The Warren Ballpark
Bisbee, Arizona boasts an exciting piece of baseball history. It is home to the Warren Ballpark, considered the oldest continuously used professional baseball venue in the country. The field was built in 1909, five years before Wrigley Field in Chicago!
Baseball was an important pastime in early Arizona, with many mining camps forming teams before becoming towns. Tombstone formed a team as early as 1880. For decades, Bisbee teams would play in loosely organized leagues against teams from Fort Bowie and Fort Huachuca, Tombstone, Morenci, and longtime archrivals in Douglas.
When the Bisbee suburb of Warren was laid out in the early 1900s, the planners reserved space for a ballpark. The Calumet Mining Company built the park for miners and their families, but from the beginning it attracted traveling teams. On June 28, 1909, the ballpark saw its first game between the Bisbee Beautiful and the traveling El Paso Browns. (Bisbee beat the visitors 8-3.)
Big League Venue
On November 7, 1913, the New York Giants and the Chicago White Sox were the first big leaguers to hit the Warren Ballpark, playing a post-season game as a stop on a thirteen nation global tour. Native American player Jim Thorpe, still legendary for his strength, speed, and endurance, literally hit the ball out of the park for a memorable home run.
Hal Chase, of the Giants, the Yankees, and the Cincinnati Reds, played that day, too. He would return to the Warren Ballpark in a different context. Axed from the major leagues in 1920 for fixing games in the “Black Sox” scandal, Chase later became a player-manager for the Douglas Blues. In fact, several players banned from the majors played “outlaw baseball” in Warren for Frontier and Copper Leagues throughout the 1920s.
Chicago Cubs, Philadelphia Athletics, Pittsburgh Pirates and Cleveland Indians, part of the Orange League and later the Cactus League, stood on the diamond regularly between the 1910s and the 1950s. Sometimes these teams would face each other in exhibition games. Often, the barnstorming team would play a local team, as did the Cubs on April 5, 1919.
In 1928, the Warren Ballpark was the home turf for the Bisbee Bees, one of four teams constituting Arizona’s minor league that included the Miami Miners, Tucson Waddies, and Phoenix Senators. In 1930, a team from El Paso was added and the group was renamed the Arizona-Texas League. Financial woes sparked by the Great Depression ushered the collapse of the league in 1932.
Restoration and Revival
The New Deal’s Works Project Association targeted the Warren Ballpark for refurbishment in 1936. The Bisbee School District took over ownership from the Warren Company (a subsidiary of Phelps Dodge Mining Corporation) to ensure eligibility for publicly funded renovation. That summer, a concrete grandstand with locker rooms underneath and a corrugated iron roof replaced the decaying wooden bleachers. The improvements sparked a reentry into baseball, both on the local level (the 25 Infantry of Fort Huachuca’s Buffalo Soldiers played the Bisbee Bees shortly after the park reopened) and to minor and major leagues eager to add the ballpark to the barnstorming circuit.
By 1955, the Warren Ballpark’s main use was for Bisbee High School baseball and football games. It was a “home field” for the short lived Bisbee-Douglas minor league, the Copper Kings, named in memory of earlier teams from the 1800s and the 1950s. After a short season in 2003, the Copper Kings returned from 2008 to 2011 to play in the Pacific Southwest Baseball League with the Tucson Nationals, Casa Grande Cotton Kings and the Mesa Garden of Gears.
Today, the ballpark hosts the Annual Copper City Classic Vintage Base Ball Tournament, where cranks (fans) can watch all the teams from the Arizona Territories Vintage Base Ball League (ATVBBL) play old fashioned baseball with uniforms and rules from 1860. The 2015 Copper City Classic will be held April 11 & 12. More information, plus stories of athletes and teams, is available from the Friends of Warren Ballpark. The organization was formed in 2008 to save the ballpark from further deterioration.