KAUL FIELD REVISITED
Hallowed is the ground where the glinted steel spikes of summer and autumn once trod in the north end of Toronto.
This small piece of earth, Kaul Field, where the bowling alley currently sits parallel to the 1100 block of Fifth Street, served as home field for some of Toronto’s most revered sports heroes, including Pick Nalley, Gabby Kunzler, Clarke and Gordie Hinkle and Hook Comer.
Soon after the turn of the Twentieth Century baseball became vogue in the Gem City, with a semi-pro team, the Toronto Athletic Club, dominating most local nines. At Kaul Field, the TAC hosted other semi-pros from the area and sometimes others of higher caliber.
“The Pittsburgh Pirates came barnstorming into town along with Honus Wagner,” John Petras said. “I can’t remember who won, but yes they did play in Toronto.”
Petras, now resides in Royal Oak, Michigan, is the son of John Petras Sr., who was a member of the TAC before World War I and played alongside Pick Nalley, Wenzel Straka and other founding fathers of baseball in the Gem City.
A wooden fence enclosed Kaul Field then, but sometime around the 1920s the only wooden structure remaining was the grandstand framing the home plate area at the site approximately where the cul-de-sac is today on Fifth Street.
It was this period that Toronto resident Tom McKelvey remembers well. “Kaul Field was used for baseball in the summer and football in the fall,” McKelvey said. “We had church leagues five nights a week, Monday through Friday. Every church had a team. The best team was always St. Francis, who we called back then the Mickeys”
McKelvey also has fond memories of the semi-pro football club, the Toronto Tigers, when professional football was at its infancy and germinating in northeastern Ohio.
“The Toronto Tigers played their games at home in the fall months in front of good crowds,” McKelvey said. “The train pulled in across the field and the opposing players and fans stepped off; then walked to the field.”
According to McKelvey, the Toronto Tigers and their opponents played with fierce competition, locals occasionally being replaced by ringers--college athletes playing for dough under aliases.
“I heard two Ohio State players came in playing for 100 or 200 dollars. Fats Henry came in from Washington and Jefferson. Henry would later play for the Canton Bulldogs and become inducted in the Hall of Fame”
Some of the Toronto standouts included the Ferris brothers and Hook Comer. Comer had a short stint at fullback with the Canton Bulldogs alongside Henry and the great Jim Thorpe.
Toronto High School also staged its football games at Kaul Field prior to 1930. McKelvey’s father, Tom Sr., took young Tom to watch his first game, a match-up between Toronto and Warwood.
“There were no lights back then,” McKelvey said. “The games were held in the afternoon. There were ropes stretched along the sidelines to keep us from coming onto the field.”
Kaul Field was used for other endeavors beside sports during that era. McKelvey said a traditional ox roast was held at the grounds around Thanksgiving Day.
“I remember the kids from the north end ice skated in the winter there,” Vince Exterovich, a 1942 THS graduated said. “There was a pond, actually a marshy area that froze over during the winter. Mostly north end kids skated there.”
Exterovich resided at Sixth Street back then, considering himself a south ender. Today, the line separating the two ends of the Gem City runs east to west along Main Street, making the southern end larger in area than the older north. All of Sixth Street today is located what is considered the north end.
“The south end wasn’t developed in those days,” McKelvey said. “It was mostly farms and Sloane’s.”
During the Forties and the Fifties, with the emergence of Little League at newly built Memorial Park and the development of the south end with its new schools, Kaul Field was reduced to a sandlot until it ceased to exist at all with the construction of Toronto Lanes around 1960.