Thursday, April 15, 2010

Marsh Field had a roar of its own

Thousands of fans once packed the bleachers at Marsh Field. Today, the stadium is a shell of its former self.

Muskegon Chronicle Staff Writer
April 25, 1993

The roar of the crowd was deafening when more than 4,000 fans packed into the covered grandstands at Marsh Field to take in an afternoon of America's pasttime.

There were appearances by the Detroit Tigers and the Chicago White Sox that brought numerous stars and hall of famers to the storied facility, located at Laketon Ave. and Peck Street.

According to Marc Okkonen's chronology of baseball in Muskegon, 21 Hall of Famers jave appeared in Muskegon including Charley Gehringer, Mickey Cochrane, Harry Heilmann, Johnny Mize and Satchel Paige. The storied past is well-documented by Okkonen in his manuscript called "Baseball in Muskegon."

But, that was all a thing of the past.

The crowds are gone, the grandstand has been demolished and today's stars are amateurs on high school teams and summer city leagues.

Muskegon High School coach Jerry Eaton experienced both the heyday of Marsh Field and the present day when few spectators show up at the field which is merely a shell of its former self.

Eaton, who first played at Marsh Field in the late 1940s in the American Legion leagues, recalls the days of the covered grandstand, the wooden fence and the field caretaker named Henry Connoll, who went by the nickname "Foghorn."

"It was a real thrill to get in here and play," said Eaton. "We used to sneak in."

When the Muskegon Clippers, members of the Central League, faded in 1951, most of Muskegon's baseball had come to an end.

The final women's baseball game at Marsh Field was an exhibition game between the Battle Creek Belles and the South Bend Blue Sox. The game featured former Muskegon star Donna Cook.

One last try at the girls' league failed in 1953.
Marc Okkonen with his scale model of Marsh Field

It was also about that time when the Big Reds began calling Marsh Field their home and it's been that way ever since.

While baseball remained popular among participants, the number of spectators continued to diminish.

The aged grandstand began deteriorating with age and was demolished in 1957.

"The city condemned the stands," Eaton said. "They had it marked off so you couldn't go up high. The next year they tore them down."

The concrete section containing the dugouts as well as the concession stand along the ramp was preserved.

"I tell the kids some of the things that happened around here," said Eaton. "But, it's hard to visualize what it used to be like."

Later, city fathers wanted to finish demolition of the park and turn it into administration buildings or a civic center. However, Charles W. Marsh's deed to the city stated the property had to be used for baseball or the property reverted back to the Marsh estate.

"They wanted to build the county building here, but Marsh was smart," said Eaton.

In stepped the late Les David, who spent the countless hours and many dollars keeping the facility operating. Led David served as coach and commissioner for many years. David, Muskegon's Mr. Baseball, was a fixture at the field.

The job of commissioner of the Inter-City Baseball League remains in the David Family. Leslie Ruth Luttrull, Les David's granddaughter, has been serving as commissioner since David's death on Nov. 9, 1988.

"This is still a nice field," Eaton said. "We're fortunate to be able to play here."

Minor improvements made to field
While the crowds have diminished since professional baseball left Marsh Field, it remains the hub of local baseball activity.

And maintenance of the field remains a high priority with the city's Parks Department.

Any changes or improvements at the field come from the Marsh Field Improvement Fund Tournament. This year's event, scheduled for late August and early September, is the 30th annual.

"Two years ago, we totally redid the infield," said Luann Price, recreation supervisor for the City of Muskegon. "That cost us $10,000."

"There were dips at third base," Eaton said of the old infield. "I give a lot of credit to the recreation department for the maintenance they've done to it."

Rebuilding the press box area and concession stand area are high on the priority list for the future, said Price.

Field remains active
Before Muskegon Catholic Central High School built Sikorski Field, there were plenty of headaches encountered with scheduling games at Marsh.

Catholic, Muskegon, Western Michigan Christian and Muskegon Community College all shared the facility.

"Now that was a mess," Eaton said. "We used to search out places to practice before Sikorski Field was built."

Muskegon Community College also has its own baseball field.

Currently, two high school teams and the Inter-City Baseball League still call Marsh Field home.

The Muskegon Big Reds and the Western Michigan Christian Warriors share the field.

This year, the Muskegon Community College Jayhawks used the facility during the early season because the MCC field wasn't ready.

Next Saturday, the Led David Memorial Baseball Tournaments will commence, with the Class C-D tournament. The Class A and B teams will battle for the county title on May 8.

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