When professional baseball had a home in Barelas

When professional baseball had a home in Barelas

From Downtown Albuquerque News

Before Tingley Park, there was Tingley Field. Photo via Albuquerque Isotopes.

Should Albuquerque voters approve, there’s a pretty good chance a new stadium will soon be constructed somewhere in greater Downtown in the coming years. But while that possibility may strike most area residents as a big new urban novelty for Albuquerque, it’s actually anything but. For much of the last century, the Barelas neighborhood played host to a baseball stadium, and while it went by many names over the years, the one most remembered is Tingley Field.

Located just east of the zoo where Tingley Park now stands, a wooden ballpark was constructed in 1920 by men employed by the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway so that their team (likely sponsored by the company itself) would have a place to play, according to Gary Herron’s book, “Baseball in Albuquerque.” They originally named it Apprentice Field, for the workers who built it, but later changed the name to Rio Grande Baseball Park.

Minor league baseball, meanwhile, first came to Albuquerque five years before that when a team called the Dukes joined the Rio Grande Association, a Class-D league that didn’t even last a full season. They played at Stover Field, which seems to have been a separate facility from the future Tingley Field located in the same general area.

Professional ball returned only in the 1930s with a team known as the Albuquerque Dons that played at Tingley Field – named for then-City Commission President and future New Mexico Governor Clyde Tingley. Following a fan poll in 1942, the Dons changed their name to the Dukes, recalling that earlier short-lived team. In the 1960s, the team would play for a few years as the Albuquerque Dodgers.

While earlier incarnations of the field could hardly be called a stadium, the team’s business manager in 1932 arranged to build new grandstands, bleachers, and sections of fence, the Journal reported at the time. The total cost was estimated to be upwards of $10,000. After completion, the ballpark could accommodate 5,000 fans and featured an adobe wall circling the outfield.

The Dons with Clyde Tingley in 1940 (top, center). That year, following a time as New Mexico governor, Tingley would return to his old job as chairman of the City Commission, making him a mayor equivalent. Albuquerque Museum, transfer from Albuquerque Public Library – PA1978.141.304

That wall featured prominently in the boyhood of Clyde Archibeque, who grew up in Barelas just a few hundred yards from Tingley Field.

“During batting practice, the boys from the neighborhood would go to the right-field side, because most of the balls that came over the fence went to right field,” he said. “We’d catch the baseballs and they let us keep them.”

Before long though, they’d taken to scaling the adobe wall to get a better look at players as they warmed up before games.

“We would climb the wall … It was about 12 feet high and covered with concrete,” Archibeque said. “Some of the kids had dug some holes in the concrete, and we’d climb up the wall and sit on the wall during batting practice. Eventually, either the manager or the groundskeeper would come and chase us off.”

One afternoon, Archibeque set out with a friend and they climbed the adobe wall as usual. But then a car pulled up near the wall and a man got out and began shouting at them, demanding that they get off the wall.

Wanting to avoid a confrontation, Archibeque’s friend slid down a support column, ran away from the park, and hid, leaving him alone on the wall as the yelling man approached.

Circa 1937, from what is now the southern end of the zoo’s parking lot. Albuquerque Museum, transfer from Albuquerque Public Library – PA1978.141.204

Making a quick decision, Archibeque slid down a separate column in the other direction, scraping his arm on the way down and falling onto the ballfield below. The crowd gathered in the park gasped as the young boy hit the ground, and then, as they realized he was okay, began to applaud.

A Dukes player told him he was lucky he didn’t break his neck, Archibeque said. He was then escorted out of the ballpark where he reunited with his friend, who’d managed to nab a ball that had been hit over the wall in the meantime.

“It was a rite of passage for both him and myself that evening,” Archibeque said with a chuckle.

(Archibeque’s sister, Julia Archibeque-Guerra, remembers the stadium just as fondly, but said she was never allowed to have the same caliber of adventures as her big brother did. “The way things were back in those days, my dad was very strict, so I wasn’t allowed to go climb the fence,” she said with a laugh. “My brother had all the fun.”)

Meanwhile, Clyde Archibeque, fresh off his fall into the park, continued to watch batting practices and could even catch a distant view of the games from his childhood home.

“At the time, there were no houses to the west of us,” he said. “From the roof of my home, I could see the pitcher and the batter off in the distance.”

When he was in high school, Archibeque took a job at the ballpark as a member of the groundskeeping crew.

“That job didn’t pay much, but it was one of the best jobs I ever had,” he said. “I loved it.”

The gig also gave him the opportunity to see some of baseball’s biggest stars in person. When the Los Angeles Dodgers came to town in 1965 to play an exhibition game, Archibeque and his coworkers visited the dugout, met some of the players, and collected autographs.

“I still have this vivid memory of Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax standing next to each other,” he said. “And I got two baseballs autographed, which I still have.”

He was also able to meet pitcher Don Sutton, who got his start playing at Tingley Field for the Dukes.

“He was maybe 20 years old and I was 16,” Archibeque said. “He was very good to us boys because he wasn’t much older than us.”

Tingley Field was home to other events, too. Archibeque remembers fondly that when the circus would come to town via the railroad, they’d have a parade with animals that traveled along First, Central, and then over to Tingley Field.

By the 1960s, city leaders felt that baseball had outgrown the aging Tingley Field and began making plans to build a new stadium away from the Downtown area, hoping to attract a Triple-A baseball franchise (the Dukes were then Double-A). Voters approved $1 million in bonds for the new stadium, and by 1968, workers broke ground on the Albuquerque Sports Stadium at University and Avenida César Chávez, (later the site of Isotopes Park, which itself opened in 2003).

Archibeque was in college in 1969, the year Tingley Field was demolished, and he is still not happy about it.

“It was sad when they tore it down. We felt really bad about that. It was an era when they tore down our landmarks,” he said. “The other beautiful landmark that was destroyed, a few years later, was the Alvarado Hotel. City leaders back then should have had more sense than that.