When Exhibition Stadium was opened in West Haven in 1947, it was an interesting construct. More functional than beautiful, it was built by Maurice P. Quigley to be a home to the West Haven Sailors, a semi-professional baseball outfit that played barnstorming major leaguers, teams that had a certain genre, like the House of David, and other teams like the Meriden Insilcos, Waterbury Brasscos, etc.
Built to seat 4,000 spectators, the original grandstand had a certain character to it. A single-deck construction, the grandstand’s seats were purchased from the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad, and taken from observation cars that used to follow the Yale-Harvard Regatta on the Thames River in New London. By some people’s estimates, the seats were near 50 years old when they were installed in the new ballpark.
Like the girl everyone likes not for her beauty but personality, the park was never a looker, but had tons of personality. Lights were put in on stanchions that still stand today, the plot of land allowed for a short right field (315 it once said, but was more like 301) 400 to center (though just to the left of that is 410), and about 327 down left.
The stadium was renamed Quigley Stadium after the Sailors’ owner, who passed away in 1960, and a monument was installed that once sat right before the main portal behind home plate.
Quigley was the home of Notre Dame football and baseball almost from the outset, West Haven played there when Donovan Field was no longer suitable, and before Ken Strong Stadium was constructed in 1967, and it was the site of intra-city rivalry games between junior leagues, such as the West Haven Babe Ruth-West Shore Athletic League annual All-Star game, Little League City Series games, and a jamboree by the West Haven (now Ray Tellier) Midget Football League.
The stands were torn down in the 1990s, and the field underwent a renovation that saw the current grandstand put in. A second renovation has taken place within the last decade or so.
This writer, a member of the Greater New Haven Baseball Umpires Association, has umpired hundreds of games on the field over the years. It is home to the West Haven Twilight League, which moved there in the late 1980s. I went there for a JV game last week, and what I saw angered and bewildered me.
To put it bluntly, Quigley Stadium is a dump. Since the grandstand was taken down, the place has lost some of the charm it had, and cinder overlays most of the stadium footprint outside of the field. But there was always an attempt to keep the field in some semblance of shape. It is, after all, a city landmark, and a reflection of the community as seen by visitors from outside.
The outfield is barren of any type of green, and what green is out there is not grass but some type of weed. Dandelions are so plentiful an army of old Italian ladies could spend a month there plucking them out for salad and wine making.
As a taxpayer and resident, I was embarrassed by what I saw. The outfield borders on dangerous because of the lack of care. And let us be clear, what has happened is not a lack of money or a lack of manpower, what happened to the field happened because of neglect. On the walkways in front of the grandstand a type of grassy weed grows where there was once only cinder.
As noted above, twice in the last several years major renovations were done to the field so that it would be a showcase. The city collects rental fees for its use. That implies the city is not holding up its end of an implied bargain: payment for a field that is presentable and playable. It is playable, but just barely.
Quigley Stadium is in the new Enterprise Zone along the West River. Are we to assume that the neglect we saw is somehow planned? Is there a hope the Quigley Stadium site will be purchased and turned into something else? It has been talked about before, it even cost an incumbent mayor his job.
What I saw last week had nothing to do with finances, manpower, or anything else other than will. There is a lack of that.
Quigley Stadium has never been pretty, but it has always been functional. It is quickly losing that quality. It is an embarrassment to a community, and suffers the blight that gets homeowners fined.
The Twilight League opens later this month, and other teams will be using the site. Taking money from those organizations is taking it under false pretenses.
It is a disgrace.