Boston College bade farewell to one of its oldest athletic venues last weekend, when the Eagles baseball team played its final game on May 20 at the Commander John Shea Field.
BC’s 8-7 victory over Notre Dame – earning them a spot in the ACC Tournament – closed out a 56-year run at Shea Field, named for a former BC football player and Naval aviator who was killed in action during the battle of the Solomon Islands during World War II. The baseball and softball teams will play at new facilities now under construction at Brighton Campus.
The world of BC baseball – and college baseball – was very different when Shea Field opened in 1961, according to former director of sports information Reid Oslin ’68, MSP ’71.
“BC played a New England-only schedule for years,” he says. “The Eagles were part of the Greater Boston League, going up against schools like Tufts, MIT and Harvard during the week, and on weekends would play Holy Cross or Providence. You had players who not only went out for baseball but one or two other sports, too.”
Shea Field had the kind of attributes one would typically desire in a baseball field, says Oslin. “It was a time when you really just played the game for pure enjoyment, and that’s what Shea was all about. There was no sound system, but you could see the Chestnut Hill Reservoir and the city skyline in the distance – it was just great.”
The Eagles’ head coach when Shea Field opened was Eddie Pellagrini, an 11-year major league veteran (including a stint with the Red Sox) and a certifiable “character,” says Oslin. “Eddie couldn’t remember his players’ names half the time, but he could talk about baseball strategy in incredible, mesmerizing detail. He just had a great baseball mind, a really engaging personality.”
During one practice, Pellagrini – who hadn’t picked up a bat in six years – decided to try his luck against the Eagles’ ace pitcher Eddie Foley (father of future star BC quarterback Glenn Foley). Foley threw a spitball and Pellagrini swung and missed.
“Pelly glared out at him and said, ‘Throw that thing again,’” Oslin recalls, “and this time when Foley tosses the spitball, Eddie hits a line drive over the Shea centerfield wall. Then he put the bat down and went into the dugout, as if to say, ‘Don’t forget that you’re the college player; I was in the major leagues.’”
As BC sports grew in stature and popularity, Shea Field was pressed into service as a parking lot, Oslin says, which meant the team often had to pick up trash before they could practice.
“Eddie never cared about that. As long as home plate was 60 feet and six inches from the pitcher’s mound, that was all that mattered.”
BC baseball paid tribute to Pellagrini, who retired in 1988 and died in 2006, by naming the Shea Field diamond for him.
Shea Field also was the setting for an event that arguably affected American political history, Oslin says. In the late 1960s, a Tufts player named Bill Richardson had aspirations for a professional baseball career – until BC outfielder John Salmon parked one of Richardson’s pitches in the reservoir. Instead, Richardson decided to enter politics, and wound up serving as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, governor of New Mexico and U.S. secretary of energy.
“He’d always tell the story of John Salmon and Shea Field – including when he was Commencement speaker at BC ,” says Oslin. “It just goes to show that you never know who you might be watching on the baseball diamond.”
-Sean Smith / University Communications