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History of the Burlington Bees

Professional baseball in Burlington, Iowa dates back to 1889 giving this community one of the longest and most storied histories of any current Minor League Baseball organization. The first season, the team played as the Burlington Babies in the Central Interstate League and finished in third place with a 55-63 record. Baseball left after one season and didn't return until 1895 when the Western Association team that started the year in Jacksonville, IL moved to Springfield, IL, and then on to Burlington to finish the year. Burlington kept that team through 1897, but baseball left again.

Baseball returned once again in 1904 with the Burlington River Rats of the Iowa State League. The River Rats struggled to a 35-75 record and an eighth place finish. A name change to the Flint Hills in 1905 didn't produce any better results as the team finished 38-84. In 1906, the team changed its name to the Pathfinders, finished 83-39, and won a championship in their final year in the Iowa State League.

In 1907, the team kept its name as the Pathfinders, but joined the Central Association. In ten years in the Central Association, the franchise won two league titles in 1909 and 1915 and finished with a losing record just twice.

Professional baseball left Burlington a third time from 1917 to 1923, but returned in 1924 with a team in the Mississippi Valley League. The nickname "Bees" was used for the first time. The team's ballpark was located on Summer Street in Burlington, opposite the current site of the Southeast Iowa Regional Airport. The organization played nine seasons as the Bees before the Mississippi Valley League disbanded in 1932.

1949 Burlington Indians Baseball Club:
Top row: Bush Perry; Ralph Johnson; Wally Rush; Herman Wollitz; George Vance; Joe Macko; Bob Wuebben; George Sacha; Les Crouch; John Kurka. Middle row: Duke Bourman; Al Janis; Les Filkins; Smitty Smotherman; Manager Lloyd Brown; Corky Shillings; Jerry Majeiak; Joe Schulte; Joe Fuller; Vance Logan. Bottom row: Louis Bertlshofer; Bob Moerke; Ken McCullough -- Batboys. Insets: Left - Don Bruss; Right- John Farkas
Community Field was built on its current site in 1947 to serve as the home for Burlington's professional baseball team that rejoined the Central Association of Professional Baseball. The team played three seasons in the Central Association as the Burlington Indians and won the city's fourth championship in its final year in league in 1949.

In 1952, the Burlington Flints joined the Three-I League and played two seasons as the Flints before returning to the Bees nickname in 1954. The Bees played ten seasons in the Three-I League with five of those (1955-1959) as an affiliate of the Chicago Cubs. During the 1958 season, Burlington was home to a 20-year old outfielder named Billy Williams. Williams played 61 games with the Bees and hit .304 with 10 home runs and 38 RBI before getting promoted. Williams arrived in Wrigley Field in 1959 to start of an 18-year Major League career that ended with a .290 batting average, 426 home runs, and 1475 RBI. Williams was the first former Bee inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1987. Over the years, Community Field has been the starting point for many more great ballplayers.

Burlington finished its final two years in the Three-I League as an affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates before joining the Midwest League in 1962. The team posted a 44-79 record, making the '62 season was the worst in the last 100 years. Things turned around quickly in 1963 as the team switched Major League affiliates to the Kansas City A's. The relationship with the A's is the longest in franchise history, spanning 12 seasons and the parent club's relocation to Oakland in 1968. The A's sent many talented players through Burlington. Sal Bando led the team to its first Midwest League Championship in 1965 and went on to be a four-time All-Star in 16 Major League seasons and also the General Manager of the Milwaukee Brewers. In 1968, a 19-year-old Vida Blue struck out a Midwest League high 231 batters, a mark that still stands as the Burlington single-season record. Blue returned to Burlington in 2001 and to be inducted into the Burlington Baseball Hall of Fame and have his #47 retired before the Bees game on July 27th. George Hendrick also played here in '68 and won the Midwest League batting crown on his way to four All-Star appearances in an 18-year Major League career. A young Phil Garner got his start with the Bees in 1971 and went on to make three All-Star appearances during his 16-year stay in the Major Leagues. Garner has also managed parts of 13 seasons in the Major Leagues, and led the Houston Astros to their first World Series appearance in 2005. Chet Lemon started his career as a third baseman with the Bees in 1972-73 and went on to play in three All-Star games during his 16-year Major League career. Outfielder Claudell Washington starred for the Bees in '73 and went on to play 17 years in the Major Leagues and make two All-Star appearances.

Despite the great successes on the field during those years, Community Field saw tragedy in the early 70's as well. On June 9th, 1971 the original grandstand burnt to the ground. The complete rebuilding process wasn't done until 1973, but play continued during that time with temporary bleachers set up for the fans. The community showed their dedication to having professional baseball in their city by spending countless volunteer hours putting the stadium back in order.

Paul Molitor
The fans didn't have to wait too much longer to celebrate another championship. In 1975, the franchise became an affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers and won the Midwest League for the second time in 1977. The key to the season came on June 7th. That day the Brewers' selected Paul Molitor out of the University of Minnesota in the first round (3rd overall) of the draft and assigned him to Burlington. Molitor led the Bees to the championship by hitting .346 with eight home runs and 50 RBI in 64 games and was named the Midwest League's Most Valuable Player. Molitor made the Brewers' Major League roster in spring training in 1978 and never returned to the minor leagues for the rest of his 20-year Major League career that ended after the 1998 season with the Minnesota Twins. Molitor was enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2004, becoming the second former Bee to receive that honor. A long career and many awards has not led Molitor to forget his minor league roots. Molitor has been a key figure in Bees' baseball history both on and off the field. He came back to Burlington in 1995 to speak at a fund-raising dinner. That night he and Billy Williams became the first two players inducted into the Burlington Baseball Hall of Fame. He returned again as a roving instructor with the Twins in 2003, signed autographs for the fans, and had his #16 retired by the organization.

The 1977 Burlington Bees. Paul Molitor sits first on the left in the front row.
The Bees qualified for the postseason four more times between 1978 and 1998, but suffered through 17 losing seasons in 21 years. The Brewers finished their stay in 1981 and that started a chain reaction of affiliate changes that would last over 20 years. Regardless of the affiliate, more great careers were started. In 1981, the Brewers sent a young Terry Bevington to manage after playing in Burlington just the year before. Bevington's first team finished just 54-81, but he would go on to manage in the Majors with the White Sox from 1995-97. One of his players was 3B Randy Ready, who ended up playing 13 seasons in the Major Leagues and returned to Community Field in 2004 and '05 as the manager of the Ft. Wayne Wizards.

3B Tom Redington was voted the Midwest League MVP, Prospect of the Year, and All-Star Game MVP in 1989. DH Matt Raleigh tied the franchise record with 34 home runs in 1994 and in 1995, 1B/DH Jesse Ibarra matched that mark on his way to winning MWL MVP honors himself. In 1997, the Cincinnati Reds fielded a team that broke the franchise records for team batting, runs, home runs, and RBI, but suffered a crushing loss in the playoffs to Cedar Rapids to leave the season with a bitter end.

Fortunately, those memories were soon erased as the team returned to the top of the standings in 1999. In the first year of affiliation with the Chicago White Sox, the Bees rallied to clinch a playoff spot on the final day of the regular season and went on to capture the organization's third Midwest League title by beating the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers three