Elk City, OK
Review by Mike
One of the greatest joys of road tripping is finding something that is as unexpected as it is delightful, that moment when meticulous planning steps aside and serendipity takes over. I was driving across Oklahoma and having trouble with my contact lenses. This required an unplanned exit from the highway at Elk City to find a friendly optometrist, which I did. Eyes once again functioning, I wound my way back towards the interstate when what appeared before my eyes but light towers and the unmistakable shape of an old roof over a WPA baseball stadium. It was bathed in heavenly light and angels harmonized gently in the background, although it’s possible I may have imagined that last bit.
Ackley Park was built in 1939 out of tons and tons of the loveliest red stone. I have really never seen anything quite like it; a rich, vibrant rusty red color, fitted together by hand to form, well, just about everything. The grandstand is made of stone. The outfield fence… red stone. The ticket office… stone. The dugouts, yes, the dugouts… stone. The retaining wall that surrounds the property, indeed, the entire circumference is hand-crafted from large umber rocks. This is what the ballpark in Bedrock would look like if Fred and Barney played baseball.
The grandstand is in excellent condition, with a full roof that covers all of the seating, which is wholly comprised of bleacher benches with no backs. There are two low stone walls along field level; one that borders the playing field and another that is set back about six feet, creating a channel behind the protective screening. I saw a few cushioned folding chairs lying about and one assumes that these are used in this space, kind of a BYO front row seating section.
The playing surface is field turf, which takes away from the charm only just a little. Turf fields in these old, small-town ballparks are a small price to pay when the money saved on grass maintenance can be redirected into preserving the aging structures. There is an out-building along the 3rd base line (not made of stone) that houses batting cages and locker rooms. I found a young man in there who told me that all of the players, both high school and American Legion, help to maintain the stadium, chipping in with cleaning and light maintenance.
The light towers are of the erector set variety, which I always prefer to the tall pole. They add old-time character to a place that is the definition of character. The scoreboard is a nice one for a community ballpark, showing the complete line score as well as other helpful information, painted in the dark brown of the local high school team.
The stone outfield fence (no padding!) runs in straight lines from the foul poles out to where they meet in dead centerfield. The young man told me that the original distance to dead centerfield was 444 feet. To mitigate this, a newer fence cuts diagonally across center field to reduce the clout require to hit one out. Still, it would have been fun to watch a batter circle the bases while a fielder tried to chase down the ball in the deep centerfield corner.
I have been unable to find any information on minor league teams that might have played here in the past beyond a reference to the semi-pro Elk City Brown Sox that called Ackley Field home in the 1940s. If anyone knows more, please drop us a line. Thank you to my funky contact lenses for necessitating my unscheduled stop in Elk City. Thanks to the young gentleman for talking to an old guy who wandered into his batting practice. Mostly, though, thank you to Elk City for having the good sense to maintain this gem of a ballpark.