Known as Athletic Park in Sulphur Springs Bottom up until 1908, every visiting team despised having to play on a field that resembled a “drained-out washtub”. But that was not all: the configuration of Sulphur Dell was such that batters had to face the pitcher and look into the sun.
At the end of the 1926 season, it was determined that the ballpark would be turned around so that the afternoon sun would not come into play for hitters. Of course, it would now create a challenge for outfielders who would have to manage balls hit into the air, but it was less of a crisis.
Over the winter ballpark construction consisted of tearing down the existing wooden grandstand, but a new state-of-the-art steel-and-concrete structure would take its place. Built to hold 7,500 fans, the construction was barely finished when the team came home to play exhibition games before the beginning of the regular season.
The first game in the newly-turned-around Sulphur Dell was an exhibition game played against the Minneapolis Millers of the American Association on March 25, 1927. The Millers won 5-3 in the game that lasted 2 hours and 5 minutes.
Dick Loftus, right fielder for the Millers, hit the first home run in the new configuration. Blinky Horn, sportswriter for the Nashville Tennessean, referred to right field as the “right center dump” in his account of the game the next day, calling attention to not only the unusual design of the ball park but acknowledging the smell that the nearby city dump offered to the lingering odor in the air.
On April 1st John Black, pinch-hitting for the pitcher in the fourth inning of an exhibition game versus the Milwaukee Brewers, hit a home run to become the first Nashville player to hit one over the fence in the new Sulphur Dell. Horn wrote that the ball “cleared the wall beyond the old Fourth Avenue entrance to the bleachers.”
After additional exhibition games were played, the Nashville Vols returned to Sulphur Dell for the opening game of the 1927 Southern Association against the Atlanta Crackers. With the Vols losing 10-2, Atlanta’s George “Mule” Haas became the first player to hit a home run during the regular season in the new layout, a first-inning shot followed by a fourth-inning blast by Walter Gilbert, also of the Crackers. Attendance was announced at 7,535 fans.
Colorful, quirky Sulphur Dell’s reputation was just beginning to build.