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Bosse Field / Evansville Otters

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Bosse Field

It is one of the oldest ballparks still hosting baseball, a historic venue that still feels much as it did during its June 17, 1915 opening. Welcome to Evansville's Bosse Field.

FAST FACTS

Opened: June 17, 1915
Capacity: 7,180
Dimensions: 315L, 415C, 315R
Surface: Grass
Owner: Evansville Vanderburgh School Corporation
Website: evansvilleotters.com
Ticket Prices (2012): Field Box, $8; General Admission, $5.  (Seniors, General Admission, $4.)
Phone: 812/435-8686
League: Frontier League (independent)
Address: 1701 N. Main St., Evansville, IN 47711
Directions: Take I-69 N to U.S. 41 N, turn left onto Columbia St and right onto N. Main St.  From U.S. 41 S., take ramp to IN-66 W (Diamond Ave.), turn right onto E. Diamond Ave./Diamond Ave. Expressway, left on N. Heidelbach Ave., right on Maxwell Ave., left onto N. Main St.
Written By: Jesse Goldberg-Strassler (October 2012)


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On April 20, 1912, following three successive rainouts, the Boston Red Sox officially welcomed their loyalists to Fenway Park.  On April 23, 1914, the Chicago Federals, also known as the Whales, christened Weeghman Field. (It would later be renamed Wrigley Field.) A year later, on June 17, 1915, Evansville’s Bosse Field opened its gates.

In the ensuing decades since those three ballparks came about, new franchises have risen and relocated, new leagues have born and folded, and new stadiums have been erected and demolished (and in certain cases, entertainingly imploded). Fenway and Wrigley remain a part of the national consciousness, a continuous reminder of what was and still is. Bosse Field, meanwhile, continues hosting baseball games in near anonymity on the Indiana/Illinois/Kentucky border, gaining recognition only through its remarkable history... and its starring role in one of the national pastime’s finest movies.

Let’s go back nearly a century:

The $65,000 field, named for Evansville mayor Benjamin Bosse, was the first municipally owned facility in pro baseball, erected as part of a school board project. A crowd of 8,082 attended Opening Day, with ticket prices ranging from twenty-five cents for bleacher seats to fifty cents for the grandstand to seventy-five cents for the box seats. The result was a successful on all counts, with the Evanville Evas (or River Rats) blanking the Erie Sailors, 4-0. It also proved a pleasant omen for the season as a whole; Charles “Punch” Knoll managed Evansville to the top of the Class-B Central League, posting a 72-50 record to top the Grand Rapids Black Sox by four games for the league title.

The Central League shut down following the 1917 campaign, bringing Evansville to the Class-B Three-I League (those Three I’s signifying Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa) from 1919 to 1931.

In 1921, the city of Evansville was awarded a franchise in the American Professional Football Association, with the Crimson Giants playing their home games at Bosse Field. After an optimistic start to the 1921 season, poor attendance and scheduling snafus caused the team to rapidly lose both players and money. The APFA was renamed the National Football League entering 1922. Around the same time, the Evansville Baseball Fans’ Association developed their own team and gained the sole rights to Bosse Field. In the intracity battle between football clubs, neither one succeeded. The new Evansville Pros shut down after two games, similarly failing to draw any sort of significant attendance at Bosse Field. The Crimson Giants played just three games in 1922, all on the road, before becoming the first NFL team to go under.

The Evansville baseball club, known as the Black Sox, the Evas, the Pockateers, and the Hubs throughout the roaring ‘20s, remained afloat while playing fair to middling baseball.

Even when the team’s fortunes dipped, there were silver linings. The 1927 Evansville Hubs were a poor outfit, for instance, finishing in the cellar with a 50-84 record, thirty-five games behind the first place Danville Veterans and Peoria Tractors.  Still, Bosse Field fans were treated to the exploits of future Hall of Famer Chuck Klein in the Hubs’ outfield. Klein went on to be honored as the 1932 N.L. Most Valuable Player for his accomplishments for the Philadelphia Phillies.  In 1933, he captured the National League Triple Crown. (That same season, coincidentally, the American League also had a Triple Crown winner, Al Simmons, playing in the very same city as a member of the Philadelphia Athletics.)

