About Peninsula War Memorial Stadium
Historic Peninsula War Memorial Stadium in Hampton, Virginia serves as home to the Peninsula’s team, the Peninsula Pilots. Construction began on the venerable stadium in 1947 thanks to a regional cooperative venture between the cities of Hampton and Newport News, Va. Construction was completed the following year in 1948, and the facility was given the name War Memorial Stadium as a tribute to those that fought for our nation in WWII. That’s when the Brooklyn Dodgers moved their Piedmont League (Class A) operation to town. War Memorial had its first “Home Team.” The Newport News Baby Dodgers, and a proud tradition of baseball on the Peninsula, were born.
The Dodgers called War Memorial home until 1955. They won two Piedmont League Championships during their stay (1948 & 1954). Several eventual Major League Dodgers roamed the grounds during those years including Clyde Mashore, Gil Hodges and Johnny Podres. The stadium had no permanent tenant from 1956-1962, until the Washington Senators moved their Single A operation to town in 1963. The team was dubbed the Peninsula Greys, but Washington only spent one year affiliated with the Peninsula.
In 1964 the Cincinnati Reds moved in and assumed the same Carolina League nickname (the Greys). The Reds sent prospects through War Memorial for three years, and treated the fans of the Peninsula to such talents as Johnny Bench and Lou Pinella. In 1967, the Kansas City Athletics assumed control of the Peninsula’s Carolina League entry and kept the Greys name. They stayed for only two seasons, which for the era of the late 60’s and early 70’s could have been considered a long time. The Houston Astros gave us the Peninsula Astros in 1969, the Philadelphia Phillies operated under the same name in 1970 and as the Peninsula Pilots in 1971 (a Carolina League Championship season). In 1972 and 1973 the Montreal Expos placed their Class AAA International League asset in Hampton and called them the Peninsula Whips. Gary Carter, a 2003 Major League Baseball Hall of Fame inductee, was a Whip during this era.
The Philadelphia Phillies returned in 1976 as the Peninsula Pilots and provided the fans of the Peninsula with 10 full years of stability that included two Carolina League Championship seasons. In 1980 Bill Dancy guided the Pilots to a 100-win season and a league title. Bob Tiefenour, Dickie Noles, Ozzie Virgil, Julio Franco and Darren Daulton were among the future Philly stars to call Peninsula home for a summer. This was debatably the signature era for professional baseball on the Peninsula.
When the Phillies left in search of a more modern ballpark after the 1985 season, the Chicago White Sox moved in. During their stay, fans were treated to future big leaguers Scott Radinsky and Craig Grebeck. The Peninsula White Sox played for two seasons in the Carolina League. That franchise was mentioned twice in the hit baseball movie Bull Durham, starring Kevin Costner. The movie also featured current Coastal Plain League President & Commissioner Pete Bock, who played the preacher that married Millie and Jimmy at the pitcher’s mound of Durham Athletic Park (the home of the former CPL entry, Durham Americans).
Peninsula placed un-affiliated, co-op teams (comprised of players from several parent organizations) into the Carolina League in 1988 and 1989. The last professional franchise to call War Memorial home was the Seattle Mariners, who brought back the Peninsula Pilots name from 1990-1992. Fans saw the likes of Bret Boone, Darren Bragg, Desi Relaford and minor league home run king Bubba Smith during the three years that Seattle’s Class A team was in Hampton. They moved the franchise to a newly constructed stadium in Wilmington, Delaware after they won the Carolina League title in 1992.
From 1997-1999, a Women’s Professional Fast pitch Softball League team called the Virginia Roadsters served as the stadium tenant. That league was contracted to two teams in 2000 after funding for the venture dried up, and the Roadsters franchise was eliminated as a result.
The year 2000 marked the return of baseball to War Memorial after a long seven-year hiatus. The new millennium made way for a new brand of baseball on the Peninsula as the Coastal Plain League located a franchise into the now 60-year-old ballpark. The new team bears the same name as several of the old ones; the Peninsula Pilots. This version features the top collegiate baseball talent from across the United States. The CPL features a 56-game schedule that is contested between the months of May and August. Upon the completion of the college spring baseball season, players are disbursed to leagues like the CPL to hone their skills and receive exposure to professional scouts throughout the summer. In the eight-year history of the team, more than 70 players have been drafted or signed by professional baseball teams. Among them are current Washington Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman (2003), San Francisco’s John Bowker (2002), who replaced Barry Bonds this spring in the Giants’ outfield, and Texas Rangers pitcher Josh Rupe.
The new team brought with it local ownership, a concept that is very different from years gone by. Henry Morgan, who was born and raised in Hampton, purchased the team in 2001. He brought with him a passion for the facility that he enjoyed as a youth. During his tenure as the owner, he has invested significant private dollars into the public facility. The result has been a renaissance for the old ball yard. Some of the new features that he and his partners (The City of Hampton and the Newport News Shipyard Apprentice School) have seen to fruition include a brand new, state-of-the-art video/score board, a state-of-the-art field lighting system, 17 patio-style corporate boxes, a picnic area that features a concrete/interlocking paver surface with a full service Tiki Bar. The area is sectioned off by a cedar, slatted, fence that supports a beverage ledge and a unique and wonderful view of the action on the field. New dugouts, a new sound system, a party deck, drastically renovated clubhouse and restroom facilities are just a few more of the improvements that have been made to the Peninsula’s ballpark to enhance the overall fan experience.
The 2009 season will mark the tenth year of the franchise’s existence, making it the second longest tenured franchise in stadium history. A renewed vigor from the Peninsula fan base, an exciting brand of baseball, outstanding corporate support, and a commitment from local ownership will undoubtedly place the Pilots in a position to remain the Peninsula’s team for many more years to come.