WPA-funded Fraser Field, the historic former home to pro and indy ball in Lynn, Mass., is undergoing a major upgrade this offseason for the North Shore Navigators (summer collegiate; Futures League): installation of new artificial turf on the infield.
Presently, huge yellow plows and cranes have been digging up the hallowed infield at Fraser Field. This time the new and improved artificial turf will cover not only the grass areas, but also the traditional infield dirt on which flashy fielders such as former Red Sox star Harry Agganis have performed their magic. This marks the second time in the past 12 seasons new turf has been applied to the Fraser “field of dreams.”
The only real dirt on the diamond will be at the pitchers mound, where such twirlers as Bob Feller, Satchel Paige, Ken Hill, Mike Pazik, Bump Hadley, Ben Bowden, Dick Newton, and Ferguson Jenkins starred. Lynn Community Development’s John Kasian, who oversees operations at Fraser and Manning fields, has stated that the outfield will remain real grass, and that overall drainage issues were taken care of last year.
The park’s first artificial turf was installed in 2003 when the Independent League North Shore Spirit, owned by Nick Lopardo, brought modern construction and professional style here for five seasons.
Built in 1940 and funded with $220,000 by President Franklin Roosevelt’s Work Project Administration, the park was named in honor of Eugene B. Fraser, a then 68-year-old city councilor and devoted baseball booster. Many Lynn area men during the depression years worked on the baseball structure. The minimum wage was 45 cents an hour then.
At the time, the baseball-loving city of Lynn had to pay $48,000 to help with construction at the 365 Western Avenue baseball site. This time, 73 years later, the turf work alone will cost the city an estimated $300,000.
It is reported that $200,000 would come from the $4 million bond the City Council approved last spring and $56,000 will come from the Fisher College license agreement. The remainder will come from the Navigators’ lease agreement, which Navigators owner Pat Salvi paid upfront securing Fraser as the home of his Futures Collegiate Baseball Leagues Navigators through the 2020 season.
“Being out of the groundskeeping business will be ‘sad’ but a welcome relief!” said Navigators General Manager Bill Terlecky. “Given the schedule and travel associated with summer collegiate baseball we are now assured of playing 100% of our games as scheduled alleviating any travel and rescheduling concerns.”
It was during the beginning of World War Two that the iconic venue’s Opening Game drew more than 9,000 fans on June 18, 1940, the exact same day England’s Prime Minister Winston Churchill delivered his stirring “This is England’s finest hour” war speech.
Of all teams that first day, it was the National League Pittsburgh Pirates who batted first at Fraser against a Lynn lineup called “The Lynn Frasers,” a skilled semi-pro outfit. Pirates outfielder Vince DiMaggio, a brother of Dominic and Joe DiMaggio, walloped the park’s first home run. Vince had to hoof it out around the infield bases since there was no outfield fence set up yet.
Years later, the park’s first Minor League home run was swatted by future Hall of Fame catcher Roy Campanella of the Nashua Dodgers. It was the nation’s first Minor League game in which a black players (Campanella and pitcher Don Newcombe) participated.
For 73 summers, Fraser has been the classy “home field” to no less than four city schoolboy squads, Lynn English, Classical, Tech, and St. Mary’s, as well as Fisher College of Boston, which has a contract with the city to use Fraser.
The Lynn baseball park, which sits next to equally historic Manning Bowl/Field (football, once used by college and NFL teams) also features a unique cantilevered roof (supported only at one end) over the grand stand which can seat more than 4,000 fans. However, as many as 10,000 folks filled the stadium during a General Electric Company employees rally in 1950. The Beach Boys drew 9,000 during a concert in centerfield in 1984.
Pro teams attracting huge throngs at Fraser include the Cleveland Indians, Boston Braves, Kansas City Monarchs with Satchel Paige; the Seattle Mariners minor league Lynn Sailors; Pittsburgh’s Lynn Pirates; Manager George Scott’s Massachusetts Mad Dogs; the King and His Court 4-man team, and even a game in which Heisman Football Award winner and former Patriots QB Doug Flutie not only played drums in a band on top of the Navs dugout, but also drop-kicked a football from the mound over the grandstand roof. —Bob Keaney
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