Diamond Days: Penn State In Baseball Venues

The Pinstripe Bowl-bound Nittany Lions have played in many baseball facilities over the years, including (old) Yankee Stadium.

Penn State will face Boston College in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium in Bronx, N.Y., Dec. 27.

If the idea of the Nittany Lions playing a football game in a baseball stadium seems a bit strange, well, it really is not. In fact, PSU has competed in many contests held in baseball stadiums — including old Yankee Stadium.

A quick perusal of the Penn State Media Guide reveals the Nittany Lion games that were staged in stadiums known primarily for baseball, including two at old Yankee Stadium (shown above) and three at the Polo Grounds in New York.

One of the more interesting such games was in Joe Paterno’s first year as an assistant on the staff, 1950. In the season-finale that year, the Lions edged Pitt 21-20 before a crowd of 12,250 at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh.

The first known PSU game to be played in a baseball stadium was in 1921, when Hugo Bezdek’s club faced Georgia Tech at the Polo Grounds. The Lions won 28-7 before a crowd of 30,000 on the way to a second straight unbeaten season (8-0-2).

The following year, PSU played back-to-back games in baseball stadiums, tying Syracuse 0-0 at the Polo Grounds (25,000) and then losing to powerhouse Navy 14-0 at American League Park in Washington, D.C. (30,000). Despite finishing the season at 6-3-1, that PSU squad was awarded a spot in the Rose Bowl, where it lost to USC 14-3.

The 1923 season featured another game in a baseball facility and the first in what was then a brand new Yankee Stadium (it opened in April of that year). Penn State faced West Virginia before a crowd estimated at 50,000, which at the time tied for the largest ever to see the Nittany Lions play. Nobody went home happy, though, as the final was 13-13.

State was back in Yankee Stadium two years later, but there was not nearly as much buzz for a game with Georgia Tech. Only 8,000 people showed up to see the Lions lose, 15-7.

And that was it for PSU games in pure baseball stadiums until 1941, when Bob Higgins took his Nittany Lions to face overmatched New York University at the Polo Grounds. Though it was considered a road game for PSU, the Lions won easily, 42-0, before a crowd of 10,690.

PSU played 16 other contests in stadiums known primarily for hosting baseball games. From 1909-24, Forbes Field was the home facility for Pitt, and the Lions played the Panthers there every year during that stretch, going 4-10-2 in those games.

It was probably fitting that many of the scores in that stretch looked very baseball-like, including 5-0 and 3-0 Penn State wins, a 7-6 Panther victory, and a pair of 0-0 ties.

Penn State has also played many games at stadiums designed for football and baseball. They included Cleveland Municipal Stadium (Illinois in 1959), Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers Stadium (Pitt in 1974, ’75, ’76), Philadelphia’s Veterans Stadium (Temple in 1976, ’80, ’83, ’88 and ’91), Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium (Maryland in 1989) and the former Joe Robbie Stadium (the 1990 and ’92 Blockbuster Bowls, and the 2005 Orange Bowl).

Of course, most of those — especially the Vet and Three Rivers — were cookie-cutter leviathans that were hard on the eyes and did not stand the test of time. The new Yankee Stadium, which opened in 2007, is a $1.5 billion facility that is as much a baseball shrine as it is a ballpark, and figures to be around for generations.

So while playing in baseball stadiums may be nothing new for the Lions, having a chance to play in this particular venue is special.

As PSU coach James Franklin said at the official bowl announcement at Yankee Stadium Tuesday: “Walking through and seeing all of the history and the tradition and the championships and all the great players, and what this place mans to the city of New York and this region, there’s a lot of parallels with Penn State and what Beaver Stadium means to our people. All the championships, all the great players. The pride. I think there are a lot of parallels between the New York Yankees and what they represent and Penn State and what we represent.”


bradfordmsimpson: I can't remember the year but I know PSU played at Three Rivers in 2000 or 2001 in the last game with Pitt.

SNOILR1: As noted above, Pitt 2000 was also at 3 Rivers. Also, the game against Maryland in 91 was at Memorial stadium. That was supposed to be the last event held at the stadium since Camden Yards was opening the following season, and the Colts were gone.

Viennalion: What about that crazy Holiday Bowl (1989) against BYU. I believe that was played in San Diego in the stadium shared by the Chargers and Padres - whatever they called the stadium then.

Viennalion: Known then as Jack Murphy Stadium, and now as Qualcom Stadium - Chargers still play there, but the Padres have their own place now.

NittanyNick2: The LA Coliseum was used by the Dodgers before Dodger Stadium was built. We played USC there a couple of times.

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