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Muncy Bank Ballpark at Historic Bowman Field History

History of Muncy Bank Ballpark at Historic Bowman Field

One of baseball's oldest and most distinguished ballparks is Williamsport's own Muncy Bank Ballpark at Historic Bowman Field. It has served as an iconic piece of Williamsport's professional and amateur baseball experience, providing area fans many thrills, excitement moments and even disappointments.

The origins of Bowman Field occurred at a meeting of Williamsport baseball officials and city officials at downtown Williamsport’s venerable Ross Club, late in the summer of 1924. The meeting concerned the building of a new ballpark, on land located in Memorial Park and owned by the Williamsport Water Co. Previously, Williamsport's professional baseball teams were playing at the Williamsport High School athletic field located at the corner of West Third and Susquehanna Streets, now the site of the Pennsylvania College of Technology.

Negotiations on this matter continued into the summer of 1925. In July of that year, both parties were able to reach an agreement to construct a new ballpark. Prominent businessman and baseball booster, J. Walton Bowman was put in charge of fundraising efforts to finance the $75,000 needed to build the facility.

Bowman contributed a sizeable sum himself and also solicited donations from such businessmen and businesses as: Jim and Irv Gleason, Max Jaffe, Joe Mosser, J. Roman Way, Ralph "Pat" Thorne, the Reese-Sherriff Lumber Company and Harder's Sporting Goods.

A Statement of Principles by these investors that appeared in the Gazette and Bulletin at the time of the ballpark's opening explained their dual motives, "While the primary object of this movement is to provide the Williamsport Baseball Club a suitable playing field, the ultimate and more important aim is to give eventually to our home city a modern and public ballpark for the benefit and use of all its' people..."

Ground was broken for the ballpark in the fall of 1925. The facility was modeled after another ballpark located in Johnson City, New York.

Bowman Field's original dimensions were quite cavernous when compared to today's measurements. The Williamsport Gazette and Bulletin reported the following dimensions;
Home plate to right field- 367 feet
Home plate to centerfield- 450 feet
Home plate to left field- 400 feet.

The first game played in the new ballpark was an exhibition game between the Williamsport Grays and the Bucknell University baseball team on April 22, 1926. The Grays defeated the collegians 5-3. The first professional competition occurred when the Grays played the Harrisburg Colored Giants on April 27. In that game, Oscar Charleston, Harrisburg first baseman and manager, hit the first home run at the new ballpark. Charleston was one of the all-time greats of the Negro Leagues and was later enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

During its first three years the uptown ballpark was known as Memorial Field because of its location in Memorial Park. In 1929, Grays club officials deemed it appropriate to
rename the ballpark Bowman Field in honor of Gray's club president, J. Walton Bowman, who had done so much for baseball in Williamsport and was the main catalyst in raising the funds to build the facility.

The field was formally christened as Bowman Field on June 29, 1929. Over 2,200 fans looked on as Bowman was presented with a Swiss watch by Grays players. Bowman's grand-daughter Mary Louise Lentz raised the American flag and a blue-and-white banner that read "Bowman Field." The ever-present Tommy Richardson, who would preside over so many notable occasions at the ballpark, was the Master of Ceremonies.

Bowman Field has seen several structural and cosmetic changes over the years. The first occurred when lights were erected in 1932. The money for the lights came from a joint venture by the Williamsport School District and the directors of the Williamsport Grays. Irv Gleason was the Gray's director who took the lead by putting up the Grays' part of the money by contributing half of the $9,600 cost. Over 2,000 curious fans turned out to see the first night game at Bowman Field on June 6, 1932 as the Grays took on the New York White Roses. The new lights produced about 400,000 units of candlepower in light. The Major Leagues did not begin playing night games until 1935, three years after Williamsport.

