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February 5, 2011

Wezen-Ball

Baseball and the Super Bowl Cities

by Larry Granillo

Want to know how I *know* that I’m in a baseball sort of mind, what with Spring Training only a couple of weeks away and with my baseball preview magazines already in the stores? With the Super Bowl only a day away - and with it featuring the home town team of my adopted city - it still comes up as a bit of a surprise. “Oh yeah, the Super Bowl is tomorrow, isn’t it? Sweet."

And with baseball on my brain, I can’t help but think about how baseball relates to this Super Bowl. How convenient, then, that I write for a baseball website!

Pittsburgh, of course, has a very long, successful history with baseball (though many young Pirates fans might not be able to believe that). With the Pirates being one of the oldest clubs in the National League, and with a legacy that features thirteen Hall of Famers and nine trips to the World Series, it’s safe to say that we already know a little about the Steel City and its relationship with baseball.

The city of Green Bay, Wisconsin, however, is a little different. As a small city of barely one-hundred thousand in northern Wisconsin, it just has never been a place for baseball. There were some independent and low minor league teams in Green Bay during the first half of the twentieth century, usually affiliated with the Phillies, Indians, and Dodgers, but they all disappeared with the departure of the Green Bay Dodgers after the 1960 season. Since then, the only organized baseball in Green Bay has been the one-season Green Bay Sultans of the Prairie League in 1996 and the Northwoods League Green Bay Bullfrogs, who have been playing in the collegiate summer league since 2007.

The single biggest link between Green Bay and baseball comes, ironically enough, from the Packers. From 1953 through 1994, the Packers played two or three games a year in Milwaukee County Stadium, compiling a 76-47-3 record in the baseball facility. If you remember, County Stadium was built by the city of Milwaukee as a purely speculative venture, with the hope that a major league-ready stadium would lure a team to the city (in which they were successful, with the Braves moving to Milwaukee as soon as the stadium was complete). And since they were already playing to their hopes, County Stadium was also built with football in mind, constructed so it could be easily converted to football. The Packers, of course, never left Green Bay, but they did agree to play a few games a year in the big city.

This is how Wikipedia describes the County Stadium football setup:

Unlike most publicly-funded stadiums built in the 20th century, County Stadium was built as a baseball stadium that could convert into a football stadium. While it was initially hoped the stadium would lure the Packers to Milwaukee full-time (it was larger than the Packers' then-home, City Stadium), upgrades and seat expansion almost exclusively benefited the Braves and later the Brewers. It was thus somewhat problematic for football, with only the bare minimum adjustments made to accommodate the sport. The playing surface was just barely large enough to fit a football field. The football field itself ran parallel with the first base line. The south end zone spilled onto the warning track in right field, the north onto foul territory on the third-base side. Both teams occupied the east sideline on the outfield side, separated by a piece of tape. It seated less than 56,000 for football, and many seats had obstructed views or were far from the field.

The final Packers game at County Stadium took place on December 18, 1994, with the Pack going out in style. The Packers won when Brett Favre completed a nine-yard run by diving across the goal line with about three seconds left in the game. It prompted Packer kicker Chris Jacke to say, "It's vintage Brett Favre. Dumb and brilliant at the same time."

The Packers and Brewers collided for at least one game: on August 27, 1972, the Brewers played a home game versus the White Sox at 1 pm. Seven hours later, the Packers hosted the Chicago Bears for the 1972 Shrine Game. Due to time concerns, the Brewers-White Sox game was not allowed to extend past 4:30 pm that afternoon. Thankfully, the game ended in plenty of time, when first baseman George Scott rapped a ninth-inning, bases loaded single to give the Brewers the victory at about 3:30 that afternoon. Without the hit, the teams were facing extra-innings with less than an hour left on the clock.

According to the Milwaukee Sentinel the next day, the Brewers-to-Packers transition "went smoothly".

"This was a day when we had to make every move count," stadium maintenance supervisor Tony Klajbor said while his men toiled to change the baseball field into a football field and clean up the stands in time for the Green Bay Packer game later that same night.
...
"We were able to do everything but put the numbers and the wide borderlines on the field," Klajbor said.

Now, honestly, I have no idea how often NFL and MLB games were played on the same field on the same day. If I grew up in a city with a multi-purpose stadium (like, say, Pittsburgh), it might not seem so unique to me. I can say, though, that this 1972 game was the first time it had ever happened in County Stadium history, and I can only imagine it didn't happen all that often (if at all) afterwards. Also, if it were to happen today, I'm pretty sure that they would allow for more than three-and-a-half hours for the baseball game and that there would be more than the speculated "about 40 people [who] bought tickets to both games".

The Super Bowl tomorrow should be quite the game, with two of the most storied franchises in football history squaring off. And despite the disparate levels of baseball history in the two competing teams' home cities, even the most ardent anti-football/pro-baseball fan out there will have something to celebrate during tomorrow's game: the Super Bowl marks the end of the football season and brings us that much closer to baseball season!

Enjoy the game, but, especially, enjoy the fact that Spring Training is just around the corner.

Related Content:  Football

6 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

David Laurila

There is a Midwest League team -- the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers -- in Grand Chute, which is less than 30 miles from Green Bay. By comparison, Dodger Stadium and Angel Stadium are over 30 miles apart. Football-wise, Fenway Park and Foxboro Stadium are also more than 30 miles apart.

Also of note: Appleton, which is right down the road from Grand Chute, had a Midwest League team for decades.

Not direct links between Green Bay and baseball, but pretty close.

Feb 05, 2011 14:38 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Larry Granillo
BP staff

Thanks, David. Good point. Though the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers are now the team in Appleton. Not sure when they all changed around...

Feb 05, 2011 19:32 PM
 
jonjacoby

Also the Green Bay Bullfrogs are the Northwoods League, which is probably the #2 Collegiate Summer League, behind only the Cape Cod League. Yes that's even more tenuous than saying Columbus, Ohio has pro football & basketball because of OSU, but it's something.

Feb 07, 2011 12:51 PM
rating: 0
 
dbimberg

Talking about playing baseball and football in the same stadium on the same day, of course the Twins and U-MN Gophers are quite accustomed to doing so. Usually, the Twins would start at 11am on that September Saturday to allow for enough time. I do recall one of the last times they did so, perhaps it was even the last time, the Twins had to suspend their game and continue it the next day.

Further, one year I attended both the Twins game in the afternoon and the Gophers football game that evening. I'll have to go back and find out what date it was, although I believe it was late 80's.

Feb 08, 2011 09:53 AM
rating: 0
 
dbimberg

and of course, thankfully, both teams now have beautiful new outdoor ballparks/stadiums so this won't happen anymore.

Feb 08, 2011 09:54 AM
rating: 0
 
Matt Kory

I recall being down on the floor of the old Capital Center outside Washington DC before a Washington Bullets game (yes, I'm that old) and seeing the ice for Washington Capitals games underneath the bleachers. I was astonished that the ice was still there. Of course, I was like 10 at the time. I asked someone who looked like he worked there and he said they kept the ice full time and would construct the basketball court over top of it for games. I don't recall, but I'm sure there were days when the Caps played at 1pm and the Bullets played at 7:30 or so.

Sorry for the rambling. Thanks for the good work, Larry.

Feb 08, 2011 15:39 PM
rating: 0
 
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