77 years ago, the Pittsburgh Pirates' 'home' game in Prescott was a real show
The Pittsburgh Pirates visit Arizona Thursday to open a four-game series against the Diamondbacks at Chase Field. Good crowds are expected, especially with the competitive Pirates locked in a battle for first place in the NL Central.
But it's nothing quite like the old days when the Pirates came to Arizona. When they came through Prescott to play an intrasquad exhibition game during a spring jaunt out west in 1937, Prescott could party.
The Bucs, with two World Series championships and four pennants to their credit then, left the West Coast to head to Prescott by train on Monday, April 5, 1937, to get in some practice time two weeks before the start of the regular season. Days earlier, Prescott Mayor William H. Timerhoff issued a proclamation to declare a public holiday between 2 and 5 p.m. on April 6 in which he did "earnestly urge" businesses to close so that employees could attend the game at the Prescott fairgrounds.
"Whereas, for the first time in the history of Prescott, through the untiring efforts of the Northern Arizona State Fair Association, the Yavapai County chamber of commerce, and the Prescott Baseball League," the proclamation read, "the Pittsburgh National League baseball team will appear in an exhibition baseball game at the fairgrounds."
Some 23 businesses in town plus all city offices agreed to close up shop for the three hours that the Pirates invaded Prescott.
"They found a royal and vociferous welcome at Prescott yesterday where a picturesque squad of more than 3,000 filled the stands of the county fairgrounds," sports writer Chester L. Smith, traveling with the Pirates, wrote in The Pittsburgh Press on April 7.
And remember, Prescott had a population then of around 5,500.
The Pirates had played in a California swing that took them to San Diego, El Centro and San Bernardino in the days leading up to Prescott. Major League teams were inclined to travel west to soak up warmer climates than in their home cities during this period, with the Detroit Tigers being the first team to officially train in Arizona back in 1929.
The Pirates traveled with their hitting instructor, Honus Wagner, who a year earlier was inducted as one of the first five members into the Baseball Hall of Fame. A couple of players and coaches still remained from the Pirates' last World Series title in 1925, including the team's player/manager Pie Traynor, a future Hall of Famer himself, who played third base when not coaching.
The split-squad exhibition in Prescott saw Wagner's team top the lineup headed by coach Jewel Ens 12-2, with pitcher Cy Blanton going the distance in the winning effort. And after playing through some rain during their California games, weather had an impact at Prescott's mile-high elevation as well.
"They also met up with a raw desert wind that made it inadvisable to do more than go through perfunctory paces," wrote Smith, who later became one of the few sports journalists ever to serve as both president of the Baseball Writers Association of America (1950) and of the Football Writers Association of America (1956).
In a nod to the Prescott residents, the Pirates even allowed local players to suit up in the exhibition.
"These two teams played five innings and then a Pirate team with a battery of Prescott players and a Prescott team with a battery of Pirate players played the last four innings," wrote an account in the Prescott Evening Courier.
The big bat of the day belonged to Pittsburgh outfielder Fred Schulte, who went 4-for-4 with a home run and a triple.
The Pirates continued east after their Prescott stop with an exhibition in Albuquerque.
They eventually made their way to Wrigley Field for Opening Day against the Cubs on April 20, and opened the season with four straight wins and nine victories in their first 11 games.
Paul Waner, a future Hall of Famer whose preseason contract holdout kept him from playing in Prescott, tied for the fourth highest batting average in all of baseball (.354) by the season's end.
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