Labatt Park celebrates 140 years at the forks of the Thames

Labatt Memorial Park is marking the 140th anniversary since the first pitch was thrown from home plate.

Originally named Tecumseh Park, the baseball stadium near the forks of the Thames River is the world’s oldest continually operating baseball grounds, opening on May 3, 1877.

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“There were things that were different then. The outfield fences weren’t there, that’s where the buggies parked,” said Santry.

“People sat out there and watched the game, and that sort of formed the line for the fence.”

Today, the baseball stadium seats 5,200 fans.

“In 1877, London was in the International Association and it was baseball’s first minor league,” said baseball historian Joe Santry.

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“The International Association had better players than the National League at the time, more hall-of-famers.”

The first game ever played on the field was between the London Tecumsehs and its junior team, the London Atlantics. The Tecumsehs won 5-1 in front of a crowd of about 1,000 fans.

The grandstands have been replaced three times since then, the first time due to the flood of 1883.

“For 40 years it didn’t have a team in the park. Usually, when that happens, the neighbourhood tears down the park and they build houses, but the park has stayed,” said Santry.

The longest running team that has called the stadium home is the London Majors, which was formed in 1925.

The baseball stadium was renamed the John Labatt Memorial Athletic Park on Dec. 31, 1936, after a $10,000 donation from the brewing company to renovate the park and turn over the deed to the City of London.

On May 30, 1994, the park was designated a historic site by the council of the day, following a lobbying effort by the group Friends of Labatt Park.

The London Majors’ home-opener is on Friday, May 12, 2017 against the Burlington Herd, first pitch is set for 7:35 p.m.

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