"The Orchard" rises again - online
In 2009, with the nagging desire to try to tell the exhaustive story of Milwaukee's first sporting cathedral, Michaels launched and developed BorchertField.com, what is described as "the only online museum dedicated to the Milwaukee Brewers of the American Association, 1902-1952, their ballpark, and the events it hosted."
"What we have tried to do is take advantage of the possibilities the internet has to offer for sharing an interest that in previous years that might have gone completely unnoticed," Michaels continued.
Unquestionably, Borchert Field's most colorful character was Bill Veeck, the legendary eventual owner of the Chicago White Sox, who was known as the P.T. Barnum of baseball. Veeck owned the Brewers from 1941-45, winning three pennants during his five years here.
One of the most infamous stories about Veeck's tenure with the Brewers was the tale that he had a movable screen in the outfield that was wheeled out when the opposing team was up and moved away when the Brewers were at bat. As the fable goes, the visitors were unable to hit home runs over the contraption. Veeck's telling of the story said that he did this because there was no rule against it – until the very next day after the rest of the teams in the American Association complained.
Research suggests that this may be nothing more than urban legend and Veeck's own vivid imagination, but those that knew him were never shocked that he might try to pull a stunt like that.
One of Michaels' initial challenges was to find images from Borchert Field, demolished almost 20 years before he was born. Amateur photography was still in its infancy during the stadium's heyday, with the enormously popular Kodak Brownie 127 model not being introduced until 1952.
Undaunted, Michaels sought out whatever he could find from the archives of the Milwaukee Journal and Milwaukee Sentinel. (Impossible as it seems today, OnMilwaukee.com did not yet exist when Borchert Field was still standing.)
What he found was a rich tapestry that appeals not only to baseball fans, but to historians from all walks of Milwaukee life. Along the way he has been able to enlist collaborators who also share his passion for weaving narrative tapestries of a bygone era.
"It's not just my labor of love," Michaels says. "I've got some really great contributors who have allowed me to spread the breadth of our collective knowledge."
Among the writers that Michaels works with are lifelong Milwaukeeans Paul Tenpenny and Dennis Pajot, both of whom are active in the Milwaukee (Ken Keltner) Chapter of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR).
The story of Borchert Field is one that is ever evolving. After all, more than a half-century of our sports history was destroyed long before anyone thought about trying to preserve any of it. After all, as Michaels puts it, "because the interstate is sunk below where the ground was, they literally scooped the ballpark off the face of the earth."
But for Michaels, while the images of physical structure of Borchert Field are worth discovering, they are not what fuel his passion.
"We've done stories on the people that worked there," he concludes. "We've written about ticket takers and the organist. In some cases these were people who worked at the ballpark for decades. Those are the stories I love to tell."
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Great job of bringing this story out. Going to view Borchertfield.com right now. I love the look and stories of these old ball parks. Miller Park is great and certainly a credit to our community but it's nice to step back and see where we've been. Thanks Doug!
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