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Annapolis

‘A new beginning’: Historic Hot Sox Field reopens at Wilson Park after $2.5 million renovation

In 2013, Maryland House Speaker Michael Busch threw out the first pitch at the baseball field once home to the Galesville Hot Sox, a Black sandlot team.

With Busch’s help, Anne Arundel County had secured state funding to purchase the 28-acre plot at Wilson Park and preserve the field for weekend baseball games and community use. Nearly a decade later the county held a ribbon-cutting Saturday to recognize the completion of a $2.5 million renovation to the field and pay tribute to Busch who died in May 2019 at age 72.

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County Executive Steuart Pittman and Department of Recreation and Parks Director Jessica Leys were in attendance as well as state officials, members of the Galesville Community Center Organization and members of Busch’s family.

“Speaker Busch helped so much,” said Lyndra Marshall, a historian and member of the Galesville Community Center Organization. “He said he was proud of what we were doing keeping Black history up in the area and how he wanted to help, too. I don’t know what would have happened to the field if not for him.”

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Some of the updates to the field include a new irrigation system to help with water runoff, new grandstands where spectators can enjoy the games, and new dugouts for teams. The entryway and the parking area were also upgraded. A timber pavilion adjacent to the ballfield has been named for Busch to honor his contributions to the project and the Galesville area.

“He was a great contributor to this project by helping secure the funding,” said Gertrude Makell, president of the Galesville Community Center Organization. “The completion of this project has been a long time coming.”.

The field is now more accessible with full-size grandstands and dugouts that were built with bricks from the original field.

The Galesville Hot Sox was a local semiprofessional Negro league team formed in 1915. They competed against other sandlot teams throughout Anne Arundel, Prince George’s, Charles, and St. Mary’s counties and the Eastern Shore and served as an informal farm team for the Negro Professional League.

“Galesville had one of the best teams around, everybody knew that,” said Chester Taylor, who played center field and first base for the Hot Sox from 1956 to 1962.

Black baseball began in the 1890s, when Black residents were banned from playing in the major leagues. The Negro National League was started in 1920 but only lasted until 1930. It returned in 1933. By 1937 the Negro American League was added, and the two leagues competed against each other until 1947. The leagues weren’t necessary once Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947.

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While the Negro leagues came and went there were sandlot teams all across the region that played an exciting brand of baseball that thrilled fans.

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The site where the field is located pays homage to the contributions of Henry Wilson, a former enslaved person, and his family and heirs, who helped establish an African American community in Galesville that still thrives today. In 1928, Wilson’s son Richard transformed their farm into a baseball field for the Galesville Hot Sox.

The Hot Sox integrated in 1967 and continued to play until the team was dissolved in 1997. While the field was a place for sport, it was also important for community gatherings during segregation.

“The field had good eats, too. That’s what stuck out to everyone I’ve asked,” said Marshall, “They had fried fish, 25-cent crab cakes, potato salad and greens before and after the games.”

Upward of 1,200 people attended games, which is quite a lot for a rural community during those times, Marshall said.

The reopening of the field not only breathes new life into an old tradition in Galesville but also connects the past with the present. Former members of the Hot Sox like Taylor came out to show their support for the field that gave them so many memories.

“It’s going to be amazing,” Taylor said. “A new beginning.”


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