By Joe Bachman
The Wisconsin Rapids Rafters won their first Northwoods League Championship in historic fashion last year — as the season quick approaches, it’s only fitting to take a look at Witter Field’s historic past.
Wisconsin Rapids has a lineage of baseball history, and it largely begins at Witter Field, however, it wasn’t always known by that name. Known as the “fairgrounds” before being turned into an athletic field in 1897, Witter Field was known as the Lincoln Athletic Field, and the pitch would host various city sporting events.
On Dec. 24, 1927, Isaac Witter, son of J.D. Witter, would donate $5,000 for improvements to the field, which planted the seeds for the field’s future namesake. In 1934 the field was dedicated, and in 1940 officially renamed ‘Witter Field’ after Isaac Witter for being a “leading citizen” in Wisconsin Rapids.
From 1949 to 1950, Witter Field would go through various changes, including the replacement of the then wooden bleachers to a metal grandstand. Other additions include a private picnic area and decks, as well as a standing room. In 2010, the field replaced 227 bleachers to make room for seats taken from Milwaukee Brewers County Stadium.
Wisconsin Rapids had various baseball teams, as well.
Playing from 1940-42, and again from 1946-52, games of the Class-D Wisconsin State League (WSL) Wisconsin Rapids White Sox were hosted at Witter Field. The team had been affiliated with Major League Baseball’s Chicago White Sox.
In 1953, the WSL folded, and it would be a decade before the city would see a baseball franchise. In 1963, the Wisconsin Rapids Senators, an affiliate of the Washington Senators, represented the city for one season in the Class-A Midwest League before becoming an affiliate of the Minnesota Twins, aptly being renamed the Wisconsin Rapids Twins.
The team would play until 1983, before moving to Kenosha to become the Kenosha Twins. In 1992, Kenosha shipped up to Fort Wayne, Ind. to become the Fort Wayne Wizards, now known as the Fort Wayne TinCaps. An affiliate of the San Diego Padres, they are the oldest franchise in Class-A Midwest League baseball, and they got their start in Wisconsin Rapids.
On Jan. 27, 2010, it was announced that the Wisconsin Rapids Rafters would be joining the Northwoods League. Only six years later, the Rafters would capture their first League Championship by defeating the Eau Claire Express in two games.
Many notable players have walked through the Witter Field grounds, including 1983 World Series MVP Rick Dempsey, 1987 ALCS MVP Gary Gaetti, and 1976 home run leader and 1981 ALCS MVP Graig Nettles — just to name a few.
While the historic field has gone through name changes, team changes, and now the host to league champions, the next time you step into the grandstands at Witter Field know that you’re walking into a piece of living history.