This is a special article recounting the City of Poughkeepsie’s baseball legacy, including a cameo 100 years ago in the Queen City by “Shoeless Joe” Jackson, whose birthday is today.
With the onset of summer comes the dusty, hot ritual of the baseball season, a cultural event that finds fans in bleachers and athletes on the diamond. With the crack of the bat a sizzling energy in the crowd erupts and all stand, sweaty and cheering, hot dogs held high, hats waving that runner on. A can of corn or the big fly? Wait for the call.
At the intersection of Lincoln Avenue and Montgomery Street is another portal to Poughkeepsie’s past, Stitzel Field. Stitzel Field was the name given to this park in March 1971 in honor Fred W. Stitzel who served on the Recreation Commission for more than twenty years. Adjacent to Eastman Park, the field originally belonged to the Riverview Military Academy, which was located directly across the street atop the Jefferson Street (now Lincoln Avenue) hill. Riverview Field was where the Military Academy used the site for military drills, graduations and, most popularly, their football and baseball games.
The Riverview Baseball team played there for decades meeting and defeating schools like Fordham, Cornwall Stone School, Rockland Military, and Mohegan Prep. Homecoming events featured games between alumni and the all-star team of faculty and students with cadets and the public cheering with gusto.
Baseball fields have become mythical, from the way the game is played, to the persona surrounding the athletes, to heroes in films. Riverview Field has its own wellspring of local history, baseball legends who cracked the bat, smacked that big fly and stole the hot corner to save the game for the home team playing in Poughkeepsie.
The Poughkeepsie Cubans baseball team challenged the New York Police Team in the spring of 1916 and admission was 25 cents with a grandstand view for 15 cents extra. The team of nine was revered for its skill level, speed and effective bats. Their success on the diamond at Riverview Field drove Poughkeepsie merchants, manufacturers and businesses to close one spring afternoon that year for the season’s opening game. Called “a glorious occasion,” the Toronto team of the International League were in town to play the Poughkeepsie Cubans. Mayor Daniel Wilbur led a “mammoth automobile parade” of over a hundred cars from City Hall to Riverview Field.
Dr. Carlos L. Henriquez, manager of the Cubans who was committed to Poughkeepsie, had stated that the 1916 season would “be a gala year in the history of baseball in the Queen City.” The Cuban nine did not come directly from Poughkeepsie. As with most organizations, the team’s athletes were scouted from surrounding areas. The star of the Poughkeepsie Cubans was Luis Padron (1878 – 1939) and his athletic performance in Riverview Field brought huge crowds anxious to see his quick bat and speed around the diamond. Padron was in the Negro and Cuban Leagues before playing in the Poughkeepsie Cuban League and later the Minor Leagues. He was elected to the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame in 1943.
Riverview Field bleachers were consistently sold out in 1918 when rival team, the Amenia “Husky Hays,” challenged the Poughkeepsie A. C. team. “Every road tomorrow leads to Riverview Field where the undefeated Poughkeepsie A.C. baseball team will cross bats with the Amenia “Husky Hays,” the champions of the Harlem Valley, in the second game of the series for the championship of Dutchess County.” Tough game, that one, in September 1918. The score was 7-2, and the locals won! “Cracky” Holden and “Giant” Robinson on the mound for the Hays were no match for the firing line of Elmer “Speed King” Beecher of the Poughkeepsie A.C.
Now imagine Riverview Field 100 years ago in the summer of 1922. Tension had been mounting, bets were placed, kids were arguing all in anticipation of the Poughkeepsie All Stars against the Scranton Coal Miners. Elmer “Speed King” Beecher in “fine form on the mound.” The awaited game was now heightened by the appearance of “Shoeless Joe” Jackson. Jackson, once a member of the White Sox, was barred from playing baseball after being a party to throwing the World Series in 1919. Jackson went on to play with local teams in the south often under assumed names, but on this day at Riverview Field he was “Shoeless Joe” Jackson in center field.
Two players objected to Jackson being there and left the game. Jackson entered in the second inning and up to that point and later, Poughkeepsie’s kids surrounded him in wonder. There were no autographs though. “Shoeless Joe” could neither read nor write. The level of awe and the pulse of excitement was palpable at Riverview Field. Jackson was every inch the big show athlete the local crowd expected. Sliding in the mud, delivering accuracy to the catcher, and whipping speed to the plate, this local diamond had not this seen this level of skill and grace in years. He was a “big boy” with “considerable surplus meat,” dark hair and eyes, always tan. The big afternoon ended with the All Stars winning 12-4, Jackson gave a decent show but it didn’t matter as just being in Poughkeepsie made history that day and it still does today, one hundred years later.