In an era long gone, more than 100 years ago, Major League Baseball was played on the opposite side of the state of Michigan. In 1903, when the American League was still little more than a fledgling association of “base ball” clubs, the Detroit Tigers played a game in Grand Rapids due to the legal restrictions of that time.
Back in those days it was illegal to do a lot of things on Sunday. People were supposed to go to church that day and worship God. They weren’t supposed to enjoy themselves by attending sporting events or by going to saloons or shopping. At Detroit’s primary park – Bennett Park – the laws were clear – no “base ball” (as it was written then) on the Sabbath.
These “blue laws” were prominent in most cities where professional baseball was played in that era. In fact, they were in force for many years in some urban locales. It wasn’t until 1933 that Pennsylvania lawmakers allowed baseball to be played in Philadelphia, for example. As Richard Bak has written here on the DAC blog, Detroit sold tickets for their first Sunday professional game at Bennett Park in 1907.
In 1903, in just their third season, the Tigers took a train across the state on the morning of Sunday, May 24, 1903, to play a game against the Washington Nationals. The two teams would face each other at Ramona Park in East Grand Rapids. For fans living in and around “Furniture City”, the spectacle was inviting.
Ramona Park was a popular attraction in southwest Michigan, a marvelous place that featured an amusement park, carnival, race track, plush gardens, a marina, a rodeo, and a makeshift ballpark. It was situated on the shore of Reeds Lake, about 20 miles east of Grand Rapids city limits.
Operated by the Grand Rapids Railway Co., Ramona Park was like Disney World, Coney Island, and a summer camp rolled into one. Every year thousands of visitors, many of them families, made the trip to Ramona Park to enjoy the entertainment and scenery. Always on the look out for entertaining performers, the park attracted popular acts like the Marx Brothers, Buster Keaton, Will Rogers, and the like over the years.
On this Sunday, the Tigers rolled into town with the Nationals on the same train. The two teams faced each other in the tiny ballpark located on the central section of the park. A grandstand erected for rodeo shows and horse racing was adjacent. The Tigers won an exciting game, 5-4 with a late rally. A crowd of more than 3,500 saw the victory, which pulled Detroit into a tie atop the AL standings.
It was the first and only time that major league baseball was played in Grand Rapids. As needed, the Tigers played the rest of their Sunday home games in Springwells, located near Dearborn on the property of team owner James D. Burns.
Ramona Park closed in 1955, having served as a popular vacation destination for nearly six decades. The only reminders of the Park that remain on the property today are the boathouse, remnants of the manicured trails, and a boat dock.
Today, Grand Rapids is home to the West Michigan Whitecaps, a minor league affiliate of the Tigers.
4 replies on “Tigers once played a home game in Grand Rapids, Michigan“
Grand Rapids does have one other claim to fame in baseball history. It was there that a federal court decided that major-league baseball’s reserve clause was legal and binding. This posed a distinct problem for the new Federal League. Here is the New York Times article on that case.
Cecilia, thanks for sharing the link!
My great uncle Jim Vizard played for the Ionia Independents in 1903. His team played an exhibition seris vs. the Detroit Tigers. The first game was in Portland, MI and the Ionia team actually won the game 3-2 in August of 1903. They played two more games I believe in the fall of that year in Grand Rapids. The Tigers won both of those games. My great uncle played centerfield across from the Tiger’s great Sam Crawford. I am looking for more information on this seris if anyone can help me. Thank you.
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