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2 pieces of history are history no more

Thirteen trains a day now leave downtown Fort Worth for Dallas.

Bobby Bragan was in uniform yesterday and managing in the dugout at LaGrave Field.

Help me. What year is this? Is it 2001? Or 1951?

Fort Worth, a city that never lets go of its history, recovered two relics from the distant past yesterday - and polished them to 21st-century sparkle.

Relic No. 1: the Texas & Pacific Railway Terminal, alive with the chatter of passengers and the shout of "All aboard!" for the first time in a generation.

Relic No. 2: the baseball diamond at LaGrave Field, once the home of a storied Brooklyn Dodgers farm club and now home to a brand-new Fort Worth field of memories.

Almost 35 years ago, silence fell over both the elegant downtown train station and the landmark north side ball field. The 5:35 a.m. train to Dallas on Monday was the first through the T&P station since March 22, 1967. That very week, bulldozers were ripping gashes into the grandstand in the Trinity River bottom north of downtown, demolishing the old home of the Fort Worth Cats.

Lost together in a week when the Beatles sang Penny Lane and Muhammad Ali defended his heavyweight boxing crown, the T&P station and the LaGrave diamond made their public comebacks on the same day yesterday, like a couple of old Stockyards drinking buddies who went out in 1967 for a beer and just now showed back up.

The history of Fort Worth and Texas has passed the nickel-bronze doors of the T&P station, 221 W. Lancaster Ave. When those rails were first laid in 1876, cattle drives still crossed them on Main Street headed north toward the Chisholm Trail. When the $13 million station opened Nov. 1, 1931, Lancaster Avenue carried cross-country travelers on U.S. 80, the South's busiest highway and the "Broadway of America."

On Monday, Richard Mattinson of southwest Fort Worth was just trying to get to Dallas. He was one of the first passengers up the steps from the T&P concourse to Track 5 and the Trinity Railway Express.

"I never thought of riding the train to work," said Mattinson, 35. Then he caught a suburban Trinity Railway Express train one icy day last week.

"It's sweet," he said. "I can read, relax, goof off - and I'm saving $250 a month gas and parking. I'll never drive it again."

By midday, the T&P waiting room was filled again with voices, and the trains were filled to overflowing with passengers taking free sample rides. A $2 fare begins today, but free rides will be offered again on the 10 Saturday trains.

Across downtown at 400 N.E. Seventh St., the proud diamond of LaGrave Field was mowed and marked off for the first time since the then-owner Chicago Cubs razed the 41-year-old stadium. Investor Carl W. Bell bought the land to build a new LaGrave for his revived, independent-league Cats.

Inside the original first-base dugout - found intact along with the concrete walkways and base anchors - sat Bragan, 84, and six former Cats from the 1950s.

When the theme from The Natural rang out, they emerged from the dugout one by one and took their places along the first-base line, each tipping his cap as he was introduced to cheers at LaGrave for the first time in 50 years.

Bell, 57, of Dallas, told the crowd he is rebuilding the stadium on exactly the same site "for the love of the game and for the hopes and the dreams of the kid in each of us."

He's also building it to promote development on the north side. If the Cats are a hit, he says, he'll build a larger stadium next door on city land.

North side City Councilman Jim Lane said he's happy with one ballpark.

"This is my dream," he said. "This is what it's all about.

"We're putting LaGrave Field back exactly where it was, where kids can walk in the path of baseball greatness. This is a great day for those of us who are history nuts."

At a downtown train station and a north side ball diamond, it was the greatest day in almost 35 years.

Bud Kennedy's column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. (817) 390-7538 [email protected]


Copyright 2001 Star-Telegram, Inc.

Ft. Worth Star-Telegram
Bud Kennedy