Tuesday, July 14, 2009

There Used to Be a Ballpark Right Here

And there used to be a ballpark where the field was
     warm and green
And the people played their crazy game with a joy
     I'd never seen
And the air was such a wonder from the hot dogs
     and the beer
Yes, there used a ballpark right here
Part of my recent pilgrimage to Milwaukee included my first-ever visit to the site of Borchert Field.
The Orchard used to take up a single city block, bordered by 7th Street on the east, 8th Street on the West, Chambers Street to the south and Burleigh Street to the north.

That block, as well as dozens directly to the north and south, were demolished in the early 1950s to make way for what would eventually become Interstate 43. It's not entirely clear when the park itself was pulled down, but Borchert Field had been completely dismantled by March 5, 1953, according to a New York Times article from that date.

This is the site as it appears today:

The picture was taken looking north from the Locust Street overpass, one block south of where Borchert Field used to stand. The next overpass you can see is Burleigh, which would have abut the old center field wall.

I have tried to mark out the rough location of the ballpark, floating above the sunken roadway, in red here:

Near the left edge of the picture you can make out the street sign at 8th & Chambers, which was the southwest corner of the park:

The southeast corner of the ballpark at Chambers and 7th Streets isn't particularly visible in this photo, obscured in the trees lining the Interstate. You can see it in this picture, looking at the green sound barrier from the other side.

Seventy years ago, this is where fans would enter Borchert Field to watch their Brews take on the St. Paul Saints, Kansas City Blues, and the other American Association clubs.
And the people watched in wonder
How they'd laugh and how they'd cheer
And there used to be a ballpark, right here.
Borchert Field may be gone, but it hasn't been forgotten. On August 11, 2008, an historical marker commemorating Borchert Field was unveiled, commemorating the ballpark's history.

The ceremony was attended by Mayor Tom Barrett, County Executive Scott Walker, directors of the Milwaukee County Department of Parks, Recreation and Culture and the Milwaukee County Historical Society and Milwaukee Brewers Executive Vice President - Business Operations Rick Schlesinger. The local dignitaries were joined by representatives of three former teams who made their home there; the Milwaukee Bears were represented by Yesterday's Negro League Foundation, the Milwaukee Chicks by the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, and the Brewers by Johnny Logan. As the original location was no longer suitable, the marker was erected next to a local baseball field in Clinton Rose Park, two blocks east of the Orchard's former location.


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Clinton Rose park is a lovely green oasis, with a community center, a children's playground and a baseball diamond. The marker stands just beyond the left-field fence, facing Interstate 43.

This is heartening. Growing up as a baseball fan in Milwaukee, I didn't hear a single word about the Orchard (or much about the Brews, for that matter). It has taken a long time to raise public awareness of the old park, but Borchert Field will never be forgotten.
And the sky has got so cloudy
When it used to be so clear
And the summer went so quickly this year
Yes, there used to be a ballpark right here

2 comments:

  1. Great post, Chance! I have always had it in the back of my head to find the Borchert Field site, but now you've done what I would've done: Find the site and take pictures.

    I've made trips to find the sites of Municipal Stadium in K.C., the first Busch Stadium, the first City Stadium in Green Bay (still the home of Green Bay East, as you surely know) and Marquette Stadium (now Quad Park, the home of Marquette High's soccer team).

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  2. Thanks - this was an interesting trip.

    I've been to Old City Stadium, but never realized that Quad Park was where the Golden Avalanche used to play.

    Lot of history in old Municipal Stadium - would love to hear about what you found there.

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