Set majestically inside the beautiful Carson Park, it’s just down the short tree-lined entrance path right next to the ample free parking. Perched atop a grassy hillock stands the renowned structure, looking a bit like a miniature cousin to grand stadiums of pre-World War II America.
Created the old school way from stone, wood, concrete and sweat labor, this 1935 WPA project has done Wisconsin proud. Built with the type of veneration that seems forever locked in a time gone by, there’s not a trace of annoying day-glo plastic or video arcades in sight. You enter a confine so fan-friendly you may actually believe that the term was invented inside its foundation.
Here the Eau Claire Express, a championship roster of fresh-faced, top college players from across the nation, clash amongst the other regional clubs of the independent Northwoods League. A league that includes: the Madison Mallards, La Crosse Loggers, Wisconsin Woodchucks, Green Bay Bullfrogs, Wisconsin Rapids Rafters and the brand new Lakeshore Chinooks, not to mention rivals from Iowa, Minnesota, Michigan, and even Ontario.
But that’s not the crowning glory of this Elysian field. Carson Park is where a young Alabama rookie named Henry Aaron first appeared and began crushin’ the long ball. Hank’s not the only luminary to suit up here. So did World Series champions Bill Bruton, Wes Covington and Andy Pafko. Joe Torre played here, so did Giants Hall of Famer Willie McCovey. Even the beloved clown prince of baseball, Bob Uecker, scrapped here.
The fans at Carson Park all seem to be right at home. They know every single player on the team. The players know a lot of the fans. The interaction between the two groups is surprisingly refreshing in this age of over-hyped, overpaid athletes. There are autographs, handshakes and pleasant back-and-forth chitchat so freely flowing that it may surprise the sometimes jaded fan of pro baseball. The crowd knows each player’s stats, they hang on every pitch, they cheer every grounder to first. You’d think you were sitting at a Brewers vs. Cubs game, ‘cept with one glaring anomaly… your wallet. Cruise the concourse under the stands for some wholesome chow that’s as good as it gets at these rare venues and at prices that are fortuitously stuck in the last century.
I’ve been a lucky guy. I’ve been to 162 major, minor and independent league ballparks in North America. Carson Park Field confidently comes to bat in the top ten percent of those places. And in a nation of incessant change, it’s nice to know that there are a few things that just don’t have to.
Jay Filter is a photographer from Milwaukee. You can see his work at: http://www.jayfilterphotography.com.