The biggest obstacle was the weather. The frequent storms that postponed the National Junior College Athletic Association Division II national softball tournament held locally seemed strong and frequent enough to consider cancelling the trip. But the enticement of seeing the first ever game played by the new local minor league baseball franchise set the journey in motion.
We drove through storms as we headed east towards Danville and the Indiana state line.
We drove through storms as we headed south towards Evansville and the home of Evansville Otters.
And about fifty miles from our destination, the sky cleared and we continued onward towards a perfect night for baseball.
The Normal CornBelters, the newest member of the Frontier League, were opening play in Evansville, so I accompanied four friends to witness the first game personally. It wasn’t just to see the new franchise in action; the allure of the Otter’s home field, used prominently in the movie A League of Their Own also served as a drawing card for our trip.
Bosse Field, opened in 1915, is billed as the third oldest stadium hosting professional baseball, with only Fenway Park (Boston, 1912) and Wrigley Field (Chicago, 1914) being older. In reality, Rickwood Field (Birmingham, 1910) also hosts one minor league game a year between the Birmingham Barons and a Southern League opponent, but absent that loophole, the field earns it’s place in historic relevance with it’s lasting charm alone.
The field is more circular in nature than modern day parks (I was told the field was built to accommodate football as well, but I have no idea if that’s true), so the dugouts seem a little oddly placed because of the rounded shape, resulting in excess foul territory. But the covered grandstands and wooden, fold down seating have maintained it’s historic feel, and the stadium’s location in a neighborhood in the middle of town rather than an outlying area clearly showed the field had been there awhile. If you’re ever in Evansville and a fan of baseball history like myself, it’s worth a visit just to see it once.
As noted, it was the first game ever for the CornBelters franchise. Centerfielder Joe Hicks wasted no time in becoming the answer of a trivia question, drilling the opening pitch of the game to left field for the first hit in franchise history. He would score the first run in franchise history later in the inning (after stealing the first base on the second pitch of the game.)
In the bottom of that inning, starting pitcher Tyler Lavigne threw the CornBelters first pitch, and ultimately registered six strong innings (and the first franchise win) before giving way to two relievers to close out the 7-0 victory.
Daniel Cox added a three-run blast in the fifth inning to register the first home run in franchise history as well.
Overall, the CornBelters were the stronger club, winning three straight games in the weekend series.
Ironically, although undefeated as of this writing, they have yet to be in first place in the Frontier League’s Western Division, as the Southern Illinois Miners jumped out to a 4-0 start to their season.
And finally, the Hospitality
I’ve been to far more Major League than Minor League stadiums (by my count, Evansville was my 6th minor league stadium), but in all cases, the effort put forth in fan entertainment is incredible. The games and gimmicks between innings are meant to keep the crowd engaged, and it’s always refreshing to see the creativity these people employ to tie a particular activity to a local sponsor.
In our case, the hospitality was even better than the entertainment.
Brandon McClish, the Director of Operations, Assistant Director of Sales & Revenue Development for the Otters, first helped me out when I phoned him about a month before the game by getting me tickets in a field box one row off the field. This allowed for perfect access to photograph the game (in 1915, it’s unlikely the stadium architects were worried about photographer shooting positions, so few if any exist in the old stadiums.)
He also told me to call him when we arrived, and he would get us through the gates early to take photos of the stadium prior to the gates officially opening.
As promised, my phone call upon arriving (he also answered my call enroute to check on the weather) produced an already sweating Brandon (I can only imagine how many last-minute duties he was attending to) who provided us our tickets and personally escorted us through the front gates while hundreds of local fans stood in line.
I know he can’t do this for everyone, but for him to take time out of his pregame schedule to accommodate us was really going above and beyond his call of duty.
I hope the CornBelters can put on as good a show when the Corn Crib hosts their first home game on June 1st. They have a lot to live up to.