AKRON, OH – SEPTEMBER 24, 2013 - Firestone Stadium is currently the home of the Akron Racers women’s softball team of the professional league called National Pro Fastpitch. While it may be serving the teams that play with the larger balls and shorter base paths today, there was a time when the stadium played home to some of the greatest to ever step on a baseball diamond.
The stadium is named for the rubber giant who was centered in Akron, Ohio and is located just outside the grounds of their main factory on the outskirts of downtown.
This past season marked the tenth anniversary of professional fastpitch softball being played at the stadium.
In addition to being a stadium, the structure also houses the Summit County Softball Hall of Fame. The Hall has plaques, relatively similar to what baseball players get in Cooperstown, on the wall of the great male and female softball players throughout the years.
A few of the most interesting items that can be found in the Hall of Fame are original newspaper clippings from the 1920s when Babe Ruth played at the stadium. According to the articles, Ruth was there on a tour with some players basically to promote the game as well as some sponsors. Ruth delivered a great performance to those who came out to see him play in Akron as he blasted a homerun which some say is still bouncing down South Main Street.
During that time period and up until the Racers came a decade ago, the field was used for both baseball and softball. When the Racers took the stadium over, however, they brought the outfield grass in so that it would better suit a softball field. Since the base paths for softball are 60 feet instead of the tradition 90 for baseball, the discrepancy can easily be seen. Due to this fact, fans can notice that the grass on the edge of the infield is slightly darker than the rest of the outfield.
The fence distance for the baseball players is still standing at 350 feet all the way around (although it’s probably not the same fence itself). When most softball games are played at the stadium these days, a plastic fence is brought out and set up at about 250 feet from home plate.
One can definitely feel the stadium’s age when they are within its grounds, but not to the point where it feels like the stadium is going to fall apart. The grounds went under a renovation project when the Racers took them over and added a roof over many of the seats as well as some bleachers in various places. Most of the seats behind home plate are wooden bleachers with no backing, although there are a few rows up front that have individual folding chairs.
Media members will probably not be blown away by their accommodations which are simply ply board slabs on metal rails bolted to one of the wooden bleachers.
The stadium is generally kept pretty clean and the seats are all wiped down before each game, especially if the dust from the field blows onto them.
The stadium sits about 2,500, but about 6,000 watched the Racers take on the USA softball team last summer. As one might imagine all of the prices, from the tickets to the food and beverages, are much cheaper than those at any type of professional baseball stadium.
While baseball fans will no longer be able to see their sport played on these grounds, they may get jitters when they think of Ruth’s towering homerun when the visit the stadium.
Written by Bill Jordan
Contributor to BaseballReflections.com.