Once home to professional Wisconsin State League and Midwest League baseball, Witter Field is now home to the summer-collegiate Wisconsin Rapids Rafters and a great example of how community care for an older ballpark translates into a memorable game experience today.
Year Opened: 1928; metal grandstand constructed in 1949-1950
Capacity: 1,900, including seating for 1,611
Dimensions: 320L, 375C, 320R
Former Tenants: Wisconsin Rapids Sox, Wisconsin Rapids Senators, Wisconsin Rapids Twins.
Ticket prices (2011): County Stadium Seats, $10; Bleacher, $6, Standing Room, $5.
Parking: Free parking at ballpark lot, surrounding neighborhood
Address/Directions: 521 Lincoln St, Wisconsin Rapids, WI 54494. Witter Field is on the southeastern side of Wisconsin Rapids. From the South you will want to enter Wisconsin Rapids on Hwy 13. Hwy 13 becomes 8th Street, turn left onto Chestnut Street and right onto Lincoln Street and you will approach the ballpark on the right-hand side. If you are coming from the North you will want to enter Wisconsin Rapids on Hwy 13 or 34. Once you enter town you will want to take the Riverview Expressway to Lincoln Street, turn left onto Lincoln Street and you will approach the ballpark within a few blocks. The main entrance to Witter Field is off of Lincoln Street.
Wisconsin Rapids isn’t the first place many would consider for pro or summer-collegiate baseball. The city’s population is 18,367, but that’s a little misleading: add in nearby Stevens Point and its 26,717 residents, and you have an area certainly capable of supporting the summer-collegiate Northwoods League.
Of course, necessary for this support is a good baseball facility, and Wisconsin Rapids boasts Witter Field, a classic old ballpark supported over the years by city residents. Baseball has been played at Witter Field since 1928, with the current grandstand dating back to 1950.
The ballpark is in the best shape ever; since the Twins left the city actually improved Witter Field with additional support facilities (clubhouses, concessions) and some TLC on the metal grandstand. Support from the local Legion program was also key in ballpark improvements. It’s not quite up to pro levels, but it’s an excellent summer-collegiate venue.
The Rafters, who entered the Northwoods League in 2010, made additional improvements, including a log-cabin-style merchandise building and the installation of former County Stadium seats in the grandstand. Owner Steve Schmitt, Owner/President Vern Stenman and GM Liz Kern also added their own touches to the ballpark, including a series of Rafters batting helmets hung from the grandstand (Those names might be familiar to many in baseball; Schmitt and Stenman are responsible for the successful Madison Mallards, where Wisconsin native Kern cut her management teeth.)
Witter Field is a basic baseball facility. The center of action is the large, shaded grandstand, which features a variety of seating options, including the sold-out County Stadium swivel seats installed around a four-top; these tickets include all-you-can-eat dogs, brats, burgers, chicken sandwiches and chips from the time the gates open until the end of the fifth inning, as well as all-you-can-drink beer, fountain soda and tap water. Most fans will end up buying bleacher seats and patronizing the concession stands located in the left-field corner and behind the grandstand. It is very much an old-fashioned grandstand, with a small press box on top and dugouts tucked underneath.
SRO tickets are a good deal for $5; a large picnic-table area in left field is crammed with SRO ticketholders during most games. In fact, there’s plenty of room within the ballpark grounds to move around; even when there’s a full house it’s easy to wander around the ballpark and not encounter crowd. It helps that most fans seem to stay in their seats: Rapids fans tend to be knowledgeable about baseball and are intent on watching all the action.
History fans will like the tributes to former Wisconsin Rapids Twins greats down the third-base line.
There’s nothing especially elaborate or flashy about Witter Field. It’s a gentle reminder of how pro baseball used to be played and how ballparks felt in the 1940s and 1950s. While Wisconsin Rapids may be a little out of the way, it’s worth a trip, especially on a nice summer night.
Go hungry to the ballpark. The food is above average, with brats and hot dogs from a local vendor – Pete’s Meat Service. You’ll also find the usual ballpark suspects: cheeseburgers, chicken sandwiches, pizza, nachos, fries and Point Root Beer on tap. Point Beer from the local Point Brewery is also on tap. A new smokehouse offers a variety of smoked items (turkey legs) as well as specialty items like Italian sausage and a chicken Cordon Bleu Sandwich. There are also specials created for each home series; tonight’s specials are a grilled bologna sandwich and BBQ pork ramen noodles. Pig roasts are slated for two more games this season.
And, of course, this being Wisconsin, there’s a Fish Fry every Friday night game.
For the Kids
A play area on back of first base draws a host of kids on most game nights.
Before/After the Game
Sorry, Wisconsin Rapids, but we’re going to steer readers toward Stevens Point for postgame partying. Stevens Point is a college town and features more than one tavern downtown; it’s a popular activity to bar hop, especially on a weekend night.
Stevens Point is also home to the Stevens Point Brewery. Wisconsin was once home to many small breweries, but few have survived; Point, which features the popular Point Beer and Point Nude Beach lines, did through some loyal fans and inspired marketing (“Point: Not Just for Breakfast Anymore” is one of the company’s more inspired tag lines). It’s now the fifth-oldest continuous operating brewery in the country.
Tours are offered Monday-Saturday at 11 a.m., noon, 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. Adults pay $3, and there’s a tasting at the end of the tour.
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