Evansville gained its first Major League affiliation in 1928, partnering with the Detroit Tigers. $50,000 were spent to improve the ballpark in 1930, with the ballclub itself improved by the influx of young Tiger hopefuls like pitcher Tommy Bridges and future Hall of Fame first baseman Hank Greenberg.

It was during Greenberg’s 1931 campaign that Bosse Field hosted its very first night game, an August 12th affair in which the Hubs fell to the Decatur Commodores, 7-6. Comparatively, the first night game in the Major Leagues wasn’t until May 24, 1935, at Cincinnati’s Crosley Field.

After a hiatus in the 1930s, Evansville rejoined the Three-I League as a Boston Braves affiliate in 1938. Nicknamed the Bees, the team posted a league-best 77-47 mark in the regular season, spearheaded by the brilliant pitching of the unforgettable Emil “Hill Billy” Bildilli, 18-4 with a league-leading 185 strikeouts. Manager Bob Coleman was named the league’s top skipper, though the Bees fell in the playoff semifinals. Evansville also led the league with a season attendance of 98,817, topping the second highest-drawing team, the Springfield Browns, by 31,873 fans -- a margin that was more than the season attendance for both Moline and Bloomington.

The same aspects held true in 1939: the top attendance in the league (81,371), an honor for Coleman as the circuit’s best manager, and a first-round playoff exit. In 1940, the attendance at Bosse Field slipped down to 60,815, though it still remained the highest total.

Another future legend arrived in Evansville in 1941. Left-handed twirler Warren Spahn dazzled the Three-I League to the tune of a 19-6 record and a 1.83 ERA. The Bees finished the season with an 80-45 record, topping the Cedar Rapids Raiders by six games, all to the delight of a league-leading attendance of 69,156.  Things again soured in the postseason; Decatur knocked out Evansville, and Cedar Rapids took the league title. All ended well for Spahn, who proceeded to notch 360 Major League victories, most ever by a southpaw, en route to enshrinement in Cooperstown.

Various Minor Leagues briefly halted operations at the start of World War II, including the Three-I League, but the Major Leagues drew even closer to Bosse Field. Beginning in 1942, Evansville played host to Detroit Tigers spring training for five consecutive seasons, including the Tigers’ championship club of 1945.

After World War II concluded, minor league baseball resumed. Managed by Bob Coleman, the Evansville Braves finished the 1946 season with a 68-51 record, good for third behind Davenport and Danville. In the playoffs, the Braves made short work of Davenport, 3 games to 1, before sweeping upstart Terre Haute in the finals, 3 games to 0. For the first time since 1915, Bosse Field hosted a league champion.

The Braves completed another championship sweep of Terre Haute in 1948 before getting the favor returned to them by Davenport in 1949.

Bosse Field was bustling in the late ‘40s and early ‘50s, consistently drawing over 100,000 fans per season (including a team-best 145,657). Those attendances began to slip in the mid-’50s (47,414 in 1955 and 60,910 in a dominant, championship-clinching 84-36 season in 1956), leading the club to spend $400,000 in 1957 to improve the park. The final Triple-I team in Evansville, the 1957 Braves, featured a young catcher named Bob Uecker.

Baseball departed Evansville between 1958 and 1965, returning briefly with the Class-AA Southern League’s White Sox in 1966, a team that lasted through 1968. Bosse Field led the Southern League in attendance in each of the first two years, but the White Sox’s third year saw the attendance slip to 35,027, worst in the league, while the club’s record was similarly league-worst at 55-84.

