Tag Archives: Athletic Park

Early Modifications to Sulphur Dell

Nashville’s famous ball field began as Athletic Park in an area known as Sulphur Spring Bottom, where a grandstand was built in 1885 as a home for the Nashville Americans in the professional Southern League:

1SD

The stadium layout remained the same through 1908, when the ballpark was renamed Sulphur Dell. Upgrades to the bleachers and an expanded grandstand took place (street names where changed to numbered streets in 1904):

2SD

The most radical change occurred in 1927 when the wooden grandstand was demolished and a new steel-and-concrete structure was erected. However, it had been determined that the ballpark would be turned around so that batters would no longer face the sun to the southwest:

3SD

Although the 1927 home opener was a few weeks away, on March 25th the first contest was held in the new ‘turned-around’ Sulphur Dell, an exhibition game played between the Nashville Vols and Minneapolis Millers.

Sulphur Dell remained the same configuration until 1963 when it was longer used as a ballpark, and was demolished in 1969.

Images Courtesy Tennessee State Library & Archives (Note: Images not to scale)

Reference  http://nashvillehistory.blogspot.com by Debie Oeser Cox

© 2015 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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Grantland Rice Named “Sulphur Dell” On This Day

From humble beginnings as Nashville’s city park, even P. T. Barnum pitched his city of tents on the grounds of Sulphur Spring Bottom in November of 1872. Throughout its history the proximity of this lovely piece of ground was not so beautiful after late-winter’s rainfalls filled the low-lying basin.

Escalating interest in the game of “base ball” led to the formation of Nashville’s first professional team to play in the inaugural Southern League season in 1885. The grounds at Athletic Park were often in such poor condition that games were postponed, moved to another ball field at Peabody or Vanderbilt, or cancelled.

The African-American community took to the emerging National Game and cheered on their local favorites. As early as June of 1907 the semi-professional Nashville Standard Giants played at Athletic Park; renamed the Negro League Nashville Elite Giants in 1920, Sulphur Dell was often the home playing field for the team.

Grantland_RiceIn his sports column published in the Nashville Tennessean on this day, January 14, 1908, Grantland Rice referred to the local ballpark as “Sulphur Spring Dell”. In later years Nashville Banner sports editor Fred Russell intimated that Rice couldn’t find anything to rhyme with “Sulphur Spring Bottom”, as the area had been known, thus the new moniker for Nashville’s baseball home.

In subsequent columns Rice shortened the name to “Sulphur Dell”, and fans and players adopted it when referring to their beloved ballpark. When Grantland Rice first typed out the words “Sulphur Dell”, how could he have known that time would etch the name into the minds of baseball folk, casual fans, players and sportswriters across the country.

After the 1926 season ended new ownership of the Southern Association’s Nashville Volunteers decided to turn the ballpark around so fans would not be squinting in the afternoon sun. One of the visitors to the new “turned around” Sulphur Dell was player-manager Casey Stengel and his Toledo Mud Hens; Stengel hit a triple in the exhibition game against Nashville.

A few weeks later on April 7, the 65th General Assembly of Tennessee adjourned early to see Babe Ruth and the New York Yankees play the St. Louis Cardinals at Sulphur Dell. The two teams had faced each other in the past World Series with the Cardinals winning four games to three.

A resolution had been adopted to invite Ruth to address the Senate the morning of the game, but he sent word that it would be impossible for him to appear because of a lack of time. Undoubtedly the Legislature had time and observed the Cardinals beat the Yankees that day 10-8.

The first night game was played at Sulphur Dell on May 18, 1931 as the Vols lost to Mobile 8-1.

On April 12, 1932 attendance was 14,502; with seating capacity of 8,000 in the grandstands the outfield was lined off with rope to accommodate the crowd. It was the largest crowd to see a game at Sulphur Dell.

After arriving from Memphis by team bus at 4 PM on May 8, 1946 the Racine Belles checked into the Noel Hotel then made their way to Sulphur Dell to play against the Muskegon Lassies. The Belles won 8-5.

On opening day April 17, 1951, Nashville’s Sulphur Dell celebrated 24 years of service to local citizens with a new look that included a remodeled façade, new turnstiles, brick walls, wider exits and other improvements.  Unchanged were the “dumps” in the outfield and the short right field fence.

The last professional baseball game was played at Sulphur Dell on September 8, 1963, as the Vols of the South Atlantic League faced Lynchburg in a double header.  Nashville outfielder Charlie Teuscher belted three home runs as the Vols won over Lynchburg 6-3 and 2-1.

It was the last hurrah of the famous park. Amateur baseball was played at Sulphur Dell in 1964 and in 1965 it was turned into a speedway. After becoming a tow-in lot for Metro Nashville, Sulphur Dell was demolished in 1969.

Today’s recollections of great players, games, and teams honor the memory of the hallowed grounds of Sulphur Dell thanks to the “Dean of American Sportswriters”, Grantland Rice.

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Sulphur Dell: A Brief History

“Sulphur Springs Bottom” was the name given to Nashville’s recreational area after the city became Tennessee’s capitol. Although base-ball had been played in the city as early as the 1850s, during the Civil War the area was where Union soldiers first taught Nashville citizens how to play the style of their “northern game”. In 1870 the area was referred to as Athletic Park, and in 1885 it became the home of Nashville’s first professional baseball team, the Americans in the newly-formed Southern League.

Located north of downtown and bordered by Fourth Ave., Fifth Ave., Jackson St., and a railroad spur, the park was so named because a natural sulphur spring was nearby. Residents would fill empty containers with the odorous liquid to use for medicinal purposes, or just take a drink right from the spring.

Grantland Rice re-named the ballpark “Sulphur Dell” in 1908 while working as a newspaper reporter in Nashville. He also held a contest to determine a team name for the Nashville Baseball Club; the name “Volunteers” won, and was often shortened to “Vols”.

The original configuration of the ballpark faced the south toward the State Capitol. After the 1926 season a new steel and concrete grandstand was built and the field reconfigured so that the sun would no longer be in the batter’s eyes as he faced the pitcher looking northward. The center fielder faced home plate to the south in the new “turned-around Sulphur Dell”.

Beginning in 1927 Sulphur Dell had these unusual outfield dimensions due to the shape of the city block in which the ballpark was located: Left Field, 334′; Center Field, 421′; and Right Field, 262′.

The distance from the grandstands to first base was only 42 feet, and to third base was 26 feet. But that was not all: the playing surface was below street level and there was an embankment around the entire outfield that was part of the playing field. The embankment in left field began at 301 feet from home plate, but the right field embankment began at 224 feet from home plate, rising at a 45-degree angle towards the fence, ending at 262 feet. Full View

The right fielder, if standing at the base of the fence, was 22 1/2 feet above the infield!

The outfield fence was made of wood and was 16 feet high. The fence ran from the right field foul pole to a point 186 feet toward center field; there the fence was capped by a screen that added an additional 30 feet of height but decreased to 22 1/2 feet high midway to center field. In later years the screen height remained the same, but a second tier of signage was added in right field.

In its 100-year existence, Nashville’s professional baseball teams called Sulphur Dell “home”: the Americans, Seraphs, Tigers, Vols, and Negro League Elite Giants all played at the famous ballpark. The Nashville Vols played their final game at Sulphur Dell on September 8, 1963 as a member of the South Atlantic League after 61 years in the Southern Association from 1901 through 1961.

Sulphur Dell was completely demolished in 1969.

© 2014 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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