80 Years Ago Today: Williams in Worcester

April 14, 2019

     Call it symmetry, call it coincidence, call it meant to be. Whatever you call it I can't help, but think it's only fitting that when you are standing on the future playing field at Polar Park off in the distance you can see The College of the Holy Cross looking down over the future ballpark. The college is home to Fitton Field, one of the oldest baseball diamonds in the city. The field turns 132 years old this year. Many baseball greats have made stops at the college on the hill, but 80 years ago today the greatest hitter of all time hit his first home run in a Red Sox uniform in Massachusetts at this very place.

     Ted Williams was about to begin his first full season in the big leagues and the Red Sox were finishing up their spring training schedule with some exhibition games with area colleges. Over 4,000 fans braved the cold weather to see the highly touted Williams play in his first game ever in Massachusetts in a Red Sox uniform. He didn't take long to get the crowd buzzing. Williams, who was batting sixth that day came up in the top of the first inning. Jim Tabor, along with future Hall of Famers, Joe Cronin and Jimmie Foxx were on base.  The young rookie sent a pitch by Crusader pitcher Mike Klarnick deep to center field. There were no fences at Fitton back then so the ball kept rolling until it stopped right before the football field. Grand slam and history was made. 

      Williams would add an rbi single later in the game and the Sox cruised to an easy 14-2 victory. Three days later Ted would go 0-4 against Yale, striking out three times, but we won't talk about that one. Six days after Teddy's historic home run in Worcester he started in his first Major League game at Yankee Stadium. He would hit his first official home run (this one cleared the fence) against the Philadelphia Athletics on April 23rd. He would go on to hit 520 more.

     Some other interesting notes about that historic game at Fitton Field: The umpire you see in the picture above was George Pipgras. He was a former major league pitcher with the Red Sox and Yankees. Even more interesting was that catching for the Sox that day was Worcester native, Gene Desautels, who played 13 years in the big leagues. He was also very familiar with Fitton Field. He was a star player for Holy Cross during his college days. 

                                               Worcester Native: Gene Desautels 

       

 View of Holy Cross from Present Day Polar Park

     
 

 

    This game wasn't the first time Fitton Field played host to Major League teams and Ted Williams wasn't the first big star to come through Worcester. Five years earlier Casey Stengel's Brooklyn Dodgers came to town and wouldn't you know it, Holy Cross actually beat the Dodgers 5-4. A year later Babe Ruth and the Boston Braves beat the Crusaders 5-2. Ruth would retire a month later. On June 9, 1922 Holy Cross beat Columbia University 8-5 at Fitton Field. The Columbia team had a sophomore named Lou Gehrig. The following June this Gehrig kid was playing for another New York ball club called the Yankees. 

        In its long storied history Holy Cross has "graduated" 121 players to the Major Leagues and now the college looks down at Polar Park that will also be the last stop for wannabe big league stars before they graduate to the Majors.

 

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