Fielding a team: A new beginning
By Kris Leonhardt
While the Wisconsin Rapids Rafters begin their 11th season on May 31, the team’s origins has a long, storied history of providing entertainment while showcasing talent from all over the country. Continued from previous week
CENTRAL WISCONSIN – The Wisconsin Rapids Twins inaugural game was held in 1964. In 1967 and 1973, Witter Field also played host to the Midwest League All-Star game.
In 1977, as the Minnesota Twins began considering a withdrawal from Wisconsin Rapids, organizers began an upgrade on Witter Field in an effort to retain the club or gain the interest of another major league club.
The cost of the upgrade was divided between public and private funding, and would only address part of the issues with the Twins ball club.
A month earlier, the Eau Claire Common Council rejected their opportunity to allow the Twins to move their Class A Midwest League farm team there, voting 4-3 against it. Which further limited the club’s option for relocation.
In early 1978, the player development contract was returned to Wisconsin Rapids, after the city made guarantees for more park improvements. Upgrades included new sod where the race track once existed, work on infield grass, as well as providing “26 candlepower in the infield and 23 in the outfield.”
Paper Cities Baseball paid for the field work, while the city covered the lighting.
In October 1983, after finishing the league tied for second, the Minnesota Twins announced that they would be pulling their Class A farm team out of Wisconsin Rapids, citing “poor housing conditions” and “an inadequate club house” at Witter Field. The team also noted the poor condition of the club bus.
In December of 1983, the city of Kenosha welcomed the Twins to their newly updated Simmon’s Field.
The following year, Pepsi donated an electric scoreboard to Witter Field, for the American Legion team using the field, who continued to play at the field along with the local high school teams.
The Legion later added concession stands and a new press box.
December 2009 brought the announcement of a new collegiate-level baseball franchise coming to Wisconsin Rapids. The Northwoods league would pay the city $13,000 each a year for use of Witter Field. The team remained unnamed as negotiations were made, with the Rapids common council later making a unanimous decision on a five-year contract.
A month later, the new “Wisconsin Rapids Rafters” logo was unveiled at a club news conference held at Hotel Mead, where the city celebrated the return of organized baseball to Witter Field
Continued next week