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New Life for an Old Diamond

Galesville’s Hot Sox field

A colorful quilt of Hot Sox memories, above. <<photo by Jerri Anne Hopkins>>

Stand at home plate, close your eyes, tilt your head just right and you can hear the whoosh of a fast ball, the sharp crack of a wooden bat connecting for a line drive down centerfield and the echoes of cheering fans.
    Hot Sox Field at Wilson Park in Galesville was the home field for many years of the celebrated local Negro baseball team, the Hot Sox. The team was formed in 1915, made up of local players who worked their regular jobs during the week and played baseball on weekends. They earned $50 to $100, paid at season’s end. Their families provided all the food offered at the field’s concession stand — local favorites such as hot dogs, fried chicken, potato salad and crab cakes — most costing around 25 cents.
    Black baseball began in the 1890s, when blacks were banned from playing in the major leagues. The Negro National League was created in 1920, died in 1930 and was revived in 1933. A second league, the Negro American League, was added in 1937 and the two leagues competed in seven World Series between 1942 and 1948. Both leagues were disbanded after the last series. A separate baseball league was no longer needed once Jackie Robinson signed on to play in Major League Baseball with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947.
    All the while, across America sand lot teams like the Hot Sox — organized in leagues like their Chesapeake Independent League — delivered fun and excitement to their fans. In 1929, farmer and former slave Henry Wilson offered the team the use of his field. In that first year, the Hot Sox lost only one game, to the Black Sox of the Negro Professional Baseball League. Each year, the Hot Sox played at least one professional team. They traveled as well, playing other black teams wherever they could.
    The team was a good one, and the Galesville club sent up players to the Negro leagues from time to time. The Hot Sox integrated in 1967 and continued to play until the team was dissolved in 1997.
    After the dissolution, the field and the old Wilson farmhouse fell into disrepair. Property owner Chester Turner, a descendant of Henry Wilson, considered selling the land for development. The community rallied around the field, debating ways of keeping the property as an historic landmark or a community park.
    Eventually, Anne Arundel County Department of Recreation and Parks purchased the 26-acre property. It is now the Hot Sox Field at Wilson Park and open for use by anyone or any organization in the county.
    Last year, in celebration of the Hot Sox’s 100th birthday, surviving Hot Sox and local baseballers played several games. A traveling Smithsonian Institution exhibit — Hometown Teams: How Sports Shape America — spent a six-week run at the Galesville Community Center. Local volunteers pulled together an impressive exhibit on the Hot Sox to join the Smithsonian’s exhibit. A good portion of the Hot Sox display is still on view at the Community Center, including a colorful quilt of Hot Sox memories created by local volunteers.
    The original cinderblock team dugouts remain but are not used in play. The original bleachers have been replaced.
    The adjacent Wilson farmhouse has been stabilized with new siding and roof. The interior remains, awaiting a future.
    What comes next? Join a community meeting on the subject April 7 at 7pm at the Galesville Community Center, 916 West Benning Rd.: galesville.org.