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City Island Ball Park

(Jackie Robinson Ball Park)

Take Me Out to the Ball Game Stamp
Image courtesy of the United States Post Office

On July 16, 2008 President Bush hosted the All Star Tee-Ball All Star Game, featuring players from all fifty states on the South Lawn of the White House. On the same day, the United States Post Office released the "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" commemorative Stamp. Marking the 100 year anniversary of the song.

Many sport facilities are listed in the The National Register of Historic Places, including the City Island Ball Park, renamed Jackie Robinson Ball Park in 1990. The park is located on City Island, across from the historic business district of the City of Daytona Beach, Volusia County, Florida. The Jackie Robinson Ball Park is historically important nationally as the site of one of the most significant events of the post World War II Civil Rights Movement in the United States. On march 17, 1946, on this field, while he was with the Montreal Royals of the International league, Jackie Robinson became the first African American to play in a regularly scheduled professional game that featured a major league team. By breaking the race barrier, which was upheld by the collusion of major league owners since the late 1880s, Robinson paved the way for the full integration of the “national pastime” and won a significant early victory for the Civil Rights Movement that was just beginning to exert changes in other areas of American society. It was a seminal event in the post-World War II Civil Rights Movement. The baseball diamond of the Jackie Robinson Ball Park has remained in the same general configuration since it was constructed and the grandstand was constructed in 1929 to replace the original wood bleachers that were first constructed in the late 1910s. The City Island Ball Park was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on October 22, 1998.

City Island Ball Park (Jackie Robinson Stadium)

Photo by Recury, from wikimedia

One of the early targets of the post-war Civil Rights Movement was Major League Baseball. Unable to break the established race barrier African Americans formed their own major league teams and some of the players, such as Josh Gibson, Satchel Page, and Buck O’Neill, gained national distinction for their abilities. Despite the success of the Negro league, the desire among African American players to measure their skills against the best in the white major leagues was strong and pressure for integration began to mount during the early 1930s and early 1940s. Branch Rickey, president of the Brooklyn Dodgers and one of baseballs most innovative executives, had for a number of years recognized the great and untapped potential to Negro League players, but waited until the time was right to make his move. On August 28, 1945 Rickey secretly signed Jackie Robinson to a contract with the Dodgers’ top farm club, the Montreal Royals. When the move was finally made public the following October, it received a massive amount of press coverage.

Jackie Robinson
Photograph from Look Magazine Collection in the Library of Congress

Jackie Robinson was born on January 31, 1919 in a sharecropper's shack in Cairo, Georgia. Jackie later attended the University of California, Los Angeles, where he was a standout basketball and football star. During World War II he served as a lieutenant in the army. After his service time was up, Robinson signed to play baseball with the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro league and quickly established himself as one of the league’s stars.

Although segregated from the rest of the team, and meeting with local opposition when he was in Daytona with the Montreal Royals in 1946, Robinson decided to stay and on Sunday March 17, 1946, Robinson made his first appearance in a professional baseball game. Held at the City Island Ball Park, the game pitted the minor Royals against the major league Dodgers. The game was attended by over 3,000 spectators, including a large African American audience that overflowed the “Jim Crow” section of the stands. Despite enormous pressure, Robinson played flawlessly in the field, stealing a base, and scoring a run during the game. According to an autobiography written with Wendall Smith, Robinson was surprised at the reaction of the white fans. He expected to hear boos and racial slurs, but instead said he heard words of encouragement and “discovered that afternoon in Daytona…that most people below the Mason-Dixon Line accepted [his] presence on the baseball diamond along with white players.” Robinson went on to lead the Montreal Royals to a first place finish in the International league. Robinson led the league in hitting and rows scored, and was named the league’s most valuable player. He faced opposition from some baseball fans and other baseball players, but the following year he was promoted to the Dodger’s major league club, leading it to the National league pennant and winning Rookie of the Year honors. Ultimately, Robinson went on to star in the National League for eleven seasons and was the first African American player inducted in the Baseball Hall of fame in 1962. He also participated actively in the Civil Rights Movement and was elected a member of the board of trustees of the NAACP in 1957. He died of a massive heart attack on October 24, 1972.

[photo]City Island Ball Park
Photo by Stephen Olausen courtesy of the Florida State Historic Preservation Office

The history of major league spring training in Florida dates to 1888, when the Washington Statesmen (later the Washington Senators), visited Jacksonville to play a series of pre-season exhibition games. The first major league team to come to Daytona Beach for spring training was the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1915. Before 1915, City Island was a small, underdeveloped outcropping of land opposite Daytona’s downtown commercial district. The City of Daytona acquired the island in the early 20th century. The ball park was laid out about 1915. During the years 1915 and 1916, the field was used by the Brooklyn Dodgers of the National League as a spring training site. Early on, the Daytona Town Council recognized the recreational and economic value of having a decent baseball facility and a local baseball team. In 1920, City Island Ball Park hosted the Daytona Islanders of the fledging Florida State League. In the mid 1920s the island was enlarged to the north and east and with fill acquired from the dredging of the Halifax River and a road circling the field was constructed. Two sets of wood bleachers and a grandstand were in place by 1924. After the 1924 season, the local franchise of the Florida State League was disbanded and no organized baseball was played at the field for the next three years. The prominent local architectural and engineering firm of Fuquay & Gheen, Inc. created improvements to the field and the Montreal Royals of the International league began spring training here in March 1929.

City Island Ball Park
Photo by Stephen Olausen courtesy of the Florida State Historic Preservation Office

The ball park has further significance in the area of entertainment/recreation at the local level. It has important historic associations with the development of tourism and recreation in Daytona Beach during the period from its construction beginning in 1915 through World War II. It is among the oldest surviving major league spring training sites in Florida, and has a long history, which continues to the present, of hosting minor league baseball clubs in the Florida State League.

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