×

Monument to mark site of 1871 pro baseball game Ceremony will be held Thursday evening at Camp Allen Park.

One of Fort Wayne’s oldest mysteries will be resolved for all-time at 6 p.m. Thursday.

On May 4, 1871, the first professional baseball league game was played in Fort Wayne between the Kekiongas and the Cleveland Forest Citys. There was a game scheduled for earlier in the day featuring Washington at Cincinnati, but it was rained out, which meant the game in Fort Wayne was the league’s first official contest. The Kekiongas won 2-0.

Those are the accepted facts, but for decades the disputes have been over the location of the game, with five spots under consideration. Finally, in 1971, after research from local baseball historian Bob Parker, Mayor Harold Zeis held a press conference announcing the official site had been found near Camp Allen Park, two blocks south of Main Street just west of St. Joseph’s Hospital and near St. Mary’s River.

Zeis promised a permanent marker, but it never happened, and Thursday evening a monument will be placed on the site to commemorate the game’s 146th anniversary. With help from the Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation Department and Fifth District City Councilman Geoff Paddock, a ceremony will feature several speakers.

After Northeast Indiana Baseball Association member Don Graham sent him clippings of the 1971 press conference, local sports historian and current Kekionga Society of American Baseball Research chapter president Bill Griggs started a campaign in September. That was also the month his friend local SABR chapter founder Bob Gregory passed away, giving Griggs more motivation.

With help from the Paddock and donations from the TinCaps, SABR members, the NEIBA, the Huntington Hilltoppers Vintage Baseball Team and other individuals, along with selling Gregory’s collection of baseball books, more than $1,500 was raised for the monument, which was designed by Archie Monuments of Elkhart, suggested by SABR member Steve Krah.

“It’s just a coalition of people working for the public good,” Griggs said.

Along with Parker’s writings, Briggs based his research partly on newspapers reports of the time, including descriptions of later games which include balls being hit into the river. The other favorite site of historians is Hamilton Field which was allegedly located somewhere near Lewis and Calhoun streets downtown, but that would have made it impossible for any balls to be hit into the river.

“I saw stuff that contradicted each. Half of them say Hamilton Park and half say Kekionga Ball Field,” Griggs said in November. “I went down to the library and went through the microfilm, and there’s no doubt it was at Kekionga Ball grounds. There is absolutely, positively no doubt. I would put everything I own or ever will own because I have the legal description, I have maps, I have stories of balls being hit in the river. Everything fits.”

Based on where he believes the grandstands were located, Griggs, 70, thinks the 1871 version of “home plate” was located toward the park’s current northwest corner and the field faced west on a block that currently is bordered by Fair, Center, Huron and Mechanic streets.

In 1871, teams from Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, New York, Philadelphia, Rockford, Troy, Washington and Fort Wayne formed the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players, which was the first pro baseball league. The Kekiongas only lasted until August, and the league until 1875. Six of the teams helped form the National League in 1876, which became the foundation for Major League Baseball.

“You can make the case that professional sports leagues started in 1871 in Fort Wayne, Indiana,” Griggs said. “Basketball had not been invented, football was rugby and hockey was shinny. It’s not just the site of the first Major League Baseball game, or if you prefer the first game of a professional baseball league, but also the beginning of all professional league sports.” <br>

<i> Follow Blake Sebring on Twitter at @blakesebring and on Facebook at Blake Sebring. </i>

NEWSLETTER

Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)