By OnMilwaukee Staff Writers   Published May 09, 2004 at 5:06 AM

Anticipating the arrival of Miller Park had Brewers fans scurrying for tickets, and the dismantled County Stadium had fans scavenging the ruins for a memento. Lost between the departure and arrival were memories of the Brewers first home -- Borchert Field.

From 1902-'52, Athletic Park, better known as Borchert Field, was home to the American Assosciation Milwaukee Brewers. The minor league team and ballpark was the home field for the young men who established Milwaukee as a Major League Baseball city.

The ballpark, which occupied just one city block, was built in 1888 at a fraction of today's costs -- $40,000. It was located in a residential district between W. Chambers St. and Burleigh St. and N. 7th and 8th Streets; the site is now covered by Interstate 43.

The most unique feature of Borchert Field was its rectangular shape. The right and left field fences were just 266 ft. from home plate, while straight-away center was 395. This meant the power alleys in right and left were deeper than straight away centerfield. Many of the current Brewers' sluggers, who look forward to the transition to shorter alleys at Miller Park, would have balked at these dimensions.

In 1901, Milwaukee was first introduced to the Brewers when the American League granted the city a major league franchise. But the Brewers lasted only one season here and the team moved during the off-season to become the St. Louis Browns.

The following season, Milwaukee received a AA franchise and named it after its departed major league team. The AA Brewers began their tenure at Borchert Field in 1902 and for a half a century the ballpark was home to several of baseball's pioneer executives, managers and players.

In 1919, Milwaukee native Otto Borchert bought the Brewers franchise and owned it until his death in 1927. The ballpark was officially re-named Borchert Field in his honor. Although Borchert never won a pennant, he's credited with sending several of his players to the big leagues.

Two of Milwaukee's greatest baseball players, Joe "Unser Choe" Hauser and Aloysius Semanski (Al Simmons) played at the park during Borchert's reign. Both received attention from Philadelphia Athletics manager Connie Mack. Mack knew Borchert from his days as the manager of the Milwaukee Creams. (The Creams played at Borchert Field prior to the Brewers.)

At Borchert's recommendation, Mack fortuitously signed both players to major league contracts. In 1924, Hauser was runner-up to Babe Ruth in home runs, while also setting a then-AL record of 14 total bases in one game. When Hauser's major league career was cut short by a knee injury, he went on to a successful career in the minors and became the first professional baseball player to hit 60 or more homers in consecutive seasons.

Simmons was known throughout Milwaukee's south side as the "Duke of Mitchell Street." He led the Athletics to two consecutive World Championships in 1929-'30. Regarded as one of the greatest players ever, Simmons hit over .380 four times. He was inducted into baseball's Hall of Fame in 1953.

Bill Veeck, son of a former Chicago Cubs owner, bought the rights to the Brewers during the 1941 season. Veeck began his executive career as the "PT Barnum of Baseball" at Borchert Field, where his first objectives were to improve the sagging structure of the ballpark and increase attendance. He accomplished both, building the Brewers into champions.

Veeck introduced Milwaukee and baseball to his innovative marketing schemes and promotions, which included morning games for third-shift workers and giveaways of items like butter, step ladders, vegetables and livestock.

The crafty Veeck always had something up his sleeve to help his team. On one occasion when the game was on the line Veeck turned out the lights and waited for the approaching storm to cancel the game. Another time he installed a retractable fence that stopped the opposing team's homers from clearing the right field fence. The fence was banned the following day.

The AA Brewers had two distinguished managers. First was former Cubs' player and manager Charlie Grimm, who led the Cubs to three World Series appearances, but lost them all. He later managed the Milwaukee Braves. Casey Stengel, who won nine World Series championships managing the New York Yankees, shared duties with Grimm in 1945.

The Brewers won seven Little World Series titles in 50 years: 1913, 1914, 1936, 1944, 1945, 1947 and 1951. The 1936 team is considered by many to be the best minor league team ever.

Borchert Field was also the home of the Milwaukee Chicks of the All-American Girls Professional Ball League in 1944. The Milwaukee Bears of the Negro National League played there in 1923. Even Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig stormed in for an appearance in 1928 as part of a tour promoting professional baseball.

Besides baseball, Borchert Field was home to many other events. The Green Bay Packers played there, along with Milwaukee's only National Football League team, the Badgers, between 1922-26. Collegiate and high school sporting events were held there, as were rodeos, political assemblies and wrestling matches.

Towards the late '40s the city implemented a plan to build a much larger ballpark with the intention of attracting a major league franchise. Although plans were for the Brewers to move in to the new ballpark, major league owners were excited over its potential.

Lou Perini, owner of the Boston Braves, a Brewers' minor league affiliate, received permission to move the Braves to Milwaukee in 1953. The Brewers never made it into County Stadium. However, several of the team's players did, including Johnny Logan and Eddie Mathews.

The final game at Borchert Field was played September 21, 1952 as the Brewers lost the seventh and deciding game of the American Association championship playoff series. Later that year, the ballpark and land was sold to the City of Milwaukee for $123,000.

Scraps of Borchert Field can still be found at the Milwaukee County Historical Society.