One of the unique lost treasures of old Austin was the baseball diamond known as Clark Field that sat directly across the street from DKR Texas Memorial Stadium on the campus of the University of Texas. Each year as baseball season begins, I am reminded how much the game is woven into American history, from larger-than-life exploits to cheating and drug scandals, from overt racism to desegregation (the first large American institution to do so, preceding even the U.S. Army), the role teams play in civic pride, and the outsized role immigrants (or sons of immigrants) have played in the game. For me one of the endearing aspects of baseball is that among all competitive sports it is the only one, besides golf, wherein the field of play is not regulated. Some fields have long outfields, others have almost little league-size distances to the foul poles. Some fields have towering walls, others have waterfalls just beyond center field.
Clark Field, home of the Texas Longhorns’ storied baseball program from 1928 until 1974—long enough for me to have attended games as a kid—had one of the most unique features of any ballpark in America. A limestone cliff ran across most of left and center field, inside the fences, meaning that if a ball landed on top it was still in play. The cliff could only be accessed via a small goat path in left field. Consequently, it became known as Billy Goat Hill. Texas outfielders had an advantage in knowing how to get up the cliff quickly to field a ball, thus potentially saving a run and holding the runner on second or third base.
In 1930 Lou Gehrig reportedly hit a towering 550-foot home run in deep center field over Billy Goat Hill, when the New York Yankees played the Longhorns in an exhibition game.
Unfortunately, Clark Field was paved over to make way for the Bass Concert Hall.
I mention “Billy Goat Hill” along with other Texas historical trivia in my novel Above the Water.
Photos: The University of Texas