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Brooklyn's Union Grounds and the original outfield obstruction

By Dayn Perry | Baseball Writer

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No, doubt you're familiar with Tal's Hill in Minute Maid Park, the architectural flourish tailored to make miserable the unsuspecting fly-catcher ...

Well, as outfield obstructions go, we see your Tal's Hill and raise you this thing in the outfield of the long-felled Union Grounds of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, ca. 1870 ...

(Image: BrooklynBallparks.com)

That, as mentioned above, is the Union Grounds, and that flag-tipped garrison in center field is the first and last word in contrived outfielder occupational hazards. The prose of the day referred to it variously as a "pagoda" or a "pavilion," but all agree that it was "three-storeys" in reach.

The Union Grounds in winter was flooded with water and then converted into a giant skating rink, and the pagoda, which is absolutely what I'm going to call it, would then be used to support the crude lighting systems of the day. That way, skaters -- who would surely soon die from some ridiculous 19th-century disease like "dropsy" or "catarrh" or "St. Anthony's Fire" -- could leisure themselves even after nightfall.

Here's a better, if smaller, view of the pagoda that lays bare its baseball (or base ball) implications:

As you'll note, the outfielders played quite shallow in those slap-hitting days of squishy and overused baseballs, so it's doubtful that they were ever placed in dangerous proximity to the Pagoda of Immolation. However, in the interests of keeping history relevant, let's take a look at sports-action sequence of what it might have looked like if, say, Brewers center fielder Carlos Gomez ranged too far back on a drive while manning the green at the Union Grounds ...

Harrowing and painful, that!

Anyhow, construction on the Union Grounds began way back yonder in 1862, and when it opened for business it was the first park to be enclosed by a fence. This, of course, allowed the proprietor, William Cammeyer, to charge admission -- as much as 25 cents per head at one point. According to Brooklyn Ballparks, Cammeyer conceived of the venue as "a suitable place for ball playing, where ladies can witness the game without being annoyed by the rowdies who attend some of the first-class matches."

Take that, rowdies. The Union Grounds did indeed play host to a number of notable professional squads, including two -- Hartford and New York -- from the "primordial soup" days of the National League. For a representative example of the kind of baseball you could expect to see at the Grounds, let's turn to this piece from the May 3, 1867 edition of the New York Times:

There's some high praise in that last paragraph. There's also a reminder that "rain delay" should unquestionably be renamed "Jupiter Pluvius delay."

Unfortunately, the Union Grounds was razed in July 1883 to make way for an extension of Heyward Street in Brooklyn. But that doesn't mean we can't fondly imagine the dreadnaught likes of Bryce Harper and Yasiel Puig running into, over and entirely through the Pagoda of Immolation in pursuit of a well-struck baseball base ball!

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