"The Orchard" rises again - online
You have visited the site of Milwaukee's most historic ballpark probably hundreds of times, and you probably never knew it.
No, I am not talking about the relatively recently-departed County Stadium, but rather its predecessor, gone without a trace for almost 60 years Borchert Field. Today, there is nothing to demarcate the former home of the American Association's Milwaukee Brewers other than a hard to find historical marker hundreds of yards away from where the actual ballpark was.
But then, a marker where Borchert Field stood would have been run over millions of times. Where a half-century of our city's baseball history took place is now Interstate 43 between Burleigh and Chambers Streets.
Borchert Field, known at the time colloquially as "The Orchard," was more than just a baseball park. It was also used in the early days of the NFL as the home stadium for the defunct Milwaukee Badgers from 1922-26, and then later the Green Bay Packers for part of the 1933 season. Boxing matches were held at the venerable old yard, as were track and field meets, fireworks exhibitions and even gymnastics competitions.
A temporary velodrome was constructed for cycling in 1936. International soccer matches were held in the summertime when the Brewers were on road trips in the 1950s.
In recent years the NHL has sanctioned one or two outdoor "Winter Classic" games at traditional baseball and football venues. Wintertime at Borchert Field this was commonplace.
Built in 1888 and simply named Athletic Park (the ballpark would not be named for Brewers owner Otto Borchert until after his death in 1927), the stadium was primarily for baseball, and several clubs called the park home. The Milwaukee Creams of the Western League opened the park up, but they would not last; nor would our lone entry in the Negro Leagues, the Milwaukee Bears of 1923.
But from 1902-1952, Milwaukee was in love with their minor league Brewers.
The stadium itself was nothing special and very much a product of its time. A single-decked angular horseshoe sandwiched within the confines of the neighborhood it inhabited, Borchert Field stood for more than 50 years as Milwaukee's cultural gathering place. Somewhat resembling a scaled-down version New York's famed Polo Grounds; home runs to the corners were quite easy, with only 268 feet to clear down each line. However, a poke to the power alleys would have to travel a Herculean 435 feet to earn a trip around the bases.
The stadium could charitably be called rickety. But it was all Milwaukee had. And for generations, it was our destination.
But the intimate atmosphere and quirky dimensions only tell a part of the story. In fact, that story is still evolving even today.
"I remember sitting in a George Webb in Wauwatosa in maybe 1984 or '85," Brooklyn, N.Y. resident Chance Michaels says today. "They had a picture on the wall of one of their old restaurants from the '40s. In that picture I could clearly see a placard on the wall that said 'George Webb predicts our Brewers win 12 games in a row.' I didn't realize there was anything before the Braves."
Michaels, a New York City native who spent his childhood in Southeastern Wisconsin, was hooked on baseball from that moment on. But who were these Brewers? Of course he knew of the American League Brewers, but the fact that there was baseball played in Milwaukee before the Braves arrived was an entirely foreign concept to the then 13-year old future off-Broadway producer.
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Great job of bringing this story out. Going to view Borchertfield.com right now. I love the look and stories of these old ball parks. Miller Park is great and certainly a credit to our community but it's nice to step back and see where we've been. Thanks Doug!
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