From Double-A, Evansville jumped up to Triple-A in 1970 with the Minnesota Twins-affiliated Triplets. The Twins partnership ended after one year (featuring a 19-year-old pitcher named Bert Blyleven) but the nickname endured, even as the team changed affiliations to the Brewers in 1971 and the Tigers in 1974. There were American Association titles collected as well, in 1972, 1975 and 1979, and the jubilation of a Junior World Series title in 1975 (American Association champion vs. International League champion). Notably, the 1979 championship Triplets were helmed by a first-year manager, 34-year-old Jim Leyland, who went on to skipper the team for two more seasons before joining the 1982 Chicago White Sox as Tony La Russa’s third base coach.

The final year of the Evansville Triplets coincided with a dominant run by the Triplets’ parent team. The Detroit Tigers roared their to the 1984 World Series title, helped out in large part by a cadre of young superstars -- Jack Morris, Lance Parrish, Kirk Gibson, and more -- who had come through Bosse Field. It was triumphant, and yet it was also bittersweet.  After the season, the Triplets were sold and moved to Nashville, Tennessee.

Bosse Field fell quiet.

Then, in 1992, the movie “A League of Their Own” was released, shining the spotlight on the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. Historic Bosse Field was cast as the home of the Racine (WI) Belles, hosting the AAGPBL Championship Series between the Belles and the protagonist Rockford Peaches, managed by Tom Hanks’ archetypal amalgam, “Jimmy Dugan.” (In real life, Racine had a far easier time than their dramatic Hollywood ending would indicate.  The Belles were a powerhouse, capturing the inaugural AAGPBL title in 1943 before besting Rockford in six games for the 1945 championship.)

Three years after the movie’s release, baseball returned to Evansville.

The unafilliated Frontier League opened up operations in 1993 with the Chillicothe Paints, Kentucky Rifles, Lancaster Scouts, Ohio Valley Redcoats, Portsmouth Explorers, Tri-State Tomahawks, West Virginia Coal Sox, and Zanesville Greys. As often happens in fledgling leagues, especially in independent ball, survival became a war of attrition. Neither the Tomahawks nor the Coal Sox made it past that initial season, while the Rifles shut down operations in 1994. The Lancaster (OH) Scouts, meanwhile, packed their bags following the 1994 campaign and moved west to Evansville, Indiana.

On June 15, 1995, the Evansville Otters began play at Bosse Field. Nearly a decade later, on May 28, 2005, Evansville became the first team in the Frontier League to welcome their one millionth fan. During the next season, the Otters notched the rare dual honor of hosting the league All-Star Game and winning the league championship, the first Frontier League title for the Otters.

From team pride to individual pride: In 1999, an undrafted free agent from Austin Peay State University named George Sherrill signed with the Otters. He pitched for Evansville in 1999 and 2000, moving to the Northeast League’s Quebec Capitales in 2000, the Northern League’s Sioux Falls Canaries in 2001, and the Northern League’s Winnipeg Goldeyes in 2002-2003.  Sherrill’s hard work paid off in July 2003, with his contract purchased by the Seattle Mariners. A year later, he became the first Otters alum to reach the Major Leagues. In 2008, pitching for the Baltimore Orioles, George Sherrill was named to the American League All-Star Team.

Even today, Bosse Field presents a remarkable baseball experience, directly from the moment you step up to the high gates. Its history is striking for a baseball fan to behold, with the added delight of banners cheering on the Racine Belles, left over from “A League of Their Own.” The field itself is bowl-shaped, pushing the crowd back from the action, and the outfield feels deeper than usual. All in all, it feels like a living time capsule of baseball days gone by.

The crowds in Evansville continue to support their local baseball team: On August 18, 2012, the Otters broke the Bosse Field record for single-game attendance, drawing 8,120 fans on Breast Cancer Awareness Night. The result was equally energizing, as the Otters outslugged the Gateway Grizzlies, 8-7. This is the joy, too, of independent league baseball, where the emphasis is placed on winning far more than in affiliated ball.

Bosse Field might never receive the recognition of a Fenway or a Wrigley, but there is the sense it does not need it. The quiet, proud history of the ballpark is undiminished, even after all these years.

More information on the team website.

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