Katy Park

In an era long before televisions and computers became household staples, Katy Park provided Wacoans with entertainment and a sense of community. Home to numerous minor league teams, the ballpark hosted many historic moments which today remain an important part of community memory.

Excitement at Katy Park began with its design. Famous ballplayer Henry Fabian, noted nationwide for his design of the raised pitcher’s mound, came to Waco in 1904 to manage his first team as part owner and president of the Waco Tigers. Utilizing the newest innovations in field construction, Fabian designed a park built for the comfort of both fans and players, and construction finished in time to host Waco’s first presidential visit. On April 6, 1905, red, white, and blue bunting adorned Katy Park’s fences to greet Theodore Roosevelt as he spoke to thousands of Wacoans.

Fabian faced a serious challenge in the form of a local law banning “Sunday amusements” charging admission. After being arrested three times for scheduling games at Katy Park on Sundays, he took the matter to court and won at the state level. Sunday baseball became a staple elsewhere in Texas, but Fabian made no headway locally. He sold the Waco team to a local businessman in 1906.

Renamed the Waco Navigators, the team made Waco baseball history when they tied Houston for the Texas League title in 1914, and won it outright for the next two years. However, when the club moved to Wichita Falls in 1919, Katy Park sat without a team for several years.

A new era of baseball in Katy Park began when the minor league Cubs moved to Waco in 1925. Though they never won a championship title, the team had its fair share of exciting moments. Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig arrived in Waco in April of 1929 with the New York Yankees to face off against the Cubs for a spring exhibition game. Enormous crowds maxed out Katy Park’s four-thousand-seat capacity, prompting officials to allow some fans to stand on the field along the outfield fence. Though the Cubs lost, 13 to 3, fans still reminisce about watching Babe Ruth hit a line drive straight into the crowd.

Just over a year later, Katy Park witnessed another historic moment. With the Cubs trailing Beaumont 6 to 2 at the top of the eighth inning, outfielder Gene “Half-Pint” Rye hit three home runs—including a grand slam—in the same inning, a feat which today remains unsurpassed in baseball history. By the end of the inning, the Cubs led, 20 to 6.

The onset of the Great Depression forced the Cubs to leave Waco. For many years, both black and white semipro baseball teams played at Katy Park. In 1947, the Waco Dons achieved minor league status, and crowds flocked to Katy Park in June to see former Chicago White Sox player Monty Stratton, who had lost a leg in a hunting accident, pitch. Stratton not only pitched a shutout his first game, but also drew attention by hitting for himself throughout the season.

When the Dons gained affiliation with Pittsburgh in 1948 and became known as the Waco Pirates, it seemed as though things were on the rise for the team. After two successful playoff seasons, the Pirates entered a slump, and in 1953 a devastating F5 tornado tore through Waco and destroyed Katy Park. Park owner A. H. Kirksey, determined to prevent the demise of Waco baseball, poured $400,000 into rebuilding the park. The following year, the Waco Pirates played their best season yet, setting one of the best season records in minor league history and claiming the league title.

Despite Kirksey’s efforts, attendance dropped at Katy Park following the 1954 season as the rise of Little League ball and the increasing popularity of television drew attention elsewhere. In 1956, the Pirates played their last game in Waco. Just under a decade later, the park was razed to make way for a parking lot.

For nearly half a century, Katy Park stood as a centerpiece of Waco community and a hallmark of Texas sports. Although no longer in downtown, the ballpark remains an important part of the city’s history.

Images

Audio

Ballgames at Katy Park
Johnny Appell tells about the popularity of the games at Katy Park during the Depression. ~ Source: Appell, Johnny and Beth, interviewed by Mark Firmin, November 3, 2008, in Waco, Texas. Baylor University Institute for Oral History, Waco, TX. View...
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African American Baseball Teams
George Coffey speaks of the African American baseballs teams that would play at Katy Park in the 1940s. ~ Source: Coffey, George, interviewed by Aaron Ward, April 6, 2002, in Waco, Texas. Baylor University Institute for Oral History, Waco, TX. View...
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