Monument in Fort Wayne to memorialize baseball’s first pro league game

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Five years ago, Elkhart saluted one its best from baseball’s past. Lou Criger, a 16-year big league veteran and Cy Young’s favorite catcher, had a monument placed in the honor of himself and his family in Riverview Park.

David Stalker’s Baseball Memorial Series put that historical marker in place and now Indiana is due to get another.

The Kekiongas of Fort Wayne hosted the first professional baseball league game against the Forest Citys of Cleveland in 1871 and through the efforts of Stalker, Archie Monuments (both in Watertown, Wisc.), Kekionga chapter of Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) members Bill Griggs and Mark Souder as well as Don Graham, Geoffrey Paddock and others, that moment will be memorialized in the Summit City.

Griggs, who is now the Fort Wayne SABR chapter chairman, did research that helped locate the site. Chapter vice-chairman Souder is a former congressman and author of the book “Politics and Baseball.” Graham is the secretary of the Northeast Indiana Baseball Association. Paddock is a 5th district councilman in Fort Wayne.

Griggs says the generous donations have come from the Fort Wayne TinCaps and the Champion Hill Toppers Base Ball Club of Huntington, Ind.

The monument will also serve as a tribute to the late Bob Gregory, a baseball historian and founder of the Fort Wayne SABR chapter who died of cancer in 2016.

Bobby Matthews, 5-foot-5, 140-pound right-handed pitcher who went on to win 297 games in 15-year career in various major leagues, played for the Kekiongas in 1871.

Specifications and other details are being worked out, but it looks like the monument will be placed at the site of the Kekionga Ball Grounds.

Stalker (whom this author worked with on the Criger monument and put together with the Fort Wayne folks) was kind enough to share a rough draft of the inscription:

KEKIONGA BALL GROUNDS 1869- 1871

The 1st major league baseball game, now called the 1st game in a professional league, was played here May 4, 1871. Kekionga whitewashed Cleveland 2-0 in what was then acclaimed the greatest game ever played. It remained the lowest score in the 5 year history of the National Association. The grounds were located between Elm, Mechanics, Fair and Bluff Streets. Kekionga moved here in 1869 from its former grounds east of Calhoun between present-day Wallace and Williams Streets. In May 1870, the team improved the grounds with a fence and grandstands. The central grandstand, the Grand Duchess, was modeled after its namesake in Cincinnati. On November 5, 1871, all structures were destroyed by fire and never rebuilt.

Stalker, also SABR member, said he plans to keep working toward placing monuments in his series. Who knows? There could be more coming to Indiana in the future?

Speaking of SABR, the organization also has chapters in the South Bend area (Lou Criger) and Indianapolis (Oscar Charleston).

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David Stalker’s Baseball Memorial Series placed a memorial monument to Lou Criger in Elkhart, Ind., in 2012. Now, Stalker and Archie Monuments of Watertown, Wis., will help memorialize the site of the Kekionga Ball Grounds in Fort Wayne, site of the first professional league baseball game in 1871.

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