Topics: College of Sciences and Humanities, Immersive Learning, College of Architecture and Planning, University Libraries

July 20, 2011

Elephants now roam a grassy area at the Indianapolis Zoo along what used to be the right field bleachers of Washington Park — a baseball stadium that had faded into the game's history.

As a result of collaborative research by a team of Ball State University faculty, the Indiana Historical Bureau will place a new state historical marker on the grounds of the Indianapolis Zoo — the site of Washington Park, where the Indianapolis ABCs and Chicago Giants played the first Negro National League baseball game on May 2, 1920.

The ceremony begins at 4:30 p.m. June 22 and is part of the annual Jerry Malloy Negro Leagues Conference, sponsored by the Society for American Baseball Research.

"Baseball and the African-American community in Indianapolis have been intertwined for many generations," said Ball State English professor and Negro Leagues historian Geri Strecker. She recently led an immersive learning seminar that captured the memories of former Negro Leagues players for the documentary "Black Baseball in Indiana."

The exact site of Washington Park was lost for decades  Strecker and a team of Ball State faculty began researching the location of the Indianapolis ballpark in 2010, supported by a Diversity Associates grant through the university's Office of Institutional Diversity.

Strecker pointed out that Washington Park was built in 1905 as the home field of the American Association Indianapolis Indians. It was the center of professional baseball in Indiana through 1931, when the Indians moved to Perry Stadium, now known as Bush Stadium.

When the Indians were playing out of town, they often leased Washington Park to the Indianapolis ABCs, the city's premier professional African-American team. 

On May 2, 1920, Washington Park hosted the inaugural game of the Negro National League, with the ABCs defeating the Chicago Giants, 4-2. The Indianapolis team included two future National Baseball Hall of Fame inductees in first baseman Ben Taylor and center fielder Oscar Charleston.

Other members of the Ball State research team and their contributions:

  • (Robert) Chris Baas, a landscape architecture professor, gathered photographs, maps and other documents from state archives. He also coordinated efforts between the Ball State team, the Indiana Historical Bureau, and the Indianapolis Zoo.
  • Angie Gibson, geographic information systems specialist with University Libraries, entered maps and aerial photographs into the GIS software to locate the former ballpark.
  • Trey Strecker, an English professor and editor of NINE: A Journal of Baseball History & Culture, researched the history of the Indianapolis Indians as the primary occupants of Washington Park.

This is the second Negro Leagues ballpark site that Geri Strecker has rediscovered. In 2009, she found photos that revealed the location of Greenlee Field, home to the Pittsburgh Crawfords — arguably one of the best teams in the Negro Leagues and possibly in all of baseball.