New Monument at Swann Park Honors Professional Baseball Players Who Previously Played on the South Baltimore Field

| October 16, 2019 | 0 Comments

A new monument was installed this year in the median of the turn-around circle located at the Swann Park entrance in Port Covington. The granite monument has a plaque that honors the former Mayor, Governor, and Congressman Thomas Swann, who is the namesake for Swann Park, as well as the history of the 19u amateur baseball team that played at the park. This notable team had more than 175 future professional baseball players take the field.

With the Port Covington Master Plan showing the relocation of Swann Park to the adjacent waterfront—a project that would be designed by Ripken Baseball in coordination with The Port Covington Development Team—a group of local baseball enthusiasts with ties to the 19u amateur baseball team at Swann Park wanted to make sure the history of baseball was commemorated before any major changes were made. The plaque was designed so that it can be moved if the park is relocated.

The 19u amateur baseball changed names multiple times throughout the years depending on the team’s sponsors, which have included Leone’s Boys Club, Johnny’s Used Cars, and Corrigan Insurance.

The Port Covington Development Team is underway on Chapter 1 of the 235-acre, $5.5-billion, multi-decade Port Covington redevelopment. Any major changes to Swann Park, which is owned by Baltimore City Recreation and Parks, are not included in Chapter 1.

The committee for the plaque included former Baltimore City Councilman Joe DiBlasi, who grew up in and represented South Baltimore; Bernie Walter, who was a player and coach for the 19u team and the former longtime coach of Arundel High School; Frank Kolarek, who played at Swann Park and is a scout for the Baltimore Orioles; longtime Old Mill Coach Mel Montgomery, who also coached the 19u team; and Gary Bishop. who played for the team.

The plaque reads:

SWANN PARK

Is named for Baltimore’s 19th Mayor, Thomas Swann (1856-1860), who was the 33rd Governor of Maryland (1866-1869), and served in the U.S. House of Representatives (1869-1879). As a Congressman, he represented the 3rd and then the 4th Congressional Districts. Prior to serving in public office he was president of the B and O Railroad Company (1848-1856).

Swann Park was the home field for the legendary amateur baseball powerhouses Leone’s Boys Club, Johnny’s Used Cars, and Corrigan Insurance. Organized in 1953 playing here until 1996. Representing Baltimore City, they won 19 All American Amateur Baseball Association national championships in Johnstown, Pa. 1957-1959-1967-1972-1973-1976-1977-1979-1980-1981-1982-1983-1985-1987-1989-1990-1991-1993-1996.

Over 176 professional baseball players and more than 45 Major League Baseball Players learned the game and played here, including Hall of Fame Icons Al Kaline and Reggie Jackson, MLB All Stars Jim Spencer, Denny Neagle, and Todd Jones. Neighborhood teenagers including Barry Shetrone, John Miller, Tom Phoebus, Ron Swoboda, Dave Boswell, and Jay Witasick and long MLB careers.

Sponsors were the Leone Brothers, Dominic, Vince, and Tony; then John Wilbanks and Bill Corrigan. Managers and coaches include Ray Muhl, George Henderson, Walter Youse, Bernie Walter, Jim Foit, Mel Montgomery, Norm Golden, and Dean Albany.

From 1953 through 1996, this team won 44 consecutive Maryland State and Baltimore City Championships in the 19u age bracket.

The Committee: Gary Bishop, Joe DiBlasi, Frank Kolarek, Mel Montgomery, and Berney Walter

The 19u team was mostly for college players to compete in the summer after their freshman year of college, but some players still attended high school while playing. It was a team for mostly Baltimore area players, however some players would come into town if they needed a place to play in the summer. The team was coached by Walter Youse from 1955 until 2002.

The most high-profile player to join the team who didn’t grow up around Baltimore was Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson, who joined after playing baseball and football at Arizona State University his freshman year. Jackson grew up in Philadelphia, PA, but his mother moved to Baltimore and he needed a team for the summer of 1965. Jackson was recommended to Youse by Arizona State Manager Bobby Winkles. Jackson’s tryout did not last long before Youse quickly placed him on the team.

Hall of Famer Al Kaline grew up in the nearby South Baltimore neighborhood of Westport, and played high school baseball at Southern High School in Federal Hill. He grew up playing at Swann Park and Baltimore City Recreation and Parks renamed the field this summer to Al Kaline Field. Kaline was drafted by the Detroit Tigers and immediately played in the Major Leagues starting in 1953 at the age of 18.

Walter told SouthBMore.com the orientation of the field has changed since its heyday. He noted the train tracks that are now beyond the first base line used to be in left field. Right field had a swale that went down towards the harbor and center field continued on for a long distance. Swann Park was closed in 2007 after it was found to be contaminated with arsenic. It later reopened in 2010 after remediation and a renovation.

Walter said the said the field was in good shape in the 1960s and was well taken care of. The 19u team practiced every day at 430pm and played games at 6pm. There were no lights at Swann Park at the time. The team played eight games a week. It played at home during the week and traveled on the weekends.

The team got together every year in late-May and early-June and would play until the All American Amateur Baseball Association National Championships in Johnstown, PA in August.

Walter said the All American Amateur Baseball Association National Championships grew tired of Baltimore winning and began to change the rules to become “anti-Baltimore.” They came up with a rule that players had to live in the zip code of the franchise, needing a residence starting with 212.

In 1996, the team made the move to Bachmann Park in Glen Burnie and became part of the Maryland Orioles Amateur Baseball Organization. Former player for the 19u team Dean Albany took over as coach after Youse’s death. Albany, who started the Maryland Orioles, was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates before arm injuries put him into coaching at a young age. Albany was also a longtime scout for the Baltimore Orioles.

The Maryland Orioles now have teams in many age groups and continue to have success at the All American Amateur Baseball Association National Championships.

Walter said the funding for the plaque was raised after sending an email blast to former players and coaches. “Everyone who coached there and played there is pretty proud of what happened,” said Walter. “We didn’t want it to go away and not be recognized.”

Al Kaline Field is now the home of the Digital Harbor High School baseball team and continues to be used for youth baseball and recreation leagues.

About the Author:

Founder and Publisher of SouthBmore.com, longtime resident of South Baltimore, and a graduate of Towson University. Diehard Ravens and O's fan, beach volleyball enthusiast, dog lover, and "bar food" foodie. Email me at [email protected] and follow me on Twitter at @SoBoKevin.
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