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Photo of original LaGrave Field
The Original LaGrave Field
Photo of Paul LaGrave
Paul LaGrave former manager
of original 1920's Cats

The current LaGrave Field is built literally on the "grave" of the original La Grave Field. The original ballpark opened in 1926 as "Panther Park" not far from the orginal Panther Park which it replaced (which was only a few blocks away on the other side of North Main Street). The club's name was officially the Fort Worth Panthers (so named since Fort Worth was the "Panther City") with "Cats" originally being just a nickname until the '30s. The Panthers were a founding member of the Texas League in 1988 and was an affiliate of the Brooklyn Dodgers (1946-56).

The impulse to build the original stadium was a 6-year run (1920-25) of consecutive Texas League championships that lead principle owner Paul LaGrave. Unfortunately the new ballpark wasn't initially lucky as the streak ended. The Cats did win more championships in the following decades in this first version of the ballpark.

Photo of dugout tunnels
Photo of dugout tunnels
Photo of dugout tunnels
Photo of dugout tunnels
Dugout access stairs & tunnels

The Origin of the Name "LaGrave Field"

The park is named after Paul LaGrave, a former Texas Leaguer (though never playing for Fort Worth) who worked his way up in the Panthers front office to become business manager during those successful years. LaGrave died in 1929 and team owner, W. K. Stripling named the park in his honor.

Photo of original Knothole Gang
Original Right Field Bleachers, better known as the Knothole Gang

The Fire (and Floods) of '49

The current LaGrave could be considered the "third" version since the facility built in 1926 suffered a terrible fire on May 15, 1949. The fire, believed to be due to an electrical problem, turned the main grandstand into a mass of twisted metal reminiscent of the wreck of the Hindenburg. The roof collapsed into the grandstand which itself was serious damaged. Light towers lay strewn on the field. It was a major disaster.

Not only was the park a mess, the Cats had a day game scheduled the following afternoon. With the beams and trusses still warm they cleared the field for the game. A crowd of 2,500 (up to 3,000) sat in the bleachers on the sides of the field (similar today) many sitting on folding metal chairs. Fans said they could still feel the heat from the cooling steel.

Unfortunately the fire only proceeded a summer of flooding rains (something almost repeated during the 2007 season when rains washed out 14 games and lead to replacing the outfield sod). The good news was that attendance remained strong and the club was probably one of the best of the years for the Dodgers though they didn't win the Texas League title that season.

The club persevered. LaGrave was rebuilt, rededicated, and re-opened for the 1950 season so the Dodgers farm club could continue play in a complete ballpark again. The costs were even paid by the parent club run by Branch Rickie.

Photo of original LaGrave Field
Original call box (and paint)

The Decline and Fall of the Cats (and LaGrave Field)

The (second) LaGrave Field was probably built well enough to last, unfortunately the minor leagues after WWII were not as sturdy. When Rickie left the Dodgers popular manager Bobby Bragan left the organization. With the Dodgers wanting to move from Brooklyn to Los Angeles, they traded the Cats franchise to the Chicago Cubs 1956 to have the rights in place to move out west. This was just the start of things to come with affiliations changing almost every year.

First, the Cats left the Texas League which it had founded to join the American Association in 1959 and move to AAA status. Unfortunately attendance still fell. With the neighboring Dallas Rangers outdrawing the Cats, and pressure from Branch Rickie, the two teams were merged (as the Dallas-Fort Worth Rangers) in 1960 and became affiliated with the Kansas City A's. The club split time playing between LaGrave Field and Burnett Field in Dallas.

Photo of field site
Arial view of site with trees marking edge of field (source: Google Maps)

The Rangers continued to struggle and attendance continued to fall. Then that incarnation of the AA folded after the 1962 season. The Rangers joined the Pacific Coast League and became affiliates of the Minnesota Twins in 1963. Still things didn't improve even though they returned as the Fort Worth Cats and to the Texas League again as a KC A's club in 1964. With all efforts going into the Dallas Rangers, '64 would be the last year professional baseball was played in Fort Worth for three and a half decades. It also signaled the beginning of end of the original (second) LaGrave Field.

LaGrave Overgrown

After being essentially abandoned for three years the ballpark was torn down in 1967 with parts of the ballpark were sold to Texas schools. Some bleacher sections ended up at other stadiums in San Antonio (St. Mary's University) and Marble Falls HIgh School, light towers went to Edinburgh (University of Texas -- Pan American). A bell, given to manager Bobby Bragan, was also taken away and put into storage.

During that time the field "returned to nature." Portions of the stadium grandstand, mainly tiled floors, concrete and the dugouts (which has been filled in with dirt) were about all that remained to be seen. The field became overgrown. Trees sprouted and grew along following the fence lines. In fact the until April 2008, the Google Maps satellite image of the site showed how a dark tree line --a green ghost shadow of the old ballpark.

Photo of Bobby Bragan Dugout
Bobby Bragan Dugout Suite (First base side)

LaGrave Re-Born (again)

In 2001, with the rise of independent baseball, interest in placing a club in Fort Worth by Carl Bell. When they came out to investigate the site (current) president John Dittrich and others had to cut through the heavy brush to find the location along. Amazingly the found the metal stakes for the first base bag (unlike modern bases mounted on a metal post for each replacement, originally bases were strapped onto the field). Measuring the 90' down the line they found the location of home plate brackets. With these located the infield, then all green, would be placed exactly where it had been some 34 years before.

Photo of original LaGrave Field
Bobby Bragan's Bell in left center field
Photo of original LaGrave Field
Paul LaGrave Dugout Suite (Third Base Side)

Also returned to the ballpark was the bell given to Bobby Bragan in 1950 as manager of the Cats. This was mounted in the outfield and is rung after every Cats victory.

Old Dugouts into Dugout Suites

Instead of demolishing the old dugouts they decided to clean them out and preserve them and the access tunnels. Since the new ballpark would not have the same large grandstand structure those tunnels would really not lead anywhere. A decision was to convert them into "dugout suites" and dig new dugouts for the clubs to use (without any access tunnels). The result is LaGrave Field is the only ballpark with four dugouts.

These vestiges of the historic ballpark were left, for the most part, in tact. Instead of repainting, the last remnants of green paint still cling to the walls. A badly dented metal box bolted into the concrete wall (originally containing the bullpen phone) is still in place. Stairways (seeming rather odd in the grandstand) were designed into the ballpark so fans could make their way into these suites. Of course some changes were necessary with new wood bench seats, padded railings to prevent players from stumbling (though not falling) into them, and decorated with photos celebrating the (original version) of the ballpark.

The dugouts are also named for two of the famous Cats of the past. The third base (visitor's side) dugout suite is the Paul LaGrave Suite after the original owner and ballpark namesake. The first base (home team side) suite is the Bobby Bragan Dugout Suite named after the long time Fort Worth resident, major league ballplayer and manager.