Baseball lovers of London come to Labatt Memorial Park to watch the London Majors play ball!
Labatt Park is the world’s oldest continuously-operating baseball diamond, as it has been around since 1877. Londoners still love to visit the diamond to watch the London Majors play, enjoy hot dogs and nachos for dinner, and watch the fireworks on Canada Day.
However, there was a chance that we wouldn’t get to see a baseball game at the beloved diamond after 1993.
That is where the Friends of Labatt Park come into play
Barry Wells, the historian for the London Majors, is also the co-founder of Friends of Labatt Park. The grassroots, volunteer-run non-profit advocates for Labatt Park.
Wells created the group after he heard that a member of London City Council at the time wanted to replace the park with condos in the area in 1993. The London Tigers left the city the same year. The group made it possible for the park to be protected by the Ontario Heritage Act in 1994.
“We’re just very actively promoting the ballpark and ensuring that the ballpark is upgraded over time,” Wells said.
Friends of Labatt Park also ensured the Roy McKay Clubhouse is still part of the diamond. The clubhouse, which Wells called “a gem,” first became part of the park in 1937. The clubhouse’s construction came after the Thames River flood of the same year.
In 1996, the clubhouse honoured former London Majors manager Roy McKay, who passed away in 1995. Baseball memorabilia fills the clubhouse on Canada Day.
Labatt Park will be designated as a National Historic Site, because of its longevity and its legacy. Wells noted that inductees for the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, such as Connie Mack, Al Spalding, and Honus Wagner, played at Labatt Park at some point.
“There’s no other park like it in Canada,” he said.
Root, root, rooting for the home team
Like the park, the London Majors baseball team has plenty of longevity. The team has been part of the Intercounty Baseball League since 1925, starting off as the London Cockneys and going under many different names. Since 1975, the team plays as London Majors.
Wells said the Majors have stuck around for more than 80 years because of their legacy.
“They’ve won 12 championships since 1925,” he said, adding that some of the Top 100 IBL players played for London.
The historian credits alumna Arden Eddie, who played for the Majors for 28 years and managed the team for 30 years. Wells said Eddie made sure the Majors were still active and keeping the summer tradition of baseball alive. He added that the Intercounty Baseball League provides strong games.
“It’s just excellent, excellent baseball,” Wells said. “I would put it at single-a level.”
Barry Boughner is chair of Friends of Labatt Park and played for the Majors as a second baseman and third baseman.
He said late sports mogul Bill Farquharson, the former Majors’ owner/president, held a program where every London subdivision had their own baseball team. Then, the best players from each team within London played for the Majors.
“You always have good competitive teams and it’s because of the nicest ballpark you’re going to play in, in amateur baseball,” Boughner said.
Alumni catcher Wayne Fenlon said that several Majors alumni coached him and the rest of his team.
“We were getting guys in their 50s and 60s coming out and try to give us the finer points of baseball,” he said. “That was very impressive.”
Many Majors have fond memories of playing in Labatt Park
Alumna shortstop Dave Byers said there’s a family-like relationship between the team and their fans.
“After so many years they get to know you and your kids and your wife and everybody,” Byers said. “It’s kind of a homey place when you’re there that long.”
Current batter Cleveland Brownlee agreed the fans boost the Majors’ legacy. “We love the fans there,” He said. “They’re engaged in it and they give us a lot of support here.”
“It was a wonderful day for me,” Brownlee said.
Byers added “It was a wonderful day for me when he did it because I had it for way too long.”
Boughner tearfully reflected on seeing Labatt Park for the first time.
“One of the first things I said when I walked in here was “Oh my God, what a beautiful place. I want to play here,” Boughner said. He added that Fenlon’s dad let him stay at their home so he could play.
“It was a great experience,” he said with tears in his eyes. “I played professional hockey for six years, but my love is baseball.”
Learning more about the London Majors
Wells will hold a presentation about the London Majors at the London Public Library Central Branch. The free event is on October 30 at 7 p.m. and is part of the Terrific Tales of London and Area program.
Wells wrote a London Majors chapter in the book “Intercounty Baseball League: 100 Seasons Strong.” The book reflects on the past century for the Intercounty Baseball League.