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Public shows support for historic Chambersburg ballfield

October 03, 2008|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - New Yorkers recently bid farewell to "The House That Ruth Built," but while Yankee Stadium will soon be coming down, Chambersburg is planning for the future of "The House That Ruth Visited."

On May 31, 1929, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and the rest of the Yankees played an exhibition game against the Chambersburg Maroons at Henninger Field as the Sultan of Swat homered and pitched the last inning in a win for the men in pinstripes. Ed Patterson, who sits on the borough's Zoning Hearing Board, said Thursday that the doctor who delivered him that day was upset at missing the game.

Thursday, at the Eugene C. Clark Community Center, representatives of sports associations, residents and borough officials were asked their opinions about the future of the ballpark, which Recreation Superintendent Herb Dolaway said has been in continuous use as a baseball field since the 1890s.

While the Yankees visited one late spring day 79 years ago, it is also the field where children, parents, grandparents and great-grandparents played baseball and softball for generations.

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April Showers, a senior associate with the York, Pa., consulting firm Johnson, Mirmiran & Thompson, led the three groups through brainstorming sessions to list the existing assets of Henninger Field and the future opportunities it presents. She is helping the Recreation Department develop a master plan for the park.

The first group included representatives from the Chambersburg American Legion, the Maroons adult baseball team, Cumberland Valley Christian School and the Chambersburg Youth Soccer Association.

The shortcomings of the field are many, they said.

"It's old," Todd Warner of the American Legion said.

"It's probably the same as when Babe Ruth" played there, said Jay Bard, also with the Legion.

The problems include inadequate lights, a dirt infield, too little parking, aging tennis courts and old playground equipment, restrooms, concession area and bleachers, they said.

It is also an oddly shaped field - 300 feet down the left- field line, 350 feet down right and deep center is very deep, about 450 feet, Dolaway said.

"We need the press box moved to the other side of the field," said Ken Timian, who lives nearby.

"So we can see the games better," said his wife, Joanne. They and the other residents of the neighborhood, like Dawn Hamsher, said they enjoy the people and activity the park generates.

Showers said her firm will come up with three conceptual plans, present them at another public meeting and from that develop a master plan for the park.

Dolaway said the borough has about $300,000 set aside for the park, but the list of desired improvements could easily top $2 million. Improvements to Henninger Field, the municipal pool, three new parks and other facilities might cost $12 million, he said, which would require a bond issue to fund.

One other bit of baseball lore is that Chambersburg was where the first night baseball game was played on May 16, 1883, beating out Fort Wayne, Ind.,'s claim by about two weeks, according to the Kittochtinny Historical Society. From the description, the field where the lights were rigged was in a different part of town.

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