The 1898 Cornell men’s baseball team

After a Century on Hoy Field, Baseball Slides into a New Home

A look back at the Big Red’s early days on the diamond—plus a photo tour of the team’s state-of-the-art facility

By Corey Ryan Earle ’07

In April 2023, Big Red varsity baseball played its first two games on the new Booth Field. Spring 2024 marked the team’s first full season there—and it was one for the record books.

Among other impressive stats: the 52 home runs demolished the previous team record of 38 set in 2009, and the 17 wins were the most since 2017.

Located off Game Farm Road southeast of campus, Booth Field may be new, but it carries the history of what is arguably Cornell’s oldest athletic tradition.

An illustration of Corey Earle with the title Storytime with Corey

In fact, at the new field’s dedication, the ceremonial first pitch was thrown—by benefactor and former player Rich Booth ’82—exactly 101 years to the day after David “Davy” Hoy 1891 did the same at the team’s previous home.

Big Red player and coach Harry Taylor 1888, JD 1893, once claimed that “Cornell has had a baseball team since the first nine men registered.”

Perhaps an exaggeration—but baseball does go back to the very beginning of the University, when there wasn’t very much of a university at all, just a few buildings on Ezra Cornell’s cow pasture.

A Big Red baseball game at Hoy Field in 1949
A game at Hoy Field in 1949.

For context, Cornell opened just over a decade after the National Association of Base Ball Players was formed, marking the sport’s growing popularity.

By May of the University’s first year, the Cornell Era noted that “with the return of warmer weather, balls innumerable are seen flying across the campus.” Students petitioned President A.D. White for permission to play baseball, which he granted.

Cornell’s first diamond was in the center of the cow pasture that’s now the Arts Quad.

With the return of warmer weather, balls innumerable are seen flying across the campus.

The Cornell Era, 1869

But it presented some challenges: as one news story noted, “The main feature of the game occurred in the seventh inning when the visitors’ captain slid into what he thought was third base.”

Not all games were played on campus. The team also used several downtown locations, including the county fairgrounds (near where Wegmans is today).

The Big Red played its first intercollegiate game at Hobart in 1874, losing 43 to 16. But Cornellians complained of a significant home field advantage, given that Hobart’s diamond was a hillside with third base 10 feet above first, and trees and other obstacles scattered throughout.

Spectators cheer during a Cornell baseball game against Princeton in 1903
Spectators at a 1903 contest.

Since early sports were independent from the University (with no funding), the first players approached Ezra himself for a donation to buy equipment.

The founder’s response was not what they’d hoped.

“When I was a boy and wanted to play ball, my mother took an old stocking and unraveled it, and wound the yarn into the ball,” he told them.

“And I found an old boot top and cut out the leather and covered my ball. That was a good enough ball for me; I think it ought to be good enough for you.”

Luckly, White and Professor Goldwin Smith were more amenable.

Some faculty were not fond of having a baseball diamond outside their classroom windows, and a permanent solution was found with the opening, in 1890, of downtown’s Percy Field, located where Ithaca High School is today.

Booth Field: The New Home of Big Red Baseball

(Uniquely, the field—funded by the industrialist father of Percy Hagerman 1890—bore the son’s first name rather than that of the family.)

Early teams began to venture beyond campus and to host visitors as intercollegiate competition became more common—but it wasn’t always well organized.

As the Era noted in 1875: “The University nine were somewhat surprised Monday morning at receiving a telegram from the Hamilton College nine saying that they would be in Ithaca that p.m. to play.”

By the turn of the century, Cornell was one of the most competitive schools in the nation in several sports, and it was time to move athletics to campus with the development of the Alumni Fields.

But before we had a baseball field, we had the Bacon Batting Cage.

David “Davy” Hoy 1891 throws out the first pitch to mark the opening of Hoy Field in 1923
Davy Hoy at his eponymous field’s opening.

Named for benefactor George Bacon 1892, it opened in 1913 and lasted until 1985, when it was replaced by the Hoy Road parking garage.

Hoy Field officially opened in 1922 with the first pitch by Davy Hoy—the University Archives still has the ball—who served as team advisor for more than 30 years.

He was barely a decade into his career as University Registrar when he was immortalized in the fight song “Give My Regards to Davy.”

Team advisor Davy Hoy was immortalized in the fight song “Give My Regards to Davy.”

Hoy died in 1930, but his legacy continued with his namesake field, which hosted a century of stellar athletes from Cornell and elsewhere.

In 1923, Columbia came to town and beat Cornell 8-3. The game’s star: an opposing player named Lou Gehrig.

As pitcher, Gehrig struck out 10 batters in six innings, then hit a triple and a home run—only the second in the field’s history—over the fence and into the woods.

In 1946, a Yale first baseman named George H.W. Bush would split a doubleheader on the field; he returned as captain in 1948, leading his team to victory.

Aerial view of Hoy Field and the surrounding campus and landscape in 2005
Hoy Field stood for a century. (Cornell University)

(And baseball wasn’t just a men’s sport. Before softball came on the scene, women played too—although women’s sports of the era were focused on intramural competition, since most of Cornell’s peer institutions wouldn’t go co-ed until decades later.)

Toward the end of its century-long existence, Hoy was believed to be the oldest continuously named Division I baseball field in the country. But several times, it was almost replaced by a building.

The biggest public battle came in the late 1940s, when the University considered putting the ILR School there.

Scene from a Cornell women’s baseball game in 1924
Women play an intramural game in 1924.

A few years later, the field almost housed Teagle Hall. The pattern continued through Duffield Hall in the early 2000s (although building namesake Dave Duffield ’62, MBA ’64, had once played there).

Baseball finally relocated to make room for the Bowers College of Computing and Information Science, whose new home is scheduled to open in 2025.

But at least one vestige remains: Hoy Road, named after the field.

Top: The 1898 team. All black-and-white images by Rare and Manuscript Collections; Booth Field photos by Ryan Young / Cornell University.

Published June 18, 2024


  1. Dick Baldwin, Class of 1971

    A great article, aided by the historical tidbits (Davy’s connection, the Gehrig story, etc.).

    What a wonderful addition Corey has been to the Cornell community. Whatever he’s being paid is not enough!

  2. Doug B, Class of 1981

    Great article Corey. Growing up in Ithaca we went to a bunch of games at Hoy Field. I didn’t know about the “Give my Regards to Davy” connection. There used to be a wooden bicycling/running track between Hoy Field and the football stadium tucked behind Bacon Cage. I’m sure it’s long gone but I’m curious if it was replaced somewhere else on campus.

  3. Julie Bestry, Class of 1989

    Great coverage, Corey. I’m not even a sports person — I’m not sure I attended any sporting events at Cornell except women’s hockey, and that was because my fellow Comm Department friend was the goalie! (I supported my friend, but I was often doing homework in the bleachers.)

    But your writing made the story of the history of baseball at Cornell compelling (and now I understand how I ended up on Hoy Road during reunion)!

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