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February 5, 2011
Baseball and the Super Bowl Cities
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.
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.