Alexandria, VA – With the onset of spring, baseball returns as a beloved pastime. Archaeological excavations have dated the earliest baseball games in Alexandria to the Civil War, and the relationship between the game and our city continues today.
The first Alexandria ballplayers seem to have been Union soldiers who imported the game from their northern homes during the Civil War. After the occupation, the perception of baseball as a northern game proved difficult to shake. Multiple newspaper editorials criticized baseball’s growth as Alexandria suffered economically after the Civil War.
Shortly after the war, letter writers to the Alexandria Gazette criticized baseball in Alexandria. On October 5, 1866, one person argued: “We think our young gentlemen of the South, more particularly, in our present dilapidated and impoverished condition, would do better to strive for the mastery in hoeing in corn and Tobacco rather than in batting balls.”
Others argued that baseball clubs only cared about athletic prowess rather than character when considering admitting a candidate.
By 1915, attitudes had changed enough that Benjamin T. Baggett built a baseball field on his mother Sarah’s property. When Baggett unveiled his field where King and Cameron Streets and Commonwealth Avenue meet today, the Alexandria Gazette welcomed the addition to Alexandria’s landscape, writing Baggett’s Field would become “an excellent place for persons to spend their leisure time watching the great national sport.”
The field’s proximity to Union Station made it a convenient location for players and spectators. Baggett’s Field enjoyed a reputation as the best field in Alexandria until it was sold in 1936 or 1937 to build a car dealership on the lot.
At the height of the Great Depression, the City decided to repurpose the old almshouse property into a baseball field. After using the property for over 90 years to provide housing and food to the destitute, the City sold the land, only to reacquire it when the new owner defaulted on the mortgage.
The City realized there was little economic benefit in using the building as housing and turned the old structure into equipment storage for the growing number of baseball teams in Alexandria. The land became Simpson Field, 500 E. Monroe Avenue, which is a complex of recreational athletic fields today.
In 1951, Simpson Field hosted a spring training game between the Racine Belles and the Fort Wayne Dixies of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. Alexandria was not the tropical location favored by other AAGPBL teams for spring training camps, such as Florida or Cuba, but it was significantly farther south than the hometown of either team. Spring training games in more densely populated areas also allowed the league to market itself to prospective fans and players.
When Alexandria finally won a professional franchise in 1979, Simpson Field was not chosen as its home stadium. Rather, the Class-A Alexandria Dukes agreed to play at Four-Mile Run Park, with the understanding that better accommodations would soon be found in the city.
The team had a co-op of players sent by various teams in 1978 and 1980 and was affiliated with the Seattle Mariners in 1979. But it couldn’t afford to move up to Class-AA as the Mariners requested and was unaffiliated with a parent club the following year.
From 1981 to 1983, the team was part of the Pittsburgh Pirates organization. They hosted the Carolina League All-Star Game in 1982 and won the league at the end of the year with a three-game sweep of the Durham Bulls. The lack of a new stadium forced the team to leave for Prince William County after the 1983 season.
Today, Simpson Field is part of a complex of athletic fields hosting several sports, including baseball. But baseball has thrived for teams on all age levels in many venues in Alexandria, e.g., Frank Mann Field, 3700 Commonwealth Avenue, is home to the Alexandria Aces, the 2022 Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League champions.
Once introduced as a “northern” game by Union troops, baseball became part of Alexandria’s culture and landscape. Today’s baseball fields share a history with Civil War troops, with someone who built a field on his mother’s property, with a field built on land that served Alexandria’s poorest for almost a century, and a team that featured World Series winners Rafael Belliard and Bobby Bonilla.