MACON, Ga. — Is Macon's Luther Williams Field the second-oldest professional minor league park in the country? We checked with ballpark digest.com, MLB.com, and the official websites of each of the parks we researched to VERIFY.
If you do a quick search on the internet of "Luther Williams Field", you'll find a number of articles and stories referring to it as "The second oldest minor league park in the country." It's even in this story we did here: Macon honors Negro League Baseball pioneer.
There's certainly no debating that the ballpark is an historic treasure. The current home of the Southern Coastal League's Macon Bacon opened on April 18, 1929. It's listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Baseball's all-time hits leader Pete Rose played for the Macon Peaches there in the early 1960s. His future "Big Red Machine" teammates Tony Perez, Lee May, and Tommy Helms also came through the Cincinnati Reds farm team in Macon.
In the 1980s, professional baseball's stolen-base champion Vince Coleman played for the Macon Redbirds at Luther Williams. He set a record with 145 steals in 1983, even though he missed a month with a broken hand! Chipper Jones, Kevin Millwood, John Rocker, Andruw Jones, and Rafael Furcal all played for the Braves in Macon.
The park is also one of the most original older parks in the country. While the Braves used the lack of updates as a reason to move their minor league to team to Rome, Georgia for the 2003 season, the park's old-time feel has made it a favorite with Hollywood.
Clint Eastwood's "Trouble With The Curve", "42" starring Harrison Ford and Chadwick Boseman, and the IFC series "Brockmire" with Hank Azaria all featured the park's historic charm.
While the park's history and charm aren't up for debate, the "second-oldest" claim isn't quite so clear.
We researched a number of lists and sites and found at least six other parks that could claim to be older than Luther Williams.
First, there's Centennial Field, which is home to the Vermont Lake Monsters in the New York-Penn League. That leagues is often called the Pony League. Their park dates all the way back to 1906! Even though the park hosts professional minor league ball now, it was originally built as a college field for the University of Vermont Catamounts. Professional ball wasn't played there until 1935. While the field is older than Luther Williams, we'll eliminate them for their less-than-pure pro pedigree.
Next comes Rickwood Field in Birmingham, Alabama. It claims the title as the oldest professional baseball park in America. For decades it housed the Birmingham Barons as well as the Negro League Black Barons. You can't argue the park's amazing place in baseball history. But now it only hosts occasional exhibition games. Since they aren't an active host of a minor league team, we'll boot them from the list too.
There are two Florida State League teams that can claim fields older than Luther Williams. Jackie Robinson Ballpark is home to the Daytona Tortugas. It dates back to 1914, but it's been extensively renovated through the years. The original grandstands and press boxes were replaced in 1962. It's hard to call it original at this point.
LECOM Park is home to the Bradenton Marauders and was built in 1923. Like their Florida State League competitors the Tortugas, their stadium has been renovated numerous times, and over the past few decades it's basically been rebuilt. So we'll kick the two Florida State League teams off the list.
Bosse Field in Evansville, Indiana is much harder to dismiss. The home of the Otters in the Independent Frontier League has hosted baseball since 1915. It claims to be the first municipal stadium built in the United States, and proudly declares that it's the "third-oldest ballpark still in use for professional baseball". The other two ahead of it are in the Major Leagues. Boston's Fenway Park opened in 1912, and Wrigley Field saw its first pitch in 1914. Like Luther Williams Field, Bosse Field retained a lot of its appearance and charm. Because of that, it appeared in the movie, "A League Of Their Own" in 1992.
Finally, there's BB&T Ballpark at Historic Bowman Field in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. It's home to the New York-Penn League's Crosscutters. An article from MLB.com refers to it as the second-oldest minor league park in the country. Of course, Williamsport is world-famous as the home of the Little League World Series, but Bowman Field can boast its own list of players that became superstars. Hall of Famers Nolan Ryan, Bill Mazeroski, Jim Rice and Jim Bunning all played there. according to that MLB.com story.
Even if we eliminate the first four teams on our list, the last two would push Luther Williams Field into third place on a list of mostly original, and still active minor league parks. But with its history, charm, and originality having Luther Williams in Macon could still be considered a home run, even if we can't VERIFY the "second oldest" claim.