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Recreation Grounds and Park: San Francisco's First Ballparks

Updated: Dec 16, 2023

San Francisco has had a number of baseball parks in its history; many of them are long forgotten. The first three enclosed baseball parks in San Francisco history were the Recreation Grounds and Recreation Park. The first one was never intended to exclusively hold baseball games. Instead its’ open spacing was supposed to host a large number of events such as cricket, quoits and military parades. The last two ball parks had identical names but were built in separate locations following the earthquake of 1906. Each venue holds a unique place in the city’s history.

Recreation Grounds

According to local legend, no formal game of baseball was played until the Recreation Grounds opened on Thanksgiving Day, 1868. Until then, America’s Pastime existed in San Francisco only on the sandlots. Located at the corner of 25th and Folsom in the Mission District, the Recreation Grounds provided citizens respite from a hard day’s work. The opening of the new ballpark was widely advertised and a 25 cent round trip on a horse drawn carriage also included admission into the venue.

The initial crowd of three to four thousand spectators marveled at the enclosed board fence, large grandstands and the freshly laid grass seed. The first game ever played on the Recreation Grounds was between the Eagle Club of San Francisco and the Wide Awake Club of Oakland. This was the second of a three game series for the Championship of California. The Eagle Club won the championship 37-23.

Other than baseball, the Recreation Grounds also hosted Chiaranini’s Circus Troupe, concerts, hurdles, three mile races, Chiarini’s Imperial Roman Hippodrome and chariot racing and horse races. Probably one of the more memorable horse races was a 100 mile race on February 21, 1869. The race consisted of 250 laps in under four hours.

The ballpark also hosted the Cincinnati Red Stockings in September of 1869 when they played against some of San Francisco’s ball clubs. The Red Stockings were the first professional baseball team and the founding franchise of Major League Baseball.

The historic ball park lasted another 15 years until it was sold to real estate developers in 1884. It hosted its’ final game on November 23, 1884 between the Occidentals and Stars. Following the game, the ball park was demolished and subdivided into residential lots. The site of the Recreation Grounds is now known as Garfield Square.

Recreation Park I

The first Recreation Park was also known as Central Park. It was located at the corner of 8th and Market Streets. Holding up to 15,000 it was opened in 1884 and became home to the California State League in 1888. It was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake.

Recreation Park II

Following the 1906 earthquake which destroyed the first Recreation Park, it was recreated on 14th and Valencia Streets the following year. It was fondly known as Big Rec and hosted the San Francisco Seals baseball team from 1907 to 1930. The ballpark also hosted the Mission Reds, a club which only lasted from 1926 to 1937, and the Oakland Oaks from 1907 to 1913 when they moved to their own venue.

The Chicago White Sox held training camp at Big Rec in 1909 and 1910. A popular aspect of the ballpark was the chicken wire which roped off a section of the bleachers, often referred to as the booze cage. Admission entitled guests to either a sandwich or a shot of whiskey. The second Recreation Park was permanently closed and demolished in 1957.

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