City commissioners and residents celebrated the groundbreaking of the Tinker Field History Plaza, which will be built on the former site of Tinker Field. The field has more than 100 years of baseball and civil rights history.
The plaza is part of the city’s plan to recognize, preserve and celebrate the past.
“The plaza is truly a reflection of the community’s vision to create a space for people to gather, learn, reflect, and honor baseball,” said Orlando Commissioner Regina Hill, who worked with homeowners associations and residents in west Orlando to bring the idea to fruition.
The plaza will include a historic timeline and monuments to Martin Luther King, Jr. and baseball Hall of Famer Clark Griffith. A Florida Historical Marker will also be included in the diamond-shaped plaza with a replica of Tinker Field’s covered pavilion, refurbished original stadium seats and a gateway entrance.
The project started with a $100,000 budget, which grew to $350,000 with community support.
Hill said the plaza is another example of the city moving forward to improve the area, which includes a new soccer stadium, affordable housing and UCF Downtown –which is currently under construction.
Tom Haddock, who represented sponsors Edward E. Haddock Jr. Family Foundation, said Tinker Field played an instrumental part in the integration of baseball.
Haddock spent two years researching the history of the field and told the crowd of 40 at the ground breaking ceremony that Shirley Povich and Walker Johnson watched a game at the field on April 5, 1939. They were so impressed with the level of play that Povich wrote a letter advocating the desegregation of baseball. The letter was written eight years before Jackie Robinson became the first African American to play Major League Baseball.
Geraldine Thompson, who served in the state Senate and House of Representatives and founded the Wells’ Built Museum of African American History, said the plaza will be “a very timely and moving tribute.”
Thompson said she is proud that the plaza will recognize Martin Luther King, Jr., especially since it will be 50 years on April 4, 2018, since King was assassinated in Memphis, Tenn.
Emmett O’Dell, who wore a “Save Tinker Field T-shirt,” was the only person at the ground breaking who said he opposed the plaza.
“It’s a farce,” O’Dell said. “Whatever (Orlando Mayor) Buddy Dyer wants, Buddy Dyer gets. He wanted a new parking lot and destroyed Tinker Field to get it.”
The Orlando City Council approved an ordinance in 2015 designating Tinker Field as an Orlando Historic Landmark. After more than a year of public input, research and design, the Tinker Field History Plaza project was approved by the city last December.
Construction of the plaza is expected to take three months and should be completed by the end of January or early February.