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Ballparks resurrect a mysterious path

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Cy Young walked there. So did Walter Johnson. So did Dizzy Dean.

It's where Detroit Tigers catcher Mickey Cochrane met in midgame with pitcher Hal Newhouser to talk about the next fastball or that evening's restaurant.

Yogi Berra was there, too. And dozens of other catchers. And pitchers.

"There" was a dirt strip that connected the cul-de-sac of the pitcher's mound to the dead-end of home plate. "There" was a grassless path that ran partway along the home plate-second-base axis of the baseball infield. "There" was there in the early days of the game and, mostly, isn't there anymore.

But now in a couple of major league parks you can see it again - or something suggestive of it, Now you can even hear a name for a part of infields that apparently never had one - or apparently any particular purpose: No one knows why they were built.

"No idea" what the grassless strip is called, says Paul Dickson. If Dickson doesn't know the name or history of the path, who would? After all, he knows more about baseball than most, enough to have written "The Dickson Baseball Dictionary."

Well, surely someone at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., would know, right? Wrong.

Why was the dirt path there? Why did it go away?

"No reason for it," says Jimmy Kota of the hall's National Baseball Library. "No one knows why, [but] by 1960 the paths had all but disappeared."

At the Library of Congress, baseball-reference expert Dave Kelly also could not provide a history or a name for the path, but said it was "not universal."

Then, finally, some information. "The path went away in the mid-'40s," says veteran baseball broadcaster Ernie Harwell. "Probably because grounders picked up too much speed coming back toward the mound." Harwell says he prefers all grass between the pitcher and the batter, "but the retro look is good too."

The dirt path now on display at Detroit's new Comerica Park, home of the Tigers, "is narrower than the earlier ones," Harwell points out.


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