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 was also the site of a variety of other events—Wild West shows, boxing matches, and Paul Quinn Football—which today remain an important part of community memory.
Excitement at Katy Park began with its design by ballplayer Henry Fabian. He originated the raised pitcher’s mound, and came to Waco in 1904 to manage and partially own his first team: the Waco Tigers. Construction finished in time to host Waco’s first presidential visit by Teddy Roosevelt. On April 6, 1905, red, white, and blue bunting adorned Katy Park’s fences to greet 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 Galveston Cubs moved to Waco in 1925. Though they never won a championship title, the Cubs had their fair share of exciting moments. Babe Ruth’s New York Yankees arrived in Waco in April 1929 to face off against the Cubs for a spring exhibition game. Crowds exceeded Katy Park’s four-thousand-seat capacity, prompting officials to get creative with overflow seating. These arrangements, however, did not prevent fans eager for Ruth’s autograph from interrupting the game. Though the Cubs lost, 13 to 3, fans still reminisce about watching Babe Ruth hit a line drive double straight into the crowd.
Katy Park witnessed other historic moments. In 1930, with the Cubs trailing in 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. Also that year, the first night baseball game in Texas occurred at Katy Park on May 5, when the Negro Leagues’ Kansas City Monarchs battled the hometown Black Cardinals.
During and after the Great Depression, Katy Park continued to host baseball and other sporting events. The sprinter Jesse Owens brought his baseball club, the Portland Roses, to Waco in 1946. On two previous visits, the Olympian saw another Negro League game and ran a track and field clinic for local boys. Additionally, the boxer Joe Louis used a 1950 exhibition bout in Waco to announce he would not attempt to regain his heavyweight title. Baseball may have been Katy Park’s primary use, but it also severed the community in other ways.
A postwar baseball boom reinvigorated the game in Texas and in 1947 the Waco Dons launched as a minor league team. The next year they gained affiliation with Pittsburgh and became the Waco Pirates, and it seemed as though things were on the rise for baseball in Waco. After two playoff seasons, the Pirates entered a slump, and in 1953 a devastating F5 tornado tore through Waco, destroying much of downtown, including Katy Park. Park owner A. H. Kirksey, determined to prevent the demise of Waco baseball, poured $400,000 into rebuilding the park and it was ready for opening day in 1954. The following year, the Waco Pirates played their best slate of games yet, accumulating one of the best season records in minor league history and claiming the Big State 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. About a decade later, the city razed the park to create space for a parking lot.
For nearly half a century, Katy Park stood as a centerpiece of the Waco community and a hallmark of Texas sports. In fall 2020, the site of Katy Park, now a property included in the Magnolia Market complex, will host a new field, Katy Ballpark at the Silos. The long legacy of Katy Park lives on.