Historic Baseball Trail Opens in Hot Springs

Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Jackie Robinson. These are just a few of the high profile baseball legends that came through Hot Springs to play and train. In honor of the city’s tie to baseball history, the city has created the Hot Springs Historic Baseball Trail: The Birthplace of Spring Baseball. The city officially opened the trail during a ribbon cutting ceremony at Whittington Park yesterday. The site has a special connection to baseball history because in 1918 Babe Ruth hit the first 500-foot-plus home run while playing a spring exhibition game at the park. The ball traveled 573 feet and landed in an alligator pit at the nearby Arkansas Alligator Farm.
The trail was the result of meticulous research by baseball historians and the project was led by Steve Arrison of Visit Hot Springs. As part of the trail, 26 historical markers have been placed across the city at various significant spots so visitors can see places where American baseball legends trained and played. One of my favorite markers highlights the spot where Smoky Joe Wood ( in 1912 he led the Boston Red Sox to the World Series after training in Hot Springs) rode an ostrich at the Hot Springs Ostrich Farm.

Photo by Z. Clift

At each location, the plaque contains a QRC code that allows smartphone users access to audio that adds more information about the plaque’s significance in American baseball history. There is also a phone number to call for the audio. The foundation for the city’s baseball connection was
created in 1886 when Cap Anson brought his Chicago White Stockings (now known as the Cubs) to the city. What attracted Anson to the city was the health amenities found in town such as the hot mineral bath spas and mountain trails for hiking. He thought the resort atmosphere was the perfect location for a new training approach : annual spring training for professional baseball. Thus the tradition of spring training was born in Hot Springs.

In time, five fields were built for the endeavor.  From 1886 up to the 1940s, many major league teams, minor league teams, and individual players (such as Babe Ruth)  trained in Hot Springs. To put this scope of history in perspective, more than 45 percent of the people in the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., either played baseball or were in someway associated with baseball training in Hot Springs. For those interested in checking out the trail, there are three ‘entry points’ to the trail: Hill Wheatley Plaza, Oaklawn Racing & Gaming and Whittington Park. For more details click here. 
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