The next major change to Bowman Field was in its outfield dimensions. In 1934, a short eight years after the ballpark opened, Grays directors thought that the field's spacious dimensions needed reduction. From the time of its opening through the 1933 season a mere ten home runs had been hit there. When the Philadelphia A's and other Major League teams appeared at Bowman Field for exhibition games, their sluggers considered it a challenge to clear its' fences with homers. Very few did. The reduction of the dimensions would be accomplished by the construction of a "temporary" inner fence around the area of the light standards and throughout the outfield. This “temporary” fence lasted until 1961.

The heavy damage to the facility by the March 1936 flood nearly caused the demise of Bowman Field. There was a crisis about how the funds could be found to make the necessary repairs. The answer came when the City of Williamsport was able to get the "New Deal" Work Progress Administration to provide the labor and a portion of the money to make those repairs. The work was completed in time for the Grays to open their season at Bowman Field in May of that year.

One long-time feature of the area around Bowman Field, was a sign that was placed at the West Fourth Street entrance to Memorial Park and the facility in May of 1936. The sign initially stated "The New York-Pennsylvania League, Bowman Field-Home of the Grays." The lettering on the sign changed many times over the years. One of the more memorable inscriptions read, "Bowman Field, Gateway to the Majors" from the late 40's until the early 60's.

More changes to Bowman Field came after World War II, in 1947. Some were necessitated by damage done by one of Williamsport's recurrent floods the previous year. The Detroit Tigers, Williamsport's Major League parent club at the time, spent over $40,000 in repairs. These repairs included the installation of grandstand seats from Detroit's Briggs Stadium. Some of these seats remained in Bowman Field for over 40 years. A concrete base was also poured for the construction of new box seats which remained in the stadium until 2017 and for the first time at Bowman Field, a sprinkler system was installed to irrigate the infield and outfield grass.

By the late 1950's, Bowman Field was beginning to deteriorate due to lack of investment to make periodic repairs. It became so bad, that in 1957 the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry actually condemned parts of the bleachers and grandstands. This occurred during a year when there was no professional baseball in Williamsport and uncertainty about its return. City officials were reluctant to use public funds to make repairs because of that uncertainty. Bowman Field, at that time, was seen as an albatross. This resulted in the City of Williamsport offering Bowman Field to Little League Baseball for their annual World Series, but even they didn't want it, saying it would be too costly to renovate the field to their specifications.

When the city realized it was going to be "stuck" with Bowman Field, they decided to establish a body to administer the facility, regulate its use and coordinate with the city the maintenance of the field. This resulted in the establishment of the Bowman Field Commission in late summer of 1957. Long-time baseball booster Joe Mosser was named its first chairman. Bill Pickelner was among the first members and would later go on to be the long-time chairman of the Commission. Bowman Field was put back into proper shape in time for pro ball’s return in 1958.

The New York Mets, who were affiliated with Williamsport in 1964, added a historic and unique touch to Bowman Field by installing lights from the recently vacated Polo Grounds, former home of the New York Giants and Mets. These lights illuminated Bowman Field for the next 23 years.

Bowman Field would again fall into a state of disrepair and decline in the late 70's and early 80's. There was no professional baseball during most of this time. When baseball minor league baseball returned in 1987, extensive renovations were required to put the field into a condition safe for fans and players.

Over half a million dollars in repairs and renovations were made prior to that ’87 season. The grandstands and bleachers were replaced with new aluminum seating which would remain in place until 2017. The old wooden box seats were replaced with auditorium-style chairs that had been discarded by the Montgomery High School.

The old Polo Grounds lights were also replaced at this time. The new lights had to be bright enough to meet Triple-A standards because of an anticipated temporary use of the facility by the Philadelphia Phillies Triple-A team that eventually landed in Scranton Wilkes-Barre. While Triple-A ball never came to Williamsport, Bowman Field had one of the best lit fields in the Double-A Eastern League.

The 1987 season will long be remembered for one particular play that took place on August 31 of that year when back-up catcher Dave Bresnahan used a potato in a trick play against the Reading Phillies. “The Great Potato Caper” as it has come to be known, resulted in his release the next day and worldwide publicity for years to come.

