Baseball was played on the Sportsman's Park site as early as 1867. The tract was acquired in 1866 by August Solari, who began staging games there the following year. It was the home of the St. Louis Brown Stockings in the National Association and the National League from 1875 to 1877. It was originally called the Grand Avenue Ball Grounds. Some sources say the field was renamed Sportsman's Park in 1876, although local papers were not using that name until 1881. The local papers also still used the alternate name "Grand Avenue Park" until at least 1885. The first grandstand—one of three on the site—was built in 1881. At that time, the diamond and the grandstands were on the southeast corner of the block, for the convenience of fans arriving from Grand Avenue. The park was leased by the then-major American Association entry, the St. Louis "Brown Stockings", or "Browns". The Browns were a very strong team in the mid-1880s, but their success waned. When the National League absorbed the strongest of the old Association teams in 1892, the Browns were brought along. Soon they went looking for a new ballpark, finding a site just a few blocks northwest of the old one, and calling it New Sportsman's Park, which was later renamed Robison Field. They also changed team colors from Brown to Cardinal Red, thus acquiring a new nickname, and leaving their previous team colors available, as well as the old ballpark site.
When the Cardinals' ballpark burned on May 4, 1901, they club arranged to play some games at the original Sportsman's Park, which by then was being called "Athletic Park" and had only minimal seating. After the May 5 game, it was clear that the old park would not work, and the team played on the road for a month while their own park was being rebuilt.