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Baseball Across America: Hannibal

Clemens Field

Editor’s Note: Mark Cryan, former MiLB general manager and Ballpark Digest contributing editor, is embarking on an epic ballpark tour this summer, and he’ll be filing regular dispatches from the road. Today’s stop: Hannibal’s Clemens Field.

To be very honest, Hannibal wound up on our agenda because of scheduling. With a day to kill after the Cardinals and before the Royals, we did a quick scan of the map, and I remembered that Hannibal had a collegiate summer league team, the Hannibal Cavemen of the Prospect League.

It had completely slipped my mind that Hannibal was also the boyhood home of Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain. It’s also a river town, which figured into Twain’s writing, and our ballpark experience. Twain’s two most popular books, Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, are both set in a thinly veiled Hannibal, and the characters are derived from the people Clement knew growing up. This has created quite a bit of tourism activity for a town that otherwise would be unlikely to be a popular vacation destination. Annual festivals oriented around Twain, tours of his boyhood home other buildings that figure in the book, as well as a nice museum in the heart of downtown all seem to draw a steady flow of people.

Clemens Field

The Cavemen? Not Cannibals?

And, there is baseball. In a quaint WPA-designed and built ballpark known as, what else, Clemens Field, on the south edge of downtown. This is old-time baseball, but as the marketing slogans say, with all the modern conveniences.  As Huck Finn would say, “No fooling!”

First, the name. I didn’t understand it before, but the caves around Hannibal figure prominently in the plot of Tom Sawyer, so Cavemen has some historic relevance. But, I have to admit that I wished they had been named the Hannibal Cannibals. In fact, a prior minor league team that called this stadium home was actually called the Cannibals. Wonder if they’ve done a throwback night? Think Hannibal Lector might make an appearance?

Clemens Field

Old-Time Baseball

The Cavemen have done a wonderful job converting a rickety old stadium into an inviting place to see a game.  The main grandstand, which seems a bit like a tall, narrow wedge removed from a larger stadium, has new fold-down seats, although like lots of older stadiums, particularly very tall ones, includes lots of girders that can obstruct your view. This is no big deal if you sit in the lower half of the grandstand, but there are also lots of other options. There are two rows of padded seats on a set of risers built below the front of the old grandstand, and then spacious dugouts on either side. The team also added field level luxury boxes on either side, and these are nice and very spacious, with private bathrooms, and two rows of seats in front, right on top of the action. The structure on the third-base side also includes an open-air press box, which is important, since the main grandstand doesn’t have one anymore. (Editor’s note: The same plans were used by WPA engineer to build this ballpark and Carson Park, home of the Northwoods League’s Eau Claire Express.)

But, the improvements didn’t leave out the bleacher creatures. Beyond the boxes on the third-base side, there is a big deck that wraps around the outfield corner. This is a multi-level deck with comfortable chairs and long rows of counters, like the Green Monster seats in Fenway. It’s a great place to relax, eat and drink, and its serviced by its own small concessions stand.

Clemens Field

Now, there are also some things about the experience at Hannibal that we didn’t get a chance to experience.  Remember that I mentioned the river? Well, the ballpark is right next to the river, which was receding, but still at flood stage when we visited. The water came three feet up into the concessions stands, the main entry plaza, and the souvenir stand. From what we could see, it appears that the old grandstand has a very nice concrete entry plaza surrounded by wrought iron fences, and there is a good sized concession stand and a walk-in souvenir shop. These were all drying out and not being used when we were there. The team operations staff, led by Deron Johnson, had done a nice job adjusting to the situation, using a side gate as the main entry, and putting a temporary concessions stand under tents at the bottom of the grandstand. It was a credit to them that just a day after they were flooded out, they were playing ball.

This park also has what must be some of the largest office and home clubhouse accommodations in summer-college ball. When the park was renovated for the team’s inaugural season, there was a large maintenance building behind the outfield wall, and it was converted to team use, and it puts the space occupied by some minor-league teams to shame.

Overall, the game experience in Hannibal was very pleasant. The staff were friendly, the beer, food  and tickets were modestly price, and the crowd was enthusiastic. I even met the “Real Tom Sawyer,” who was visiting from Michigan. I would encourage anyone planning a trip to see the Cardinals to consider a side trip to Hannibal. It’s a little more than an hour from St. Louis, and the old-time ballpark combined with the river and the Twain history make it more than worthwhile.

Hannibal

Kid’s Eye View

Hannibal has a nice big ballpark with plenty of space for the little rascals to run around in. It is a very family friendly park with lots of good food options.Behind the concession stand in left field there is a grassy area that I think could benefit from a playground. But because of the flood they didn’t have as many activities as they usually do.

Next stop: Kansas City, Kauffman Stadium.

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