News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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March 13, 2010

Terre Haute once built 'finest minor league baseball park'

TERRE HAUTE — Only a select few saw Memorial Stadium from Ernie Woods’ vantage.

Under the summer sun, he roamed the outfield for the Terre Haute Phillies in 1950. The ballpark turned 25 years old that season. By contrast, Woods was just 26. But he’d already seen a lot of minor-league baseball cities, suiting up for teams in Missouri, Ontario, upstate New York and Delaware. Front-office legend Branch Rickey discovered him at a tryout camp in New Orleans, Woods’ hometown. He and future Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda had been teammates with the Schenectady Blue Jays. He’d played in five different pro leagues.

So Woods knew a special ballpark when he saw one.

That’s exactly what Woods found when the Philadelphia Phillies sent him to their Terre Haute farm club in ’50.

“The way it was built, the whole building itself — it wasn’t a football stadium,” recalled Woods, now 86, “it was a baseball stadium.”

Shortly after becoming its proprietor, Indiana State University demolished Memorial Stadium in 1969 and replaced it with a football facility, also called Memorial Stadium, which still stands. Only the Bedford-stone arch honoring World War I veterans and the outfield wall remain from the original structure that was officially dedicated May 4, 1925.

Until this winter, the community hadn’t seen a major baseball stadium construction since that time. The recently completed, $2.5-million renovation of Bob Warn Field at First and Locust streets has created a new 878-seat ballpark for the ISU baseball team, as well as the Terre Haute Rex. The ISU Foundation funded the project and owns the Rex — a club comprised of offseason collegiate players who’ll compete in the Prospect League. The city hasn’t been home to an organized summer-league team beyond the American Legion level since the professional farm club left town for good on July 3, 1956.

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