The Jefferson Street ballpark stood at Jefferson and Master Streets, between 27th and 25th Streets in Philadelphia. It had been in use as a military camp site and training ground in the years before the Civil War. After the war, when baseball was just beginning to excite people, Philadelphia’s teams—the Athletics, Olympics, Mercantiles, and Keystones—were on the hunt for suitable places to play.
Finding space to play wasn’t always easy, but eventually two of the city’s teams, the Olympics and Mercantiles, leased a property from the city on Jefferson Street. The park quickly established a fan base. Nearly 2,000 people paid 25 cents each to see the first game at the new ballpark in 1864, a pick-up game between Pennsylvania and New Jersey to benefit sick and wounded Union Army veterans. The only spectator seating in the park was located behind the player’s bench and was reserved for women only.
Despite its popularity, the park had some problems. There were trees in the way, there was an embankment at third base, and neighborhood animals would wander in during the games. But when the best team in the city, the Philadelphia Athletics, joined the brand-new National Association of Professional Base Ball Players, they moved into the Jefferson Street ballpark, as well.
The Athletics revamped the field, tearing down and replacing the fence that had been put up in 1866, leveling and re-sodding the field, and putting in new seating. On Saturday, April 22, 1876, the Athletics met the Boston Redcaps in what would be the very first National League baseball game. It was also the only National League game played that day, as the rest were rained out. The home team couldn’t pull out a victory, though. They lost the game to Boston 6-5.
Eventually, the expense of maintaining the field well outpaced its revenue, and the Athletics were forced to leave the new league. The field became a spot for cricket matches and part was sold to developers. The team was briefly without a league and a home field, until an 1877 revitalization project of the field brought the team back to life. By the time they were ready to play again, however, the original site no longer existed. A new high school had been put up on part of the site, and the brand new 26th Street cut right through the field.
Today the site is still home to a local school and it even has baseball fields, but instead of the majors, it’s the fields for the adjoining Athletic Recreation Center. But this spot was where the game as we know it got its start.