The Vault: America's favorite pastime in Louisville

The history of baseball in Louisville

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) -- When someone says Louisville baseball most folks think of Louisville Slugger which has been making bats for more than 130 years.

Perhaps equally as important is the history of the sport itself in Louisville. In 1858, the Louisville baseball club became the first organized team in town. It wasn't long before this sleepy river town became home to professional baseball, birthing the National League in 1876.

From the Louisville Grays to the Louisville Eclipse—later known as the Louisville Colonels—professional baseball in the Derby City dates back to the 1870s. For years, it was a Major-League town, home to the old Colonels until the team moved to Pittsburg in 1899.

At the turn of the century, Louisville’s baseball became a Minor-League affair. In 1902 the new Triple-A Colonels staked their claim on the new Eclipse Park downtown attracting big crowds as the popularity of the sport grew. When Eclipse Park burned down in 1922, the owner responded by building Parkway Field -- one of the finest facilities of its day.

The Colonels stayed in Louisville until the American Association folded in 1962 and made a brief return under the International League. But after '72 the Colonels were gone for good. The birthplace of the National League remained without a baseball team for ten years until something special happened in 1982.

Businessman Dan Ulmer convinced the owner of the Springfield Red Birds, A. Ray Smith, to move his team to Louisville.

The Red Birds' first game was on the road, but when the team returned Louisville didn't just throw out the welcome mat. The fans turned out in record numbers. A year later the Redbirds became the first Minor-League team to attract one-million fans.

In 1998, the team's name changed to the Louisville Riverbats, and in 2001 it was promptly shortened to the Louisville Bats.

The rest is history in the making.

© 2017 WHAS-TV


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