A note from Skip Nipper:
I am fortunate to have worked with sports columnist Dave Ammenheuser and staff at the Tennessean on a very special project. Available in both print and online, this 9-inning (part) series looks at Nashville’s baseball history since the 1860s and is in conjunction with the opening of the Nashville Sounds new ballpark on April 17, 2015.
I have learned so much from the pros: sports writer Mike Organ, photo journalist John Partipilo, and visual coach Karen Mitchell all made this possible for me to have some part in it.
This very special publication may be viewed by clicking here: "Coming home to Sulphur Dell".
Nashville's Sulphur Dell was a unique ballpark. The low-lying field gave an unusual contour to the outfield dimensions, where the right field fence was only 262 feet from home plate and the bottom of the fence was 22 1/2 feet above the playing field!
"Sulphur Springs Bottom" was the name given to Nashville's recreational area after the city became Tennessee's capitol. During the Civil War it was where Union soldiers first taught Nashville citizens how to play the "northern game" of baseball. In 1870 the area was referred to as Athletic Park, and in 1885 it became the home of Nashville's first professional baseball team, the Americans, in the newly-formed Southern League.
Bordered by Fourth Ave., Fifth Ave., Jackson St., and a railroad spur, the park was so named because a natural sulphur spring was nearby. Residents would fill empty containers with the odorous liquid to use for medicinal purposes, or just take a drink right from the spring.
Grantland Rice re-named the ballpark "Sulphur Dell" in 1908 while working as a newspaper sports reporter in Nashville.
Sulphur Dell had these unusual outfield dimensions due to the shape of the city block in which the ballpark was located:
Left Field: 334' Center Field: 421' Right Field: 262'
The distance from the grandstands to first base was only 42 feet, and to third base was 26 feet. But that was not all: the playing surface was below street level and there was an embankment around the entire outfield that was part of the playing field.
The right field embankment began at 224 feet from home plate, rising at a 45-degree angle towards the fence, ending at 262 feet. The embankment in left field began at 301 feet from home plate.
The outfield fence was made of wood and was 16 feet high. Running from the right field foul pole to a point 186 feet toward center field, there the fence was capped by a screen that added an additional 30 feet of height but decreased to 22 1/2 feet high midway to center field. In later years the screen height remained the same, but a second tier of signage was added in right field.
In its 100-year existence, Nashville's professional baseball teams called Sulphur Dell "home": the Americans, Seraphs, Tigers, Vols, and Negro League Elite Giants all played at the famous ballpark. The Nashville Vols played their final game at Sulphur Dell on September 8, 1963 as a member of the South Atlantic League after 61 years in the Southern Association from 1901 through 1961.
Sulphur Dell was demolished in 1969. A new ballpark has been built in the general vicinity of Sulphur Dell and is the new home of the Nashville Sounds of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League! It may not include the quirky outfield hills of Sulphur Dell, but the 8,500-seat grandstand is a worthy replacement to outdated Herschel Greer Stadium.
Junior Gilliam Way: A Fitting Tribute
To get your copy of "Baseball in Nashville", please visit East Side Story in Five Points!