The Nashville AA baseball Nashville Vols played their last game in 1965. You would have to be in your mid 50s to remember a game with any clarity, which also means that very few of you ever went the few blocks behind the State Capitol to Sulphur Dell where baseball had been played just about every year since the Civil War.
Usually I went with my grandmother, who was a $100 stockholder. Later, I rode the Greyhound bus or went with friends like Norris Lovvorn or Louis Thompson. For decades the team was run by the Cincinnati Reds.
I had my favorite players such as Buddy Gilbert, Larry Taylor, Tommy Brown, Jim O’Toole, Jay Hook, Chico Alvaryze, Johnny Edwards and Jim Maloney. There were many others. From roughly 1956 –1965, I followed the team closely in person and on WSM Radio with legendary announcer Larry Munson.
Many of the players ended up in the majors. Some were on the 1961 Cincinnati Red’s pennant winner and we often saw other future stars from other teams such as Harmon Killerbrew, Tim McCarver and Tito Francona.
Teams joined or left the Old South Atlantic League or Southern League, but we had rivalries with the Memphis Chicks (short for Chickasaw Indians), Arkansas Travelers, Mobile Bears (now called the Bay Bears, but once called the Oyster Grabbers), Birmingham Barons, New Orleans Pelicans, Chattanooga Lookouts and Atlanta Crackers. Political correctness would keep Memphis and Atlanta looking for new names today. Memphis is now the Redbirds and Atlanta is now, of course, the Braves, which may not be politically correct either. But it’s certainly better than Crackers.
Sulphur Dell was located behind the State Capitol and was surrounded by warehouses, empty crumbling buildings, light industry, mostly unused parking lots and a city dump.
The Park itself was unique. Left field was distant, and center field was in another zip code (if we had them, which we didn’t). Center field had a huge scoreboard and an in-play flag pole and rock garden.
Right field was very close, and from second base to the foul line all the way to the outfield fence, the field was elevated so steeply that you couldn’t stand on it. You stood at the top where the right fielders had worn a level 18-inch wide path.
Advertising signs were everywhere. One sign had a tire on it with an open hole. If you hit a ball through it, you got a set of tires. It happened. If you hit another sign deep in right center, you got a suit of clothes from a department store sponsor. In right field, the screen shot up to great heights because the distance was so short. Line shots to right were singles off the screen and shallow, but towering, fly balls (outs everywhere else) were home runs at the Dell.
Errors in right were common. One poor fellow made three errors on one batted ball. A single went through his legs on the way up the hill and then through his legs on the return trip. He finally corralled it and promptly overthrew third base for error No. 3. The batter scored on the single and three errors.
My best memory was the smell. It was a combination of burgers, tobacco, cut grass, mustard, people and, naturally, the aforementioned dump.
A field like Sulphur Dell would never be built today, but Nashville is building a new field on the site and moving the Sounds there in 2015. The initial digging is already completed.
They will surround it with small businesses and create an area for families and baseball. I hope they name it Sulphur Dell. Nashville’s Mayor Dean told me recently at an event in Smyrna that would likely happen, but it was up to the Sounds.