Between now and New Year’s Eve we’ll run down the top ten stories covered on Ballpark Digest in 2014, determined by page views. At #4: the restoration of Kenosha’s historic Simmons Field.
Everyone loves an old ballpark. In Kenosha, Simmons Field has been the home of baseball since 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 in the form of a Minnesota Twins farm team and independent baseball.
Over time, the ballpark started to show its age, leading city officials to question whether it was worth keeping. Enter Big Top Baseball, the company behind the Madison Mallards, Wisconsin Rapids Rafters and Green Bay Bullfrogs (all summer collegiate; Northwoods League), who pitched Kenosha on a renovation plan that would upgrade seating, add fan-friendly upgrades and bring in a new tenant: the Kenosha Kingfish.
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.
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.
All in all, the renovation — a true public/private partnership — was a success. Kenosha averaged 2,207 fans per game in a ballpark seating 2,144, finishing with more than 2,000 fans at each of the last 14 games and more than 3,000 fans per game at the last four home games. The renovation earned the city and the Kingfish a Ballpark Digest Award for best ballpark renovation under $2 million.
As noted, we’re running down the top 10 stories of 2014 on Ballpark Digest. Previously: