The summer-collegiate baseball season will bring one of the biggest ballpark anniversaries of 2019, as Wahconah Park, home of the Pittsfield Suns (Futures League), turns 100.
Located in Pittsfield, MA, Wahconah Park is certainly a historic site. The sport has been played on the ballpark’s grounds going back to 1892, but much of the current facility dates to 1919. That was the year that ballpark’s wooden grandstand, which remains standing today, was completed, setting the stage for a century of memories.
Over much of the 20th century and into the early 21st century, Wahconah Park hosted a variety of affiliated Minor League Baseball teams. The last of those was a Short Season-A New York-Penn League franchise that called the ballpark home from 1989-2001, playing as the Pittsfield Mets until becoming the Pittsfield Astros before the final season. Following the 2001 campaign, the franchise relocated to Troy, NY where it remains today as the Tri-City Valley Cats.
The NY-Penn League franchise was followed in Wahconah Park by a variety of independent and summer-collegiate teams. Most of those entries lasted just a few seasons, with the last professional club to call Wahconah Park home—the Pittsfield Colonials (independent; Can-Am League)—ceasing operations after the 2011 season because of financial difficulties. One of those efforts was led by the legendary Jim Bouton; naturally, he wrote a book about the effort.
Baseball returned in 2012 in the form of the Suns, who have emerged as the ballpark’s most stable tenant in years under the ownership of a family with plenty of affection for Wahconah Park.
The Suns are owned by the Goldklang Group, which also owns the St. Paul Saints (independent; American Association), Charleston RiverDogs (Low A; Sally League) and the Hudson Valley Renegades (Short Season A; NY-Penn League). Connections to Wahconah Park run deep for members of the Goldklang family, as chairman Marv Goldklang owned a stake in the Pittsfield Cubs (Class AA; Eastern League)—a franchise that played in the ballpark in the 1980s—and the family has had homes in the Berkshires of Massachusetts for decades. When the opening to place a summer-collegiate club at the ballpark came up, it presented the Goldklang Group an opportunity it had long waited for.
“I decided, and our family decided, that we were going to make an effort to operate in Wahconah Park,” said Jeff Goldklang, president of the Goldklang Group. “It had been, at that point, a dream for us for almost two decades—as we were operating professional teams all across the country—to one day be able to operate out of Wahconah Park.”
Jeff Goldklang can still recite fond memories of Wahconah Park from childhood, from meeting Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Feller, to the Cubs teams of the 1980’s that produced plenty of star power. Calling Wahconah Park home from 1985-1988, the Cubs featured several future MLB standouts, including future Hall of Famer Greg Maddux, along with future All-Stars such as Mark Grace, Rafael Palmeiro, Jamie Moyer, Joe Girardi, and many more players that went on to have notable major league careers.
The history of Wahconah Park, however, was already impressive before the Cubs ever arrived on the scene. Numerous affiliated teams had called Wahconah Park home over the previous decades, including several in the Eastern League—the Pittsfield Red Sox, who played at Wahconah Park from 1965-1969, boasted a particularly impressive alumni list that included future Hall of Famer Carlton Fisk and future Cy Young Award winner Sparky Lyle.
Given that it has remained operational for decades, Wahconah Park has been the site of baseball memories for many. Pittsfield residents and visitors to the Berkshires alike have passed through the ballpark’s gates in the summer months for decades, and that is something that the Goldklangs appreciate.
“People in the greater Berkshires love Wahconah Park, because when they think of baseball, they think of Wahconah Park,” said Goldklang. “They have memories of their childhoods. When people visit here—we have a lot of vacationers here from the greater New York and Boston areas over the summer—if they’ve visited in the sixties, the seventies, the eighties, the nineties as they were growing up, they probably came to a ballgame or two at Wahconah Park.”
For their part, the Suns have ended what had become a revolving door at Wahconah Park by emerging as the ballpark’s most stable tenant in its post-MiLB years. Since beginning play in 2012, the Suns have been among the top-drawing teams in the Futures League, while offering a solid gameday operation in a historic setting.
The 2019 season will see the Suns celebrate Wahconah Park’s history. Among the highlights of the club’s promotions schedule is a “Wahconah Turns 100” T-shirt series, featuring four shirts commemorating a different team from the ballpark’s history. Goldklang said that some other celebrations for the centennial could be in the works, including a tie-in with this summer’s Futures League All-Star Game at Wahconah Park—scheduled for July 16—and other offerings.
At 100 years old, Wahconah Park is a ballpark with plenty of historic charm and a steady summer-collegiate club that is making new memories at the facility. Many have had the opportunity to take in the ballpark over the last century, and the Goldklangs intend to continue furthering that legacy.
“Baseball is about history, it’s about memories, it’s about spending time with people that you love,” said Goldklang. “Wahconah Park has been here longer than any of the people have been here in the Berkshires, so just about every single individual that I’ve come into contact with in Pittsfield and the Greater Berkshire area has their own personal story from Wahconah Park. You can’t buy that; you can’t manufacture that. The history, the character, and the nature of the fact that this ballpark has changed very little over the last 100 years. It helps us continue to further that nostalgic feel that baseball really is all about.”
Image courtesy Pittsfield Suns.
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