Marlin once put the ‘spring’ in spring training

Spring training is special to us baseball fans. It’s a time of eternal optimism. All 30 teams now sweating in Florida and Arizona believe they are going to win the World Series.

But did you know spring training once was a very big deal less than an hour from here?

Marlin, in our neighboring county (Falls), hosted baseball’s premier team, the New York Giants, in spring training between 1908 and 1918.

Four other teams also came to Marlin over the years but the Giants—w ith their superstar manager John McGraw and legendary pitcher Christy Mathewson— were once familiar sights on Marlin streets.

As the 1800s turned into the 1900s, Marlin was a bustling resort town offering hot springs and a temperate climate.

When the new Arlington Hotel opened, Marlin joined Saratoga Springs, NY, and Hot Springs, Arkansas as premier places for Americans to take “ the treatment.”

The Chicago White Sox were the first major league team to train in Marlin, making the trip south in 1904.

Chicago didn’t come back the next year but the St. Louis Cardinals did and in 1906 and 1907 the Cincinnati Reds made Marlin their winter home.

In 1907 Connie Mack’s Philadelphia A’s, the American League’s glamour team also came to Falls County but Marlin really hit the big time the next year.

When the Giants signed an exclusive contract to train in Marlin, and stay at the Arlington Hotel, in 1908, the relationship lasted for 10 years.

It’s not quite the modern-day equivalent of hosting the Super Bowl 10 straight years but not far from it.

McGraw and the Giants were so big, they were the only team which could have gotten away with simply refusing to play the World Series in a year McGraw didn’t want to (1904).

And they brought the New York press with them, 30-35 writers from six dailies, the equivalent of today’s ESPN, Fox Sports and MLB Network rolled into one.

Marlin beat out Los Angeles— yes, the one in California—to be the Giants spring home.

For a decade the Giants were part and parcel of Marlin life. They played exhibition games against Marlin High School and the annual “ Thank You Giants Ball” was the town’s social event of the year. And the Giants charged admission to some events and donated it to local organizations including the Waco Negro School.

McGraw was ahead of his time, advocated signing black players in the major leagues and hiring the great African-American pitcher Rube Foster of nearby Calvert as an advisor.

Olympic champion Jim Thorpe, who went on to become pro football’s first big star, came to six Marlin spring trainings with the Giants. Foursomes at Marlin’s golf course in those years often included Jim Thorpe and Christy Mathewson!

What happened to end it, beginning in 1919?

Florida, that’s what.

By the mid-20s practically all teams went to the Sunshine State. Last team to train in Marlin was the White Sox in 1923.

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2011-03-10 digital edition

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