"Because of the mania for building new ballparks, a lot of the old ballparks have gone the way of the wrecking ball," says Baseball historian Lou Hunsinger Jr., "So there aren't too many gems like Bowman Field left."
Indeed, a trip to Historic Bowman Field can be equated to journey through a time capsule. A dinosaur of a ballpark that opened in 1926, Bowman Field is the second oldest active ballpark in minor league baseball.
Classic ballparks are often characterized by grandstand columns and cavernous dimensions, and Bowman Field is no different. "You've got 350 feet down the line, big gaps and a huge centerfield," remarks Crosscutters first baseman Chris Serritella, "You know right away that you're not going to be putting the ball out as much as a lot of other places."
And believe it or not, the deep fences at Bowman Field have actually been moved in. "In 1934, in the height of the Babe Ruth and Jimmy Foxx era, people wanted to see home runs," adds Hunsinger, "So they built an inner fence. The original dimensions were comparable to the old Polo Grounds in New York, with a 500-foot center field."
Still, compared to many smaller parks around minor league baseball, Bowman Field is a canyon. Not that Crosscutters shortstop Roman Quinn is complaining. The big gaps at Bowman Field led to a record-setting season for Quinn, who managed a Williamsport short-season record eleven triples in 2012.
Bowman Field is also a throwback to the earlier years of New York-Penn League baseball. "We remember the New York-Penn League level with these old parks and old cities," Crosscutters manager Andy Tracy recalls. Tracy broke into professional baseball in this very league in 1996 and played at Bowman Field. Tracy would go on to play five years of Major League ball with Montreal Expos, Colorado Rockies and Philadelphia Phillies.
And Tracy is just one of countless big leaguers who have played at Bowman Field. Hall of Famers Bob Lemon, Ralph Kiner and Whitey Ford all played in Williamsport on their ways to the history books. Negro-League legend Satchel Paige pitched at Bowman Field.
In fact, according to Hunsinger, five Hall of Famers not only played at Bowman Field, but donned Williamsport uniforms. Future Pittsburgh Pirates great Bill Mazeroski manned second base in the mid-1950s for the Williamsport Grays. Jim Rice patrolled the cavernous outfield for the 1971 Williamsport Red Sox.
Long time Williamsport sports writer Bill Byham even remembers a live-armed 19-year old by the name of Nolan Ryan who pitched for the 1966 Williamsport Mets. "His arm was so fresh," Byham reflects, "To watch his talent was truly something special."
Williamsport also saw Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver manage games at Bowman Field. As Byham recalls, "Earl didn't say three words where he didn't swear. I got an English lesson every time I talked to him." Weaver would later manage the 1970 World Series champion Baltimore Orioles.
Most recently, Bowman Field has played home to current MLB All-Stars Andrew McCutchen and Jose Bautista, while future All-Stars continue to come through Williamsport every season.
However, with brand new state-of-the-art stadiums in Brooklyn, Aberdeen and Lowell, the old guard of the New York-Penn League would seem under threat, but Hunsinger still sees Bowman Field as a wonderful place to watch Baseball, "I think a lot of those new ballparks are trying to incorporate a lot of the things that Bowman Field already possesses. They try to build a sense of intimacy and character artificially. Bowman Field has that naturally."
Hunsinger also adds that in the landscape of baseball lore, Bowman Field remains a special experience to visitors, "I've had people from all over the country come up to me and say that Bowman Field is one of the best places you can watch a baseball game."
In late August, the Philadelphia Phillies and Williamsport Crosscutters extended their Player Development Contract through 2014. The place that has jumpstarted big league careers for 86 years will continue doing what it does best. The grandfather of minor league baseball will continue to welcome players into its home.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.