COMMUNITY: Daniels Park was M&J League staple

Looking back at Cedar Rapids' baseball past

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The single most iconic component of the M&J League’s 38 years of operation was the playing field, the baseball diamond at Daniels Park.

Today the field is beautifully maintained as Coe College’s home diamond, but as long time M&J player Bill Quinby recalled, the original diamond had no grass and looked more like a modern softball diamond than a baseball field.

There have been other changes over the years.

Before 1940, the current home plate would have been in right field. H Avenue used to head straight into Oakland Avenue, without the slight turn in has today, and a line of trees protected the adjacent street from long fly balls to left. Once the diamond moved to its current configuration, the tennis courts in the new left field saw some amazing running catches by various outfielders, a ground rule that minimized tennis during baseball season.

The field used two dirt-floor dugouts, Quinby said, that were two feet deep, and during World War II there was a set of bleacher stands behind home plate with a tiny press box perched on top. Two speakers were hung on trees for game announcements and executives from the various sponsoring companies would pass a cigar box during games, soliciting voluntary contributions from the spectators to offset the costs of umpires, balls, and bats.

Local boys working for the league earned a 10 cents per game for chasing foul balls, operating the scoreboard or possible a “move up” to water boy.

Bat boys were not paid, but some were rewarded with a bat or two after the season. In those years, the chance to watch the local stars up-close — and earn a bat of their own — made the job as prestigious as any a 10-year-old boy could find.

Players occasionally were moved to different shifts and missed full seasons because of work obligations, but Daniels Park was a constant for the league.

It is the one remaining bit of tangible proof of the league’s life, the keeper of the collective memory of the tremendous games played there and a place where children still can go and play in the footsteps of their grandfathers.

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