All photos of Witter Field available on Flickr.
About once a year, I like to prove to myself that I can be impulsive, and I take a long side trip pretty much on a whim to see a new ballpark. I still remember in 2009 when I wanted to continue the ballgame binge following our New York trip, and I jumped in the car one day after work and drove over 2 hours to just to see a dumpy stadium in Rochester, Minnesota. I found myself in a similar scenario this past week when I drove up to central Wisconsin to see the Wisconsin Rapids Rafters. I had Erik in tow with me on this journey, so I had some company for the 220-mile round trip.
As you may recall, Erik had previously been to Witter Field for the team's inaugural home game in 2010, so I will defer to his original post for ballpark specifics. Even though he had already seen the park, Erik was excited to go back with me. I guess you could say he has an obligation towards this team since it was his submission that named the team the "Rafters," so in a way, he can't help but feel that the team is partly his creation. The ballpark, however, existed long before Erik and I were born. It was built in the 1930s and has hosted minor league baseball, high school ball, and/or American Legion ball almost continuously since World War II. As you enter the park to your right, there is a large poster detailing The Rapids' baseball history and it was pretty cool to read. I've really come to learn in the last few years of the rich history of minor league baseball throughout Wisconsin, and the Rafters have really hit it out of their park with their renovations of Witter Field.
Since the original renovation for the inaugural season, Erik tells me that not much has changed. The concessions people and game staff obviously have another 2 years worth of knowledge under their belts and are more efficient and helpful. The change that Erik did note was the addition of a "club area," for lack of a better term, behind home plate. A section protected by netting was built at grade containing bar-height seating and a wait staff, similar to the setup in Waterloo. The rest of the grandstand is covered and elevated between the dugouts. After the misery we experienced in Rockford, not to mention Madison's park not being ideally oriented, it was nice to watch a game in 100% shade with no weird shadows and perfect sun angles. I left the park very impressed with what the team was able to do with an 80-year old stadium. Witter Field is probably my #2 Northwoods League park now behind only Warner Park, and I don't think it's at all a coincidence that both of these parks are inhabited by teams under the same ownership. I really liked how they were able to successfully integrate all of the new log-cabin style buildings with the historic grandstand. It was an amazing atmosphere and the fans there really know their baseball and appreciate a good effort.
A nearly packed house of 1,437 came on a Wednesday night to watch the Rafters win 5-4. LF Gage Green got the scoring started for the 'Chucks with a bases-loaded double in the 5th, but the Rafters came right back and scored 5 unanswered over the rest of the game. Austin Neary looks to me to be the best player on the Rafters. He hit 3rd in the lineup on this day and went 2-5, and both hits were some really nice opposite-field pokes following lengthy at-bats. Neary would knock in the winning run in the 8th with a 2-out single to right. Also of note in this game: there was a pretty hilarious pre-game moment when the two teams had a "stand-off" on the sidelines following the National Anthem. Players from both teams were still standing there with their hands over their hearts even as the Rafters' pitcher was warming up, and everybody in the stadium was confused, but finally the Rafters caved and went back to the dugout. The Woodchucks threw up their hands in rejoice and everybody finally started to figure out it was all a joke.
It was a beautiful night for baseball. Regardless of the game's outcome, if you have $3.50 Point Brewery on tap and sell mascot bobbleheads in the team store, you're not gonna hear me complaining. Witter Field was our 9th [current] Northwoods League park visited, and we will be hitting #10 on Friday in Mequon, Wisconsin, en route to Chicago for the weekend.
STANDINGS AND UPCOMING SERIES AS OF 06.18:
Brewers 30-36, -8.5 (3 v. Blue Jays, 3 @ White Sox)
Reds 38-27, +4.0 (3 @ Indians, 3 v. Twins)
Twins 26-39, -8.5 (3 @ Pirates, 3 @ Reds)
2012 GAMES ATTENDED:
Erik - 6
Peter - 16