I let a girl take advantage of me at Wolfson Park once. Actually, she pretty much did whatever she wanted, and I just stood there, without any say in the matter. After about 3 minutes, she was finished with me, kind of chuckled, and sent me away. She had struck me out. That’s right, a girl struck me out. Not just any girl actually. As a pitcher for the “Silver Bullets” a traveling promotional all-girls baseball team, this pitcher spent some time in baseball’s minor leagues before retiring. But she struck me out along the way. Twice.
At Wolfson Park.
That was just one of the memories that floated by this weekend for me during the final regular season games at the 47 year old baseball stadium. There’s been a lot of baseball played there, and some softball too. Since the Bragans took over ownership of the minor league franchise in Jacksonville, they’ve made Wolfson Park a friendly place. Not just for minor league games, but for all kinds of ball playing. There have been celebrity softball games, home run hitting contests, Senior Men’s baseball match ups and the games with the “Silver Bullets.” I hit off Bob Feller at Wolfson Park. And two of the three fights I’ve been in in my adult life were right in Wofson’s dugouts.
But the best thing about the ballpark is it was just that, a ballpark. You knew baseball was played there. You could feel it; you could smell it when you walked through the front door. That musty, well-worn, rosin bag, glove oil, popcorn, hot dog, hamburgers-on-the-grill smell that only a ballpark can create.
And it was friendly. Between the early “Hey boy!” calls from Peter Bragan Sr. as he greeted fans who stopped by his seat on the way to theirs, to the earnest “Thanks for comin'” from Peter Jr. (Pedro) as he shook hands by the stadium’s exit, there was a lot of fun to be had at the ball park. My kids learned about professional sports there. Unlike the football stadium where the action seems sterile and removed, at Wolfson Park it was right in your lap. The on deck circle was an arms length away and foul balls were on you in a hurry.
Wolfson Park used to be known as a pitchers park. With a brick outfield wall a mile away, fly balls were gobbled up easily and the wind kept everything in play. But once Pedro put up “Bragan’s Blue Monster” the double-decked, sign-filled, outfield wall inside the bricks, it became a hitter’s paradise. It also made it more fun for the fans. Not just because the wall created all sorts of caroms and knocked enough of the wind down to let balls fly out of there, but it also moved the entire field back 15 feet, leaving a measly 45 feet between home plate and the back fence. Sitting in the front row gave you the feel of being in the batters box. Once, while sitting up front, I was caught on tape eating a salad at a game. A salad! I encouraged Pedro to add salads to the menu a few years ago for “something lighter” I think were the words I used. Boy did I catch grief for that!
Although many future stars and even Hall of Famers have played at Wolfson Park, it’s not a magical place. It more friendly than anything, and the Bragan’s have made it a priority to keep it a friendly, family place. From the candy on Mr. Bragan’s desk to the untold memorabilia in Pedro’s office, there’s not a spot you’d feel unwelcome in at Wolfson Park. And because of that, we’ll remember Wolfson Park.