Nationals Park in the nation's capital is not only a new home for the game of baseball, it is also a place where history resides. In addition to honoring past players and teams, the ballpark contains design homages to both RFK Stadium and Griffith Stadium. That covers a lot of ground for D.C. playing fields, but still falls considerably short.
I am very pleased to publish an article that covers all the bases, if you will, on this topic. Washington Ballparks is an outstanding piece researched and written by Bill Wagner. I first met him in 2000 at Talking Baseball in Columbia, Maryland. A native of Howard County, Maryland, Bill is a big fan of 19th Century baseball history. He also writes record reviews for bluegrass music and teaches guitar and mandolin.
What follows is a starting lineup of nine ballparks, to be presented in three parts. The first part covers the first two -- National Grounds and Olympic Grounds. They were built in the northern part of the city, in what is now a residential area near DuPont Circle.
Washington Ballparks by Bill Wagner
Washington baseball has had many homes on its long and circuitous route to Nationals Park. In the last 140 years, the city's various major league teams have operated in nine ballparks on eight sites. Nationals Park is the tenth ballpark and the ninth site. The following, in order, is a brief description of each of the past ballparks and their locations and tenants.
National Grounds: 14th, 15th, S and T Streets NW.
This was the city's first enclosed ballpark, built in what was then a sparsely populated portion of the city in the summer of 1867 by the city's dominant amateur team, the National Base Ball Club. In previous winters, the lot, surrounded on four sides by low dirt banks, had been flooded and used as an ice skating rink. The National BBC continued this practice in subsequent winters, draining the grounds each spring. They also surrounded the grounds with an 8-foot board fence and added a small covered wooden grandstand, a couple of refreshment stands and a two-story clubhouse, complete with balcony. The press had a special stand as well, but wished "for a screen from the sun's rays." 7,000 saw the touring and undefeated Red Stocking BBC of Cincinnati beat the National here in 1869. The grounds were also used for professional games when the National dropped in and out of the country's first major league, the National Association, between 1871 and 1875. Non-major league pro and amateur games continued here until the mid 1880's.
Olympic Grounds: 16th, 17th, R and S Streets NW.
The Olympic BBC was the chief rival of the National BBC between 1866 and 1872, and their ballparks stood just blocks apart. Olympic Ground occupied a lot owned by banker and club stockholder George Riggs and included a 60 by 16 foot covered grandstand seating 3,000, a 24 by 18 foot clubhouse, a ten-foot high surrounding fence and a small restaurant. A 44-foot flag flew from a 90-foot pole on the grounds. Built in 1870 at a cost of $4,000, the park was also home to the city's first major league games, as the Olympic BBC was a charter member of the National Association in 1871. Neither the Olympic Club nor its ballpark survived the 1872 season, and row houses soon appeared on the site.