Ballparks of the PGCBL: Dunn Field

Editors’ Note: This is the final feature in a series on the nine ballparks that make up the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League. The series featured each park and concludes today, on the opening day of the 2012 PGCBL season.

Part I: Veterans Memorial Park, Mohawk Valley
Part II: Colburn Park, Newark
Part III: Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds, Watertown
Part IV: East Field, Glens Falls
Part V: Doubleday Field, Cooperstown
Part VI: Damaschke Field, Oneonta
Part VII: Bob Bellizzi Field, Albany
Part VIII: Shuttleworth Park, Amsterdam

Dunn Field
Team: Elmira Pioneers
Location: 546 Luce Street, Elmira, N.Y.
Opened: 1939
Capacity: 4,020

Chronology of teams… (only teams to play at the current Dunn Field)
Elmira Pioneers (Eastern League) 1938 – 1955
Elmira Pioneers (New York-Penn League) 1957 – 1961
Elmira Pioneers (Eastern League) 1962 – 1970
Elmira Royals (Eastern League) 1971
Elmira Pioneers (Eastern League) 1972
Elmira Pioneers (New York-Penn League) 1973, 1976-77, 1979-1981, 1984-1995
Elmira Red Sox (New York-Penn League) 1974
Elmira Pioneer-Red Sox (New York-Penn League) 1975, 1978
Elmira Suns (New York-Penn League) 1982-1983
Elmira Pioneers (Northeast League) 1996-1998, 2003-2004
Elmira Pioneers (Northern League) 1999-2002
Elmira Pioneers (Can Am League) 2005
Elmira Pioneers (New York Collegiate Baseball League) 2006-2010
Elmira Pioneers (PGCBL) 2011 – current

The City of Elmira and baseball have a long history. Baseball has been played at the end of Elmira’s Luce Avenue for over 100 years. The Elmira Pioneers name itself dates back to the early 1900s and the New York State League. The current version of the Elmira Pioneers of the summer collegiate Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League plays its home games at Dunn Field. The current incantation of Dunn Field was constructed in 1938. Heading into the 2012 season, the grand old park is going under substantial renovations.

Over the past 100 years, numerous baseball all-stars have called Dunn Field home including but not limited to Rabbit Maranville, Earl Weaver, Jim Palmer, Wade Boggs, Curt Schilling, Lou Pinella, Davey Johnson (current Washington Nationals manager), Cal Ripken Sr., Don Zimmer and Brady Anderson; again just to name a few. The list of former Major Leaguers is numerous.  Major League teams affiliated with the Pioneers through many years in the Double-A Eastern League and the Class-A New York-Penn League included the Saint Louis Cardinals, Brooklyn Dodgers, Boston Red Sox, Detroit Tigers, Philadelphia Athletics, Saint Louis Browns, Washington Senators (original), Philadelphia Phillies, Baltimore Orioles, Kansas City Royals, San Diego Padres, Cleveland Indians and the Florida Marlins.

The current site for Dunn Field was once the home of Maple Avenue Driving Park, the stadium noted for hosting the first professional football night game in 1902 (Nov. 21) between the National Football League’s Philadelphia Athletics and the Kanaweola Athletic Club. Eventually Maple Avenue Driving Park was replaced by Recreation Park which featured a wooden grandstand. The early 1900s saw Elmira teams known as the Colonels Gladiators, Pioneers and Red Jackets play in the New York-Penn League and the New York State League. The first Elmira side took the field in 1885 – the Elmira Colonels in the NYSL. The 1914 Colonels won what would become the first of many championships for the city. Elmira then won back-to-back championships in 1937 (NY-Penn League) and 1938 (Eastern League) as the Colonels and Pioneers respectively.

