Downs Field, the baseball park between 12th and 14th streets, east of Chestnut Avenue in East Austin, has more than a century of history.
The Black Senators, Austin’s Negro League team, started playing there in 1910 and called the place home for four decades. It’s hosted baseball icons Satchel Paige, Smokey Joe Williams, Willie Mays and Buck O’Neil, and is now home to the Huston-Tillotson University Rams. Last year, the Texas Historical Commission designated the field a historic landmark.
But the field is showing its age. So local groups, including the Downs Field Conservancy, Austin’s African American Cultural Heritage District and Forklift Danceworks, are working to raise money for repairs to the East Austin icon.
“The fear is that in time this landmark becomes rundown and not maintained,” Austin’s African American Cultural Heritage District executive director Lisa Byrd said.
The city owns the field, but based on an agreement between the university and city, Huston-Tillotson baseball coach Alvin Moore and his players grade the fields, take out the trash and maintain the land. Despite their efforts, the park needs work. Most of the poles for flood lights are leaning. A few years ago, one even fell and totaled a car. The park frequently floods because of a nearby creek. And the dugouts, seating area and fence are all damaged.
Moore, who has been involved with the park for more than 50 years as a player and coach, said he wants to see repairs made to restore a national treasure.
“This isn’t just about Huston-Tillotson playing baseball, it’s about history,” he said.
To raise money, the groups will host District Days at Downs Field May 2-4. The three-day weekend of performances, carnivals and baseball clinics will feature the premier of “Play Ball,” the latest from Forklift Danceworks, a group that creates dance performances inspired by the movements of everyday life.
Forklift Danceworks artistic director Allison Orr will work directly with the Huston-Tillotson baseball team to choreograph a performance inspired by the motions used in baseball.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity to use the amazing movement, but also the place of sports in our culture, as performance, as a life event, and as something that people are connected to,” Orr said.
For information visit www.aachd.org.