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Fort Smith
Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Timepiece: Baseball


By Dr. Curtis Varnell

There is nothing quite like an evening shared with 12,000 other fans calling the hogs at Baum stadium.  Sitting in the bleachers, watching the sun going down in the west, and joining in the 7thinning stretch is a national pastime but nowhere does it seem more important than in Arkansas.  The state has some of the most ardent and loyal fans in the country and one can observe that on most summer evenings as family gather at the many small little league and softball fields around the state to watch their favorite teams.  

Over the years, some of the biggest names in baseball played in the state and many were home-grown athletes that began their careers on these same small baseball diamonds our kids play on today.  Andrews field in Fort Smith has hosted hundreds of players over the years, many which went on to play in the big leagues.  Hot Springs hosted many of the spring games for the big leagues.  The Majestic Park baseball complex, still in usetoday, recently erected a bronze statue at the entrance celebrating the many times that the great Babe Ruth played baseball on the grounds.  Other baseball greats including Cy Young, Jackie Robinson, Hank Aaron and dozens of others trained and played in Hot Springs, once renowned as the “The Birthplace of Major League Spring training.”

Warren Spahn, one of the greatest left-handed pitchers of baseball once pitched an exhibition match against local talent at Coal Miners field in Paris.  Spahn may well have been in Logan County as a favor to his colleague and teammate Johnny Sainwho was born in nearby Havana, Arkansas.  In 1947, the Boston Braves had those two as starting pitchers and little else.  A common quote for this deficiency was, “ First we’ll use Spahn, then we’ll use Sain,
Then  hope for an off day, followed by rain.

Dizzy (Jay) and Daffy (Paul) Dean, two of baseball’s most colorful and greatest pitchers, were born in nearby Booneville, Arkansas, the sons of a sharecropper.  They played on ballfields throughout the region in their youth and eventually made it to the big leagues as starting pitchers for the St. Louis Cardinals.  Dizzy was the more outgoing of the two and convinced his brother Paul to take on the nickname of “Daffy” as a promotion.  In 1934, the two reached stardom by winning 49 games for the Cardinals.  Each of the brothers won two games in the world series as the Cardinals won the championship.  Dizzy continued in baseball as a player and promoter for several years while Daffy retired to a farm near Springdale, Arkansas and raised a family.  He is buried in Clarksville.

The list goes on and on with more baseball stars from small Arkansas communities added over the years.  You can replace the old parks with new astro-turf fields, plush seating, and digital score boards but you cannot replace the history and traditions of the past.  Stepping onto the mound at Andrews Field, Majestic Park, Coal Miners Stadium or any number of small town fields, you can almost smell the popcorn, hear the crack of the bat, the roar of the crowd, and sounds of the crowds as they enjoy America’s sport on the fields where baseball heroes once roamed.  

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Tammy Teague
Tammy Teague
Tammy is the heart behind the brand. Her tenacity to curate authentic journalism, supported by a genuine heart is one her many wholesome qualities.
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