Unfortunately 1938 also saw Recreation Park’s wooden grandstand burn to the ground. It would be replaced by what is today Dunn Field. The park is named after Elmira businessman Edward Joseph Dunn who donated land for the stadium. The Pioneers added a pair of Eastern League titles in 1941 and 1943, each championship came with a different parent club. In 1951, Don Zimmer, at the time a player for the Elmira Pioneers, was married at Dunn Field. Hall of Famer and future Baltimore Orioles manager Earl Weaver took over the team in 1962 and won league championships in 1962 and 1964. Weaver departed after 1965 but the Pioneers, a Baltimore Orioles farm club, again won the Eastern League crown in 1966. The final Eastern League title came in 1971 when the Elmira Royals hoisted the trophy. The Eastern League eventually moved forward and rest of the 1970s would bring forth the Class-A New York-Penn League and an affiliation with the Boston Red Sox. The Elmira Red Sox won what would be Elmira’s lone NY-P title in 1976.

The Pioneers were one of the first farm teams for the expansion Florida Marlins in 1993. Several years later, the Dunn Field squad shed affiliated baseball and moved on to the independent Northeast League. The 11th league championship for an Elmira squad was won in 1997 when current manager Dan Shwam skippered the Pioneers to the Northeast League championship. The Pioneers played on the independent circuit from 1996 through 2005. Summer collegiate baseball descended on the Chemung River and Dunn Field in 2006 when the summer collegiate Elmira Pioneers were born. It took two seasons for manager Matt Burch to lead the Pios to a league championship – the 12th for an Elmira squad. Elmira star Shane Wolf was the league Player of the Year and Elmira swept Glens Falls for the title in the championship series. The team featured current New York Yankees pitcher Cody Eppley. Dan Shwam returned to the Pioneers in 2010 and led the franchise to a division championship. Elmira went undefeated in the divisional playoffs before falling to Amsterdam in the league championship series.

Dunn Field resides at the end of Luce Avenue just outside downtown Elmira. When the Pioneers open their home schedule, the over 70-year-old facility will have a new look as $40,000 has been spent on renovations to the seating area, entrance way and bathrooms. The Pioneers locker room was renovated and a beer garden stands on the third base side of the stadium. The view from the stands is one of the best in the PGCBL. Off in the distance beyond the left-field fence lies the Chemung River. Bushy green trees dominate the landscape behind the 12-foot high outfield fence and the rolling hills of the Southern Tier are visible beyond the trees. Over the right field fence and trees, houses in a nearby neighborhood are very much visible. Uniform dimensions shape the outfield with 325. The outfield fence reaches as high as 20-feet in left field. The right-center field power alley is dominated by the scoreboard. Wooden advertisement boards wrap around the outfield from one foul line to another with a green batters’ eye in dead center field.

Behind home plate and playing surface rises a large covered grandstand with almost every seat protected by a roof. From one end to the other, the concrete and steel grandstand is covered with chair-back plastic seats. Box seats are slightly set off from the main grandstand and hook directly around the home plate area behind the backstop. Underneath the grandstand, one can view baseball’s past in Elmira with large black-and-white photos of teams and players past. Last season, Dunn Field added another milestone as the host of the very first Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League All-Star Game.

The 2011 Pioneers shattered summer collegiate franchise attendance records at the gate. Dunn Field played host to more than 35,000 fans during the regular season. On average, the Pioneers played to crowds of nearly 1,500 spectators per night. Four times, Dunn Field hosted more than 4,000 fans with a season-high crowd of 4,683 on Fan Apprection Night as the Pioneers thrashed the Watertown Wizards 18-0 in their second-to-last regular season home game. Three of the four 4,000-plus crowds entered through the gates of Dunn Field during the final two weeks of the season. Elmira led the PGCBL in overall attendance, average attendance and the Pioneers crowd of 4,683 against Watertown on Aug. 1 is a PGCBL record.

On the field, the Pioneers finished third in the highly-competitive PGCBL West behind division champion Cooperstown and eventual league champion Newark. Infielder Ryan Normoyle earned a share of the PGCBL batting championship and he was named All-PGCBL first team. A franchise record 10 players were chosen for the PGCBL All-Star Game, which was played in Elmira. Six of those players were voted as All-Star Game starters by league coaches. At the end of the season, five Pioneers were tapped for the All-PGCBL team including Normoyle, Justin Lacy, Ty Yesensky, David Bishop and Wes McBride. Heading into the 2012 season, the Pioneers are under new ownership and will be playing at a newly-renovated Dunn Field.

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