OPINION | STEVE STRAESSLE: Playing the field

I found a cardboard box sitting in my home library. Its weathered sides told me it'd been around a while, and a label on top read, "Hands Off!"

Naturally, I opened it.

Books, photographs, and miscellaneous literature formed a neat stack inside. As I thumbed through the items, I felt my wife's presence.

"You just confirmed my suspicion that you can't read."

"I was curious."

"That's really old stuff. Be careful," she said.

"I can see that. Where'd it come from?"

"My mom cleaned out her house and wanted me to take care of some of the family history. Not sure if that's a good choice with your idiot dog around, but it's here now. Besides, maybe it'll balance your questionable heritage. Check out Kavanaugh Field."

The part about my dog being an idiot stung a little. The heritage part, not so much. Her great-great-grandfather was Judge Williams Marmaduke Kavanaugh, the guy who developed Pulaski Heights and was a U.S. senator.

Thanks to the book I was holding, I realized he had also been president of the Southern Baseball League.

The timing was perfect. The Travelers just opened the season and there, in my hands, was a bit of the team's history.

In 1885, a park was built on Little Rock's west side, the area around today's Central High School, and it quickly became home to Little Rock's baseball programs. Named West End Park and bordered by 14th, 16th, and Park Streets, it hosted the state's first night game in 1894 in front of 2,000 fans. The next year, the city's professional baseball team, the Little Rock Travelers, formed.

I turned to the Arkansas Baseball Encyclopedia to learn more.

A 1915 upgrade to the park razed the grandstand to replace it with one boasting 3,500 seats. Judge Kavanaugh had played a huge role in professional baseball's return to Little Rock in his capacity as president of the Southern League. Unfortunately, he died in February 1915, at the age of 49, right before the season he had crafted started.

"It says here your grandfather's funeral was 'the greatest funeral Little Rock had ever seen.'"

My wife nods. "I've heard that. Wonder what that means?"

"I don't know, but the city was so upset after he died, they renamed the park Kavanaugh Field."

Kavanaugh Field hosted the Travelers until 1927, the year Central High was built. The school bought the land and allowed the Travelers a few more years of use before finally taking it over.

In 1930, the Travelers played a night game in front of 8,000 spectators. The next year, the team moved to Ray Winder Field. Shortly after, Central High razed Kavanaugh Field and built Quigley Stadium.

"I like to think a bit of my grandfather is still there," my wife, a Central High graduate, said. "He'd love knowing Arkansas baseball thrives all these years later."

The Travelers play across the river in a beautiful stadium now, but the essence of Judge Kavanaugh stays in Little Rock, his beloved hometown.

Steve Straessle is the principal of Little Rock Catholic High School for Boys. You can reach him at sstraessle@lrchs.org. Find him on Twitter @steve_straessle. "Oh, Little Rock" appears every other Monday.

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