If there is a model for a historic and fun renovation for a ballpark, it’s the 2014 makeover of Simmons Field, which was transformed into the home of the Kenosha Kingfish (summer collegiate; Northwoods League). Preserving the historic grandstand and playing field while adding some whimsical touches led to a renaissance of baseball in the city, resulting in an award of Best Ballpark Renovation Under $2 Million from Ballpark Digest.
There is a long history at Simmons Field, where baseball was first played in 1920, when the Simmons Mattress Company built a ballpark to host a factory baseball team, the Simmons Bedmakers. The present grandstand was built in 1930, and in 1947 it was converted to the home of the Kenosha Comets of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, who played there through 1951. Over the years it hosted barnstorming major leaguers like Satchel Paige, Bob Feller and Warren Spahn, as well as Class A Midwest League ball and independent baseball.
“Simmons Field is why summer-collegiate leagues are great for ballpark fans: smart operators will fix up historic old facilities and bring new life to an old ballpark,” said Kevin Reichard, Ballpark Digest publisher. “The historic Simmons Field grandstand was spruced up, and the rest of the ballpark was upgraded to make it more fan-friendly and accessible.”
“Simmons Field provided a compelling combination of both history and the infrastructure to build a spectacular facility on a relatively tight budget,” Kingfish President Vern Stenman and COO Conor Caloia said. “It would be a challenge to build a new facility from scratch comparable to Simmons for less than $7 to $8 million.However, even if you built a ballpark, there is no way you could evoke the history, nostalgia and stories that came built into Simmons Field.”
The $1.4 million renovation kept the historic grandstand (shown above), the playing field and a newer office/team store/restroom building intact, with the city paying $750,000 and the rest from team owner Big Top Baseball. All seating down each line was torn up, replaced by concrete risers installed with seats recycled from Oriole Park at Camden Yards and backed with a signage displaying a timeline of the ballpark’s history. Two multilevel suites were installed on each side of the grandstand. The grandstand wall was moved in, and 25 four-top tables were installed, providing a birds’ eye view of the playing field. A kid’s area with bouncy houses, games and a sandbox was installed down the first-base line, along with a berm. Group areas were installed in the left-field corner. Various concessions, including a frozen-custard stand, were installed behind the grandstand.
If you want to be close to the action, 25 custom-built four-top tables were placed on what used to be the playing field at Simmons Field. These tables were just 43 feet from home plate and offered wait service and VIP amenities. All 25 tables were sold out on a season-ticket basis, at $6,000 per table.
And, of course, there’s the Bambino, installed in the left-field corner and in the field of play. (It’s shown above.) A 43-feet-long by 13-feet-wide fishing boat long used as a commercial fishing boat in Chesapeake Bay and most recently residing at Mount Clemens Marine in Michigan, the Bambino replaced a section of fence in left field. It was refurbished and is used for private parties of up to 25 people during all Kingfish home games, complete with concessions, drink rails and stool seating.
Renovating Simmons Field was more than just providing a venue for the Northwoods League: it literally saved the ballpark. Kenosha officials had been struggling to find a use for the historic facility, and the renovation will ensure Simmons Field stays open for a long time.
“Saving an old, historic ballpark is something that resonates with baseball fans,” Reichard said. “There are plenty of baseball fans in Kenosha who have fond memories of the ballpark, watching the Kenosha Twins in action or even taking in a barnstorming major-league squad. The renovation ensures future generations of Kenosha residents will have the same experiences.”
Each year Ballpark Digest honors noteworthy accomplishments in the baseball world, whether it be Major League Baseball, Minor League Baseball, independent baseball, summer-collegiate baseball or college baseball. Here’s a list of the 2014 awards, both already awarded and to come:
Broadcaster of the Year: Steve Klauke, Salt Lake Bees
Best New Logo / Branding: Akron RubberDucks
Organization of the Year: Big Top Baseball
Best MiLB Promotion: Myrtle Beach Pelicans
Best Summer Collegiate Promotion: Kalamazoo Growlers
Editor’s Choice: Granderson Stadium, University of Illinois at Chicago
Best New Food Item: BIG APPLE, Fort Wayne TinCaps
Best Ballpark Improvement: Ferris wheel, Quad Cities River Bandits
Nov. 11: Best Ballpark Renovation Under $2 Million, Best Ballpark Renovation Over $2 Million, Best Marketing
Nov. 12: Team of the Year, Executive of the Year, Best New Ballpark (announced in weekly newsletter)