This past week, as the weather took a turn for the warmer, it reminded me that spring will be upon us in a few short months. With the entrance of spring comes a re-emergence of a different kind, the start of the baseball season with spring training. Louisville may not be a spring training site, but in the history of Louisville baseball is intertwined. Most people know that Louisville is home to Louisville Slugger, which has been making baseball bats for players for over 120 years. But did you know there has been professional baseball played in Louisville since the 1870s? First, the Louisville Grays played in the old National League from 1876 to 1878. Then the Louisville Eclipse, later known as the Louisville Colonels played in the American Association from 1882-1891 when the league disbanded and then in the National League until the team disbanded in 1899. Four Hall of Famers played for that Eclipse/Colonels team including the great Honus Wagner, who in August 1899 while with the Colonels became the first player to steal second, third, and home in succession. When the National League contracted from twelve teams to eight at the end of the 1899 season, Louisville was left without a professional team.
In 1901, the American Association was created as a minor league baseball league at the Triple-A classification. Louisville was granted a team within this league with a familiar nickname, the Louisville Colonels. The Colonels would play in the American Association for 61 years until the American Association disbanded in 1962. Famous alums to come through Louisville on their way to the major leagues included Billy Herman, Earle Combs, Phil Niekro and Louisville’s own Pee Wee Reese. In 1949 Louisville had two professional baseball teams as the Cleveland Buckeyes of the Negro League moved to Louisville in hopes of changing their fortunes with a new city. Unfortunately, the team was not able to get the number of fans that were needed to sustain the team, so the team was disbanded in 1950.
In 1968 professional baseball made a return to Louisville as the Louisville Colonels of the International League came to the city. This would be short lived however, as the team was forced to move in 1972 when the stadium they were using, Cardinal Stadium, was converted into a football stadium that was not conducive to baseball. Notable players to come through Louisville during that time include Carlton Fisk, Luis Tiant, and Cecil Cooper. Finally in 1982 the team that is now known as the Louisville Bats moved to Louisville. Although the team has gone by different names due to its many affiliations with major league teams, the team has not changed. Today, the people can go out to the ballpark in Louisville and see many of the players that will be playing in the majors in a short time. Professional baseball has come back to Louisville, and hopefully this is where it will stay. So the next time the weather is a bit warmer, grab a glove and ball and go outside for a little game of catch to get ready for another season of the sport that runs through the history of Louisville.