In baseball – as in life – the goal is to come home.
Spring Training ended Saturday. Opening Day is (officially) Monday.
Hope Springs Eternal.
I have one spot left on my top five Spring Training series.
And, I come home to Charlottesville, Virginia.
It isn’t home. Not exactly. But, it’s just a few minutes up the road and that’s close enough.
Charlottesville isn’t the most amazing or the most interesting or the most historic Spring Training location.
No Babe Ruth. No Jackie Robinson. No island, no dance hall.
Charlottesville is my #1 Spring Training place, not because of what happened here, but because it’s home. And, every home should have somewhere to warm up your baseball bones.
Between 1890 and 1916, many teams spent Spring Training in Charlottesville.
The Boston Reds in the 1890s. The Boston Beaneaters (today, the Atlanta Braves). The young Boston Red Sox. The Washington Senators (who had officially changed their name to the Nationals in 1901, but who everyone still called the Senators, until the team just gave up and changed it back in the 1950s. So really, call them whatever you like here).
Teams unpacked at Wright’s Hotel near the train station (it was later the Clermont and is now the Starr Hill Building). Or, they rented local fraternity houses.
They trained on cold and snowy days – and there were plenty of them in March – indoors at Fayerweather Gymnasium (now home to the University of Virginia Department of Art). It was a state-of-the-art facility with one of the longest indoor tracks in the country.
They played at UVa’s Lambeth Field, which one reporter at the time called “the best college field.” (It’s still in use today for intramural sports).
Walter “Big Train” Johnson, one of the greatest pitchers to ever play the game, spent a couple Spring Trainings there as a National/Senator. (How good was he? He would win more than 30 games a season – twice – and consistently had an ERA around a sinful 1.50. Yeh, The Big Train was good.)
Teams jogged through Charlottesville as part of their training. They played games against UVa’s team. They took day trips to Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello, and rode the trolley to Fry’s Springs resort, known for its healing mineral baths and “Wonderland” amusement park.