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Baseball on Mayo Island?

Did you know there used to be a baseball stadium on Mayo Island? If so, have you ever wondered why it isn’t still there? Fire and floods are the answer.

Sterling Hundley of Virginia Living did an article on the subject with an awesome illustration of Lou Gehrig hitting a home run ball into the James River. Here is the piece that nicely summed up the history of river baseball in Richmond:

“Time and flooding have all but eroded the memories of Richmond’s Mayo Island. What remains is little more than a swath of earth that holds up the halfway point of Mayo Bridge. Few stop to enjoy the island these days, perhaps because it is not accessible except by swimming or wading.

There was a time when Mayo Island served as the home of Richmond’s minor league baseball team, the Richmond Colts, a farm team for the Philadelphia Athletics and then the New York Giants. On and off from 1894 to 1941, Tate Field, as it was called, was used for home and exhibition games involving professional teams and rivals in the Eastern, Virginia and Piedmont leagues.

Sluggers Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig played a bit of hardball at Tate Field, and once a Gehrig home run ball landed in the James River, bobbing through the rapids. A fire in 1941 destroyed the facility, forcing the Colts to relocate to Shepherd Stadium in Colonial Heights. Gehrig and Ruth moved on as well—into baseball’s history books.”

Today, Mayo Island is a shell of its former self. VCU currently uses the island as a makeshift parking lot. There is also a recycling center and a few remaining buildings with a handful of commercial spaces. But there is no proper sewer service on the Island. And as we explained in a prior article, the sewage from the remaining commercial buildings on Mayo Island flows straight into the James River in violation of health code requirements.

Should Mayo Island Be Considered For Baseball Again?

No doubt, Richmond has had its fair share of debate about where the Richmond Braves, and now the Richmond Squirrels new baseball stadium should be located. And VCU has entered the fray. So there is virtually no chance a new, modern, and ridiculously expensive stadium would be located on Mayo Island given the obvious flooding issues.

But with that having been said, sometimes the impractical and slightly crazy ideas of yesteryear are what excite the fondest memories. Watching a game at an old fashioned stadium on Mayo Island would be an incredible experience. Yes, traffic would be an issue. Folks would have to walk, bike, ride-share, use public transportation, or some combination thereof, to get there (GASP!). But perhaps folks could park at Rockett’s Landing, the new Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens, or at Ancarrow’s Landing and catch a shuttle boat to the game. They do this in other cities such as Cincinnati where taking a ferry boat, or walking one of the bridges to the ballpark, is all part of the experience.

And undoubtedly, flooding would be a major concern. But could we build more of an old-timey, low key baseball stadium (that meets modern fire code of course) that isn’t so expensive? Think high school bleachers on steroids and you get the idea. Use mobile food cart vendors and beer trucks from local breweries that can truck in and out for the game. Set up portable toilets. Make it more of a mobile, outdoor, festival themed park setting. We throw festivals like this all the time and pull it off. Why not throw a mini-festival for each of the games and create a unique, and unforgettable experience? And when it floods? Meh, no harm no foul.

I know, it might not have modern luxury box seats with built in kitchens and granite countertop serving stations. Nor would it be a sterile environment for the kiddos with a sea of nearby parking. But having to work a little to get there would only enhance the experience. How could you beat watching a game while having your choice of a few dozen food trucks and local craft beers at an old-fashioned stadium oozing with character in the middle of the river? I know it’s a dream, and yes it is a little rough around the edges. But is sure sounds an awful lot like the Richmond I know and love.

And that is exactly why I like the idea no matter how impractical it might sound.

Mayo Island – A 1931 image of the boathouse and baseball field in the back. Minor league baseball teams called the island home starting in the 1800s. In the 1920s, the Richmond Colts played on the island at Tate Field, named after a local slugger named Pops Tate. The ballpark burned down in 1941.
Even though this park opened to positive reviews (the Richmond Times Dispatch called the grounds “firm”), local restauranteur, Charles “Squire” Donati’s team, the Giants, only lasted one season. Baseball finally returned to Mayo Island in 1921, and it would stay, consistently, for twenty years. The Great Depression was very difficult on Richmond baseball, but former shortstop, Eddie Mooers, who ran a successful auto dealership, purchased the club and paid its debts. He moved the club to the Piedmont League. The park was renamed after local baseball hero Pop Tate. Mooers installed lights in 1933, and this saved the team. An interesting side note, in 1934, the majority of minor league teams had lights in their parks. They were installed out of financial necessity. The bigs played exclusively day games in 1935. A fire forced Mooers to move his team in 1941.

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