The Last Days Of Pompeii

People lined up at the ticket booth on the last opening day at Borchert Field on April 16, 1952. Borchert Field, at 3000 N. 8th St., opened as Athletic Park in 1888.(Photo: Milwaukee Journal)

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For the first half of the 20th century in Milwaukee, if you were going to the ballpark, you were going to Borchert Field.

Built in 1888, the wooden stadium dominated the city block bordered by N. 8th, N. 7th, W. Chambers and W. Burleigh streets. In its time, Borchert Field saw just about every great, memorable and wacky player who played the game of baseball.

Not just baseball: Borchert hosted just about every sport, from boxing to Packers football to balloon racing. The rickety old stadium also had its grandstand roof ripped off by a windstorm; beheld the last days of Pompeii (a re-enactment, not the real deal); and fostered countless memories for generations of Milwaukeeans.

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While Bob Buege doesn't include every moment from Borchert's six decades-plus in "Borchert Field: Stories From Milwaukee's Legendary Ballpark," it's not for want of trying.

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Borchert Field: Stories From Milwaukee's Legendary Ballpark. By Bob Buege. Wisconsin Historical Society Press. 392 pages. $26.95. (Photo: Wisconsin Historical Society Press)

When it comes to Milwaukee baseball history, Buege is a perennial all-star. His "The Milwaukee Braves: A Baseball Eulogy"  is an entertaining and definitive history of the team (you can tell from the title where his heart lies). He's also president of the Milwaukee Braves Historical Association and secretary of the Old Time Ballplayers' Association of Wisconsin.

But his new book is less a history and more an engaging collection of narratives about people, events and moments in Borchert Field's — and Milwaukee's — history from the late 19th century to the 1950s.

In Buege's telling, all baseball roads lead to 8th and Chambers, bringing with them just about every baseball legend of the era.

Ty Cobb? In 1914, the Georgia Peach went 4-for-5 in an exhibition game against the minor-league Milwaukee Brewers — without spiking anyone.

Satchel Paige? He pitched at Borchert several times, including an exhibition game in 1952 when he was 46.

Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, Josh Gibson and Cool Papa Bell, Dizzy and Paul Dean, and even Bob Uecker played there.

So did other sports giants: Paul Robeson, the performer and activist who played for the 1922 Milwaukee Badgers; multisport star Babe Didrikson, one of the first women to play with the barnstorming House of David team; Max Schmeling, the German boxer who, before he was bested by Joe Louis, fought in a ring at Borchert in 1929; and NFL legends Curly Lambeau, Red Grange and George Halas, among many others.

But Borchert was first and foremost the home of baseball, and throughout "Borchert Field" Buege tells tales of the game's quirks, characters, joys and heroes. The latter category includes familiar figures like Bill Veeck, the maverick owner who turned the minor-league Brewers into a pennant winner, but also unsung heroes such as Bunny Brief and Jack Kloza, who between them coached hundreds of kids in Milwaukee's municipal leagues from the 1930s to the early 1960s.

Although it looms large in the memories of those who grew up in Milwaukee during those years, Borchert Field left the scene almost unnoticed. While County Stadium, its replacement, was being completed in early 1953, Borchert was dismantled and offered up as free kindling; the site is now a ramp at Locust St. on I-43.

While Buege acknowledges that undignified end, with "Borchert Field" he restores the landmark to its rightful place as Milwaukee's first real field of dreams.

IF YOU GO

Bob Buege will speak at 7 p.m. April 5 at Boswell Books, 2559 N. Downer Ave. Info: >boswellbooks.com.

Source : http://www.jsonline.com/story/entertainment/books/2017/03/24/book-review-borchert-field-shares-tales-milwaukees-other-ballpark/99228694/

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