Bernie Arbour Memorial Stadium and Community Park
I’ve been fortunate to see major league and minor league ballgames at 76 different ballparks so far, as well as attend other games in a handful of independent league parks. You probably know this if you’re a longtime reader of this blog, but something you might not know is that I’ve started over the last few years to visit other parks even if there aren’t any games to watch. So far, I’ve been to 20 parks without seeing games, and it’s been a fun experience to check out the sights without anyone else around.
November isn’t exactly a month for baseball travel, but late last November, I had a chance to check out a pair of modest ballparks that once had an important role in minor league baseball in Canada — and that played host to many future big leaguers.
I started my exploration in Hamilton, Ontario, which is 36 miles southwest of Toronto. Today, the city has a collegiate-level team called the Hamilton Cardinals, who play in the amateur wooden bat Intercounty Baseball League. The Cardinals play at a 3,000-capacity ballpark named Bernie Arbour Memorial Stadium, which opened in 1970. My primary interest in this park is that it was once home to the Hamilton Redbirds of the new-defunct Short-Season A New York-Penn League. As you might imagine, the Redbirds were affiliated with the St. Louis Cardinals. The team played in Hamilton for five seasons, 1988 through 1992, making the playoffs just once. After their time in Hamilton drew to a close, the Redbirds franchise relocated to Glens Falls, NY, where it was rebranded as the Glens Falls Redbirds. The franchise moved two more times, eventually ending up in State College, PA, where it became the State College Spikes. (I saw the Spikes back in 2013 when they were a member of the NYPL. The franchise is now a member of the new MLB Draft League.)
A handful of future MLBers suited up for the Redbirds while they were in Hamilton. The most notable name is probably Brian Jordan, who was also known for his stint in the NFL, and other names you might recognize are Mike DiFilice, John Frascatore, Sean Lowe, John Mabry, T.J. Mathews, Donovan Osborne and Allen Watson.
Bernie Arbour Memorial Stadium is part of a large sports complex that is situated between a residential area and a golf course. Surrounding the ballpark are a track and field facility, an arena, a handful of softball fields and several mixed-use fields. Here’s a Google Maps overhead view of the ballpark:
Although I knew I wouldn’t be able to get into the ballpark, I was keen on exploring as much of its perimeter as possible. Nature, however, had other plans. Significant rainfall the day before my arrival meant that the fields around the park were saturated with water, and since I hadn’t packed a pair of rain boots for this trip, I had to be selective about where I ventured.
I started my self-tour by checking out the signage behind home plate …
… before walking toward the right field foul pole and turning to look back toward where I’d been a moment earlier:
This next shot will make it look as though I could’ve easily walked onto the field, but I was shooting through a chain-link fence with a gate that was locked tight:
The grass beyond the outfield was very wet, making it impossible to get directly behind the fence without suffering a major soaker. Here’s a shot from some semi-dry ground that looks in the direction of home plate:
And here’s a look at the modest bullpen area in foul territory:
Since it wasn’t going to be possible to cut through the grass behind the outfield fence, I retraced my steps and ended up partially down the third base line where I was able to snap this shot of the artwork on the end of the home plate bleachers:
I love the modest look and feel of parks like this one. I don’t know exactly how it looked when it hosted an affiliated team, but it’s a thrill to think how hundreds of players with big league dreams came through here early in their careers. For many of them, Bernie Arbour Memorial Field was the first stop in their journeys as professionals.
Even though I focus my travels on MLB and MiLB ballparks, it might be fun to see if I can revisit this park someday to see the Cardinals in action.
The next day, I made my way to the city of St. Catharines, Ontario, which is located just a short distance from Niagara Falls. My mission in St. Catharines was to check out what is now called George Taylor Field, but was once known as Community Park. With a reported capacity of 2,000, it’s currently home to the Brock University baseball program, but spent more than a decade as the home ballpark of the Toronto Blue Jays NYPL affiliate — the St. Catharines Blue Jays (1986 to 1994) and the St. Catharines Stompers (1995 to 1999). Here’s a bird’s-eye view of the park:
The St. Catharines alumni list is far more impressive than that of Hamilton. Most notably, Carlos Delgado played for the St. Catharines Blue Jays at the ages of 17 and 18 in 1989 and 1990, respectively. The ’89 campaign was the slugger’s first taste of professional baseball, and he only hit .180 without any home runs — obviously not an indicator of his power, as he went on to hit 473 home runs in the big leagues. Future all-stars Chris Carpenter, Pat Hentgen, César Izturis, Jeff Kent, Vernon Wells, Woody Williams and Michael Young also suited up for St. Catharines. One notable manager for St. Catharines was Doug Ault, who is better known for hitting a pair of home runs during the Toronto Blue Jays inaugural game in 1977.
This park was significantly more modest than the park in Hamilton, and just as difficult to access — albeit for a different reason. Wet conditions weren’t an issue on this day, although there were snow flurries in the air. Instead, the whole park was surrounded by a chain link fence that had locked gates. Despite everything being sealed up, I found a pair of gates that were chained together but had a small opening at the bottom. Absolutely no one was around, so I crouched down and began to see if I could squeeze through the opening … just as an SUV came around the corner and stopped about 20 feet from my position so that four teenagers could climb out. It turns out that there’s a private school next to the baseball field, which made me cringe a little as I wondered if my actions had been visible through any of the school’s windows.
As it turned out, the opening between the gates wasn’t big enough to accommodate me, so I retreated and did my best to snap some shots through the fencing. Here’s the home plate entrance, with the gate I futilely tried to sneak through in the foreground:
There were several pieces of the bleachers in a pile next to the third base grandstand:
Here’s a look at the back of the third base dugout …
… and a shot from left field that shows the third base side bullpen, grandstand, press box and some of the field:
It’s unlikely that I’ll return to this ballpark for a game, but I’m happy to have had a chance to check it out — even if I wasn’t able to get beyond the fence.
Let’s hope that 2022 brings the opportunity to explore a lot more ballparks, particularly those that feature games!