Road to major league baseball’s integration runs through Daytona Beach

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — If you’ve ever taken a trip to the “World’s Most Famous Beach” you probably have driven past a piece of major league baseball history and not realized it.

Situated near the corner of South Beach Street and Orange Avenue on Daytona’s City Island is the home of the Jackie Robinson Ballpark.

The ballpark, also known as “The Jack,” is the oldest active ballpark in minor league baseball.

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Originally named The Daytona City Island Ballpark, the stadium opened on June 4, 1914.

Like most small baseball fields at the time the field is small, with modest seating.

As baseball grew in popularity so did City Island Ballpark, with the addition of grandstands and a press box to replace the original wooden bleachers in the 1920s.

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Then, in 1946, a young player named Jackie Robinson would give the ballpark a place in history when he made his professional debut at the historic park.

On March 17, 1946, Robinson played his first spring training game at the park for the Brooklyn Dodgers’ Triple-A farm team, the Montreal Royals.

That year Robinson would play in 124 games, collecting 155 hits, three home runs and batting .349. for the Royals.

While Robinson had broken the color barrier on the field, fans of color were still forced to cheer from a separate viewing area from white spectators.

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A year later he would go on to change the face of professional baseball after being called up to the major leagues by the Dodgers.

In the years since that historic day the stadium underwent numerous renovations while maintaining its history.

In 1990 the park was renamed Jackie Robinson Memorial Ballpark and a commemorative bronze statue of Robinson was dedicated near the ballpark’s entrance.

Scattered throughout the park are several plaques detailing the ballpark’s past and place in history.

In November 1998, Jackie Robinson Ballpark was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

The ballpark is currently home to the Daytona Cubs and Bethune-Cookman University Wildcats baseball teams.

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Matt Reeser, WFTV.com

Matt Reeser joined WFTV in 1998 as a news photographer and has worked for television stations in Kentucky and West Virginia.