Hot Springs, Arkansas is the home of what is widely considered the first Spring Training.
“What began as our curiosity because there were so many photos of Babe Ruth at various locations in Hot Springs– we wound up unearthing historic associations between the world’s most famous baseball players and Hot Springs, Arkansas,” Steve Arrison CEO of Visit Hot Springs.said “Things really got rolling when we were able to document that Babe Ruth hit the first 500-foot-plus home run while playing spring baseball in 1918 at Whittington Park. Ruth’s homerun according to baseball historians changed baseball forever. On that day, St Patrick’s Day 1918 Ruth was switched from a pitcher to a hitter.”
Bill Jenkinson, baseball historian and consultant to the Baseball Hall of Fame came to Hot Springs in 2012 to assist in authenticating Babe Ruth’s legendary 573-foot homerun that shot over Whittington Avenue and into the Arkansas Alligator Farm. Afterwards Jenkinson began collaborating with Tim Reid from Florida, Don Duren from Dallas, Mark Blaeuer and Mike Dugan of Hot Springs to study spring baseball in Hot Springs.
Together they discovered documented accounts of baseball legends and teams as the Chicago White Stockings (AKA Colts, now called the Cubs) whose management brought them to play. spring games in 1886.
According to the website SpringTrainingOnline.com: "On an 1886 barnstorming tour of the South the Chicago White Sox were said to stopped off at Hot Springs, Ark., to basically sober up before the start of the season."
There are several schools of thought according to that website: "The best evidence points to spring training first taking place in 1870, when the Cincinnati Red Stockings and the Chicago White Stockings held organized baseball camps in New Orleans. Other baseball historians argue that the Washington Capitals of the National League pioneered spring training in 1888, holding a four-day camp in Jacksonville."
But the researchers in Hot Springs stand by their findings.
The Hot Springs baseball material that surfaced proved a treasure trove of information as researchers dug deeper into newspapers, archives and other sources across America. The result; more than 300 players, managers, owners, journalists and other famous names associated with baseball in Hot Springs were documented, including historical documentation of Hot Spring’s importance with the old Negro Leagues. In fact, 134 of the 295 members of the Baseball Hall of Fame can be associated with training, playing, visiting or otherwise being in Hot Springs.
The Historic Baseball Trail features 26 cast-aluminum plaques that have been installed throughout Hot Springs that range from the spot where Babe Ruth smacked his 1918 homerun to the site of the hotel where Ruth flipped a coin with his manager to determine his salary for the next year. Smartphone technology, the Internet and Quick Response Codes [QRC] has also been incorporated to help make the trail a one-of-a-kind experience not only for baseball fans but also for anyone interested in one of the most colorful eras in the national pastime.
“ There will be three ‘entry points’ to the trail, the Hill Wheatley Plaza, Oaklawn Racing & Gaming and Whittington Park, where The Babe hit the historic homer that started it all,” said Arrison. “From these locations, visitors can use the brochures and digital technologies to navigate the trail and learn why Hot Springs occupies such a prominent place in the history of baseball in America.
For information on Hot Spring’s storied baseball past click on visithotsprings.org