a million gallons, per day, of natural thermal water flow from 47 different springs; and it is the Oldest National Reserve in the country.
The Red Sox actually began training in Hot Springs in 1908 and were there from 1912-1918, the glory, nascent years of Fenway Park. And why not?
It had it all, spas, vapor baths, bath houses, gambling, race tracks and plenty of women. It was a ball players paradise. The Red Sox grew so fond of Hot Springs Arkansas that Sox owner John I Taylor built Majestic Field for his team there in 1909. Two years later, he would build them a nice little ball park about 1000 miles north and call it Fenway Park.
In 1912, the Red Sox actually shared Hot Springs with,
The Pittsburgh Pirates
The Philadelphia Phillies.
In fact in 1912, the Pirates great shortstop Honus Wagner refereed a high school basketball game between Hot Springs High and Memphis High.
In pre Fenway Park days in 1909, Royal Rooters president “Nuf Ced” McGreevey made good on a promise and presented a diamond ring to Red Sox second baseman Amby McConnell.
“Nuf Ced”, in white, stands next to the diamond ring winner Amby McConnell.
McGreevey pledged a diamond ring to the Red Sox player who stole the most bases in 1908. Amby swiped 31 bases, eight more than third baseman Harry Lord.
Hot Springs offered a plethora of activities, some even designed to help get the boys in shape.
Some of the 1912 Red Sox take to the hills for a hike.
There were recreational activities as well,
Hunting on donkey back? Not really, this was part of the “schtick” at the McCleod’s Amusement Park, also known as Happy Hollow.
Some pretty shady folks found solace and entertainment in Hot Springs’ Happy Hollow.
Al Capone, left, and friends. Do you think anybody made fun of Capone’s goofy hat?
And there was time to simply, hang out.
Bill Carrigan (far left) and “Nuf Ced” (4th from left) hanging out with a few of the boys during the Spring of 1912.
A 20-year-old Babe Ruth joined the Hot Springs fray in March of 1915.
And the Oak Lawn racetrack became one of the Babe’s favorite spots. He would even “train” there at times.
Babe at Oak Lawn.
As the “Roaring Twenties” were coming to an end, so to was Spring Training in Hot Springs Arkansas. Major League baseball was looking to the sun and sand of Florida and one by one teams headed farther south. The Red Sox tested the waters in Tampa in 1919 and returned to Hot Springs from 1920-23. In ’24’ they tried San Antonio for a year and then to New Orleans for 1925, ’26’ and ’27’. After brief stints in Bradenton and Pensacola Florida and a year in Savannah Georgia, the Red Sox settled in Sarasota in 1933 and, save for the war years, and a seven-year hiatus to Scottsdale Arizona (1959-1965), they have been in the Sunshine State; Sarasota 1933-1958, Winter Haven 1966-1992 and Fort Myers from then to now!
When the Red Sox broke camp in 1912, they headed for a new ball park and an era of dominance the likes of which the team nor the American League had ever seen.
The 1912 Boston Red Sox.
And as they break camp and head north next week, they embark on Fenway’s second century hopeful that they sit on the threshold of dominance not seen since the nascent glory days of Fenway Park, America’s Most Beloved Ball Park!
And so it was at this time in Fenway Park history, Hot Springs time, 1908-1918.