Panorama of Washington Baseball Park (Image: of the Indiana Historical Society)
There are few greater summertime joys than an evening at the ballpark. The crack of the bat, the roar of the crowd, and the intermingling scents of beer and freshly mowed grass paints a living portrait of a quintessential American Experience. The Indianapolis Indians have been entertaining fans for over a century as one of the five oldest continually operating franchises in minor league baseball.
Most Indianapolis citizens are familiar with the beautiful surroundings of Victory Field, and lifelong residents of a distinctive vintage may recall attending their first game at Bush Stadium on west Sixteenth Street. In baseball’s earliest days, games took place at several locations around the city.
Prior to the formation of the Indianapolis Indians, a variety of teams in different leagues existed in the Circle City. Professional baseball began in 1877 with the Indianapolis Blues. The next year, Indianapolis became a major league city with the Indianapolis Hoosiers competing in the National League.
That only lasted five seasons, until a team of the same name took up residence in the Western League. That was a mid-west minor league, which lasted through the end of the nineteenth century. A more permanent team arrived in 1902, with the Indians taking the field in the American Association. Since 1956, the team has been owned by shareholders in the community.
In 1998 the American Association was split and absorbed by two other existing AAA leagues. The Indians now reside in the International League with an affiliation with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Early Indianapolis teams took to the field in various locations around the city including parks at 16th Street at Illinois and 21st Street at College Avenue. One of the first homes for Indianapolis baseball was the Washington Baseball Park, located on East Washington Street near Parker Avenue.
The players had to relocate after four seasons, when the property was transformed into the Wonderland Amusement Park. The amusement park was demolished by fire in 1911. Today, the site is largely an aging industrial setting, (a.k.a. the former P.R. Mallory & Co. site and perhaps soon to see new life) without a hint of summer fun of yesteryear.
The Indians’ ballpark was also located on Washington Street, on the west side. Coincidentally, it too, was called Washington Baseball Park. The playing field faced southeast, towards what would become the General Motors stamping plant. A large wooden grandstand wrapped the field from first to third base. Fans enjoyed shade and shelter from a roof that was topped with some early version of sky boxes. Bleacher seating occupied the remainder of real estate in foul territory.
Later images indicate that night baseball was very much a part of Washington Baseball Park, which would become part of Bush Stadium’s legacy as well. The lights from the second (West) Washington Baseball Park look like the same ones standing at former Bush Stadium today.
The Midwestern minor leaguers that once prowled the (second) Washington Baseball Park outfield have been replaced by bears! Huh? The Indianapolis Zoo took over the space in 1988. The roadway moved in 1985 to span a new bridge that allowed room for the creation of White River State Park. The Indians moved to Perry Stadium/Victory Field/Bush Stadium in 1931 and played there through the mid-1996 season. That’s about the time when the new Victory Field opened, just a couple bases east of where a grand slam may once have landed in those East Washington Baseball Park days.