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

Center of Community

Center of Community

More than just a home for Waco's minor league teams, Katy Park became a center of community life in Waco. Kids often found entertainment serving as batboys scorekeepers for the teams, while young and old alike gathered on summer evenings during the 1950s to experience some of Texas's first night games. | Source: Image courtesy of the Waco Tribune-Herald View File Details Page

Old Mill Cigarettes Baseball Card (1909)

Old Mill Cigarettes Baseball Card (1909)

Tobacco manufacturers issued trade cards featuring actresses, baseball players, and boxers to stiffen the packaging of cigarettes and to advertise the company's brand. This Old Mill card features Tony Thebo, who played outfield for the Waco Navigators for several years. | Source: Image courtesy of the Library of Congress View File Details Page

Old Mill Cigarettes Baseball Card (1910)

Old Mill Cigarettes Baseball Card (1910)

Oscar Dugey received his start in baseball playing second base and outfield for the Waco Navigators. His experience gained from the Waco team established him as one of the best infielders to come out of the Texas League in the early twentieth century, leading him to a career with the Boston Braves and the Philadelphia Phillies. | Source: Image courtesy of the Library of Congress View File Details Page

Local Advertising

Local Advertising

Sponsoring Katy Park teams likely served as an especially effective means of advertising for local businesses during the park's heyday. In this 1930 photograph, Waco jeweler Isie Fred hands something to Waco Cubs player Joe Munson, who later played for the Chicago Cubs. Two of his teammates, the famed Gene Rye (center) and Del Pratt (right) look on. | Source: Image courtesy of the Waco Tribune-Herald | Creator: Fred R. Gildersleeve View File Details Page

Making History

Making History

Waco native Andy Cooper became famous in baseball—and was later elected to the Major League Hall of Fame—for playing for the Kansas City Monarchs. The Monarchs faced off against the Waco Black Cardinals on May 5, 1930, for Texas baseball's first night game. After realizing the draw of night games and the value of the Monarchs' portable light system, the park owner installed a permanent system at Katy Park. | Source: Image courtesy of the Waco Tribune-Herald View File Details Page

Game Balls (1930s)

Game Balls (1930s)

After the Cubs left Waco, various teams made use of Katy Park, including black and white semipro teams, youth leagues, and Baylor University's team. This collection of baseballs was saved by the Baylor team during the 1930s. note the Katy Park ball on the right of the photograph. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University View File Details Page

Starting from Scratch

Starting from Scratch

The Waco tornado in 1953 took 114 lives and caused approximately $51 million in property damages throughout the city of Waco. Determined not to be defeated, Kirskey spent $400,000 rebuilding the entire park, replacing the wooden bleachers with concrete and adding an improved lighting system. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University | Creator: Dr. Hannibal Jaworski View File Details Page

State Champions

State Champions

The 1954 Waco Pirates were likely one of the best teams to play at Katy Park. Finishing the season with a 105-42 record, the Pirates claimed the Big State League championship title. | Source: Image courtesy of the Waco Tribune-Herald | Creator: T. R. Taylor View File Details Page

Major League Experience

Major League Experience

After the Pirates left, semipro and youth leagues once again made use of the park. In 1963, the Waco Holts, who referred to themselves as the New York Yankees of Waco, played a four-day Texas Senior Teen-Age Baseball League tournament in Katy Park. Members of the team described playing in the park as akin to playing on a major league field because of the quality of the dugouts, field, and stands. On August 10, 1963, the Holts claimed the championship title in one of the last games ever to be held in Katy Park. | Source: Image courtesy of the Waco Tribune-Herald View File Details Page

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 the full interview View File Details Page

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 the full interview View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Amanda Sawyer, “Katy Park,” Waco History, accessed May 29, 2017, http://wacohistory.org/items/show/111.

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