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Jackie Robinson Ballpark up for national recognition

Jackie Robinson Ballpark

Some good news to pass along on Jackie Robinson Day: Daytona’s Jackie Robinson Ballpark, a key site as Robinson prepared for his groundbreaking MLB debut, is being nominated as a National Historic Landmark.

Jackie Robinson Ballpark is currently home to the Daytona Tortugas (Single-A; Florida State League) and Bethune-Cookman University baseball. Before making his April 15, 1947 debut with the Dodgers Robinson spent a year with the Montreal Royals in the 1946 MiLB season, training with the team in Florida. In the 1946 season Brooklyn fielded 21 farm teams, ranging from the Royals and St. Paul Saints at the Triple-A level to the Fort Worth Cats in the Texas League, the Nashua Dodgers in the New England League, the Trois-Rivieres Royals in the Canadian-American League, and the Daytona Beach Islanders of the Florida State League, then a Class D league. Besides serving as home of the Islanders, City Island Ballpark was also the spring-training home of the Brooklyn Dodgers MLB squad for a single year before the team shifted spring training to Cuba in 1947.

The Montreal Royals camp was initially located at Sanford Municipal Athletic Field, near downtown Sanford and next to the current Sanford Memorial Stadium, with workouts also slated for Kelly Field. Training camp did not start smoothly for Robinson: on the second day he was warned that Sanford residents did not want him there, leading Rickey and the Dodgers to move the Royals training camp to Daytona Beach.

On March 17, 1946, Robinson made his Montreal Royals debut at City Island Ballpark against the Dodgers, before a crowd of over 4,000. Rickey, a devout Methodist, was not on hand for the Sunday game, but he didn’t miss much past the history of Robinson integrating pro baseball: the Dodgers won, while Robinson went hitless and scored a run. There were no incidents in the stands or on the field, and Robinson won praise from Brooklyn manager Leo Durocher, who said he “looked like a real ballplayer out there.”

As long as the Dodgers and Robinson promised to recognize the city’s segregation laws, local officials promised peace. Those segregation laws extended to City Island Ballpark, remnants you can still see at the modern Jackie Robinson Ballpark: the shaded first-base grandstand seating is the former whites-only section, while the unshaded grandstand down the third-base line was the Black seating area. (Segregation like this was a common practice in MiLB and spring-training ballparks of the era.) At the end of the day, Jackie Robinson’s monumental feat of integrating spring training comprised several games at City Island Ballpark and less than two innings played at Sanford Municipal Athletic Field. Many of the ballparks where Robinson played in that 1946 spring training, such as Kelly Field and Jacksonville’s Durkee Field, still stand.

(We cover Robinson’s 1946 spring-training travails in more detail in our Complete Guide to Spring Training, and we have 2025 Florida and Arizona editions planned. Subscribe to the August Publications newsletter for information about our spring-training books and other titles.)

Today, Jackie Robinson Ballpark is a revered site in professional baseball, as the city embarks on renovations allowing the Tortugas to meet MiLB’s facility guidelines. Jackie Robinson Ballpark is considered the oldest ballpark in Minor League Baseball, opening on June 4, 1914. Legislation in both the U.S. House and Senate would designate the ballpark as a National Commemorative Site and direct the Secretary of Interior to conduct a feasibility study to give the site the designation of National Historic Landmark. The bill is co-sponsored by the entire Florida House delegation and has the support from both Major and Minor League Baseball.

“We are extremely honored to be entrusted with further stewarding the legacy of Jackie Robinson in Daytona Beach,” said Bob Fregolle, Co-owner & Operating Partner of the Daytona Tortugas, via press release. “This designation is greatly appreciated by the community here and will only strengthen his legacy for generations to come.”

RELATED STORIES: Tortugas announce Kelly Field renovation plan

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