In 1988, the old left field bleachers were removed and made way for a picnic area that could be rented out to groups during games. This reduced the seating capacity from over 5,000 to approximately 4,200.

The stadium would lose minor league baseball again after the 1991 season and be without pro ball for the 1992 and ’93 seasons.

In the fall of 1993, it was announced that a new franchise would be coming to town with the Geneva Cubs of the New York-Penn League moving to Billtown from Geneva, NY to begin play in 1994. Prior to the ’94 campaign, new home locker room facilities were constructed. In addition, 900 new box seats were installed and the press box was expanded. The cost of these renovations amounted to $400,000, bringing the cost of all renovations in the 80's and 90's to well over one million dollars.

In July, 1998, Lt. Gov. Mark Schweiker presented Williamsport Mayor Steve Cappelli with a state check for $750,000 as part of a matching grant for another renovation to Bowman Field. In all, $1.5 million was put into renovations that began at the conclusion of the 1999 season and included a new entrance, concourse, restrooms, merchandise store, team offices and more.

In September of 1998, the then owners of the team, Geneva Cubs Baseball, Inc., elected not to renew their MLB affiliation with the Chicago Cubs. Instead, the team signed a 4- year Player Development Contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Soon thereafter the club introduced their new name, the Williamsport Crosscutters, in recognition of the area’s lumber heritage along with their new mascot Rusty Roughcut.

The affiliation with the Pirates lasted for eight successful seasons (1999-2006). During their time as a Pirates affiliate, the Cutters set numerous Williamsport short-season attendance marks and captured the NY-P Championship in 2001 and 2003. The '01 title being shared with the Brooklyn Cyclones after the events of 9/11 forced a cancellation of the series.

At the conclusion of the 2006 season, the Pirates moved their affiliation to State College, home of the new State College Spikes who would enter the NY-Penn League in 2007.

In the fall of 2006, the Crosscutters would announce their new affiliation with the locally popular Philadelphia Phillies. The two cities were also partners from 1933-1942, 1953 and 1958-1962. The Cutters rebranded in 2008 introducing a new logo, colors and uniforms along with their new mascot Boomer.

In 2017, Major League Baseball announced that a regular-season MLB game would be played at Historic Bowman Field. The MLB Little League Classic, televised nationally on ESPN, would become an annual game played during the Little League World Series in an effort to get more children interested in and involved with baseball at a young age.

Prior to the inaugural game, funding from MLB, the Crosscutters and grants from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania given to the City of Williamsport provided more than $4 million to improve Historic Bowman Field. These improvements included new seats throughout the stadium, a new playing surface including new irrigation and drainage, moving the bullpens out beyond the outfield fences, new dugouts closer to home plate, and a new fan deck called Logger’s Landing.

The Crosscutters affiliation with the Phillies ended after the 2020 season when Major League Baseball restructured the minor leagues eliminating 40 of it’s 160 teams including all short-season baseball which included the New York-Penn League and the Williamsport Crosscutters.

Another state grant assisted in further updates and renovations to the ballpark in 2020 including an updated and expanded visitor’s clubhouse and further expansion of the press box.

In 2021, the Crosscutters embarked on a new era of Williamsport baseball, as a founding member of the new MLB Draft League. Established and run by Major League Baseball, the league features the top draft-eligible players from across the country available for the mid-July MLB Draft. The league plays an 80-game schedule running from early June until Labor Day weekend.

The fall of 2021 saw the long-anticipated installation of Historic Bowman Field’s first-ever videoboard with funding from the Commonwealth of PA, the City of Williamsport and the Williamsport Crosscutters.

Muncy Bank Ballpark at Historic Bowman Field is one of the oldest ballparks in the nation and can truly be regarded as one of the most important sporting and social institutions in the Williamsport and north-central Pennsylvania region. It holds a special and lasting place in the hearts and minds of the people of the region, as well as having an important place in its social history. It has survived the ravages of time and remains a living symbol of a vanishing past, a simpler and gentler time. It has served to unite people of diverse social, ethnic and religious groups in their love of our National Game.