Ponce de Leon Ballpark
Ponce de Leon Ballpark in Atlanta was one
In 1923 the wooden ballpark burned down, and the
The fence was 365 feet down the left field line, 321 to right, and 462 to dead center, where a giant magnolia stood. Spiller Field had the only ground rules in baseball history allowing for a tree in the outfield. (One year, during a preseason barnstorming tour, Babe Ruth and the New York Yankees came into town. Ruth and his fellow Hall of Famer Eddie Mathews are the only two men ever to have hit home-run balls into the magnolia.)
When the park opened, there was a swimming pool next door where fans could go if the game got a little slow. Train tracks ran above the first-base line, and engineers frequently stopped their trains to watch the games. Across the street were horse stables, as well as a Spiller-owned restaurant, where alligator wrestling was an attraction.
Fans could also entertain themselves by gambling, which Georgia law allowed when it wasn't conducted under a roof. The covered grandstands became home to the true Cracker faithful, and the outfield bleachers were host to the "fly-ball fans," who sat with the local oddsmakers. People would bet on anything, including on whether an outfielder would drop a routine fly ball. Buster Cheatham, a shortstop for the Crackers in the 1920s, probably saved bookies more money than any minor leaguer in history with his spectacular outfield catches. Once a group of bookies gave him a pot of about $200 in appreciation. Cheatham, afraid that people would think he had been corrupted, gave it back.
Soon Cracker officials began prohibiting gambling during games, so bookies and their customers devised another language: finger signals. While the police roamed the stands looking for perpetrators, the bookies were paying or collecting from their customers. According to one story, a well-dressed businessman
The Crackers called Ponce de Leon Ballpark home until their final season in 1965, when they moved into the newly built Atlanta Stadium (later Atlanta–Fulton County Stadium). The ballpark was torn down in 1966, and the site has been home to numerous retail operations since then. The magnolia tree, however, still stands.
Tim Darnell, The Crackers: Early Days of Atlanta Baseball (Athens, Ga.: Hill Street Press, 2003).
Tim Darnell, Atlanta
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