I am NOT sitting in a Starbucks this morning, I am sitting in the Black Cat Coffeehouse in Ashland, Wisconsin! Ashland is my hometown, located towards the northern portion of Wisconsin on the edge of Lake Superior. I got into town yesterday after I went to a Northwoods League baseball game between the Green Bay Bullfrogs and the Duluth Huskies, which was played “over” (not up) in Duluth.
The game between the Huskies and the Bullfrogs was well attended by approximately 3500 school kids from around Duluth and Superior, Wisconsin. When I pulled into the parking lot of Wade Municipal Stadium I was awe struck by the ball park. I love the old and historic stadiums, I walked around the entire structure to get a feel for the park. The stadium is in desperate need of repair, especially after the most recent winter. I could sense the baseball history oozing from its walls. I quickly “Googled” the stadium. Found that many stars and Hall of Famers played at the Wade while members of different Northern League teams: Don Larsen, Earl Weaver, Jim Palmer, Hank Aaron, Roger Maris, Willie Stargell, Lou Brock, Orlando Cepeda, and Gaylord Perry all experienced “The Wade”.
As I was getting a ticket for the game, I told the attendant how much I loved the look and feel of the stadium. He was a college intern and he excitedly told me that the State of Minnesota and City of Duluth approved financing or funding for 2.2 million, or 4.4 million, dollars in renovations to the field. I give the conflicting numbers since there was an argument with another intern on how much it actually was. Unfortunately, he also told me that they will be installing artificial turf on the field.
I know it is the north and that turf is easy to take care of but I can not stand the stuff. Artificial turf takes away from the baseball experience and cheapens the game as a whole. I spoke to the Duluth Huskies owner Michael Rosenzweig, as the children were pouring into the stadium, and he was trying to direct them away from the first three rows behind home plate which he was trying to save for season ticket holders. I asked about the stadium renovations and the artificial turf, he said, ” They needed the turf since right field was sinking.” He didn’t have time to talk to me since it was school appreciation day for the Huskies. I asked him if I could email him some questions, he gave me his card and told me that I could email him but it might take awhile for him to get back to me since he had another job as a stock broker. I thanked him for his time and then he quickly added something about buying out his partners, I didn’t understand that part but it seemed important to him.
I wandered around the entire facility. I was figuring out ways that they could update without changing the entire dynamic of the place. I was disappointed to see the aluminum bleachers on the ends of the original seating structure. I walked underneath those and again was disappointed that none of the interns had time to pick up all the debris from a previous Huskie’s game. I observed that other renovations in the past were structural in nature, ensuring fan safety; but, those renovations seemed liked quick fixes. I wanted to put on my “rose colored” glasses and take in the entire experience. However, my fear is that even with the best intended renovations, they will take away from the historical aspects of the place. I was told they were getting new lights and scoreboard. I would hope that they retro-fit the old lights and fix the current scoreboard instead of getting one of the new color “in your face” type.
Yes, I am spouting off an opinion. I wasn’t part of the fight to get funding to save the place. I don’t have intimate knowledge of the inner workings of the committee that was assembled and planned the renovation. I applaud all the people who have fought to save the place instead of tearing it down and starting new. I just don’t want them to overlook all the historical value. I believe there are so many ways the story can be told while incorporating the new without cheapening it. I am very grateful that I got to experience “The Wade” on this journey, it rates right up there with Carson Park in Eau Claire. The stadium is a must see for all the historic baseball people. I say see the park before the renovations.
I got into Ashland late in the afternoon and was disappointed that I couldn’t see “The Oredock”. “The Oredock” was torn down the last couple of years and it was a prominent feature on the waterfront. I understand things change but I am a guy that romanticizes things. “The Oredock” defined Ashland to me. It represented strength and courage, and it saddened me that it was no longer there. I worry about my hometown. I don’t want it to lose its identity. Lots of people fought to save The Oredock and it was emotional for a lot of people when it was tore down. Life moves forward and things change. However, if we forget our history, or where we come from, we lose all of our diversity and traditions. I guess that is why I love baseball so much, it parallels our nation’s history.
I came back to Ashland so I can see the Oredockers, my Oredockers, play a baseball game. This particular team means a lot to me. I have watched a lot of these kids, my nephew and all of his friends, the last few years. They have been well coached by my brother-in-law and Michael Miller. Of course, there have been others, also; but, I have watched these two guys from a distance and they have this passion for coaching and teaching that I admire. I have talked about Ashland from Fort Myers to Los Angeles to Starkville and everywhere in between. I wholeheartedly believe Ashland, like any town that has coaches that love and respect this game, can compete at any level. I was also grateful that Sam, Johnny and Eric came out to eat with my sister, brother-in-law and me. I enjoyed it thoroughly, even though I made them listen to how knowledgeable I was about baseball.
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