Today marks a new day in the calendar of Nashville baseball history. Future timelines might read something like this:
“April 17, 2015 – Nashville’s new ballpark, First Tennessee Park, opens in the vicinity of beloved Sulphur Dell. It marks the traditional locale of the city’s baseball history beginning in the 1860s through amateur and professional teams until 1963”
Junie McBride used to tell stories about growing up around Sulphur Dell. He was proud of having been able to warm up Hall of Famer Honus Wagner in the 20s when Pittsburgh came to town for an exhibition game heading north after spring training.
He joked and laughed about sneaking into Sulphur Dell through an ice chute as a youngster long before the ball park was turned around in the opposite direction following the 1926 season. He not only spoke of seeing games at Sulphur Dell and Greer Stadium, he hoped to live to see a new Nashville ballpark.
Negro Leaguer Butch McCord loved to tell his baseball stories, to relate what he experienced and how The Game impacted his life, expressing the pains and joys of baseball but then moving away from the bitterness it brought to him. The ballparks he played in were not always places of baseball glory.
He wanted to see a new ballpark for Nashville, too.
My dad Virgil Nipper gave a history lesson about Sulphur Dell seated next to me on an airplane as we returned from our first visit to Wrigley Field in 2002. The conversation sparked my interest in studying and writing about it. A website, a book, a blog and a renewed interest in the history of Nashville baseball were the result.
To Junie, Butch, and dad: I am grateful for your stories. Thank you.
There are two others who are owed a debt of gratitude.
A fan of baseball as well as being mayor of Nashville, Karl Dean has heard stories such as those told to me. Placing the city in a prominent position in the world of minor league baseball was a hard road, as the idea of a new ballpark has gone through a political process that seemed endless.
His vision for a ballpark was kick started when he responded to Nashville Sounds owner Frank Ward’s statement to him on Opening Day at Greer Stadium in 2013, “Let’s go build a ballpark at Sulphur Dell.”
It took only a few words from Dean. “Let’s do it.”
Frank Ward purchased the Nashville ball club in 2009. Herschel Greer Stadium was its home; the ballpark was outdated, rusty, and confined. A new place for his ball club was in order. Four years later he said those words to the mayor and the commitment was off and running.
Mayor Dean and Frank, thank you. My Nashville cap is off to you both, as by working together the ball began to roll towards the completion of the ballpark the citizens and fans deserve.
Today it will be known as the finest minor league ballpark in the land. That’s quite an accomplishment.
In attending tonight’s first game my thoughts will be about so many things. My dad. Junie McBride. Nashville Vols manager Larry Gilbert and Vols owner Fay Murray. Negro Leaguers Jim Zapp, Turkey Stearnes. Jim Gilliam. Larry Schmittou and Farrell Owens and the original owners from the Sounds. Nashville Elite Giants teams. Butch McCord. The Nashville Old Timers. Radio broadcaster Larry Munson. Sports writers Grantland Rice, Fred Russell, and George Leonard. Bat boys and scoreboard operators.
Former Vols Larry Taylor, Roy Pardue, Buddy Gilbert, and Bobby Durnbaugh will be attending, too. It must be a special night for them.
Sadly, Junie McBride and Butch McCord did not live to see this day. But I will take a look around more than once and observe those who are celebrating the most.
We waited a long time for this. We hoped and prayed for this. We looked over the plans, attended meetings, heard the gossip, wondered when, watched the camera, and even held our breath. Through it all, we never gave up.
Frank Ward and Mayor Dean, for all you have done you deserve our thanks. You can claim this ballpark as part of your legacy.
But this ballpark is ours. And we are going to enjoy this for a long, long time.
© 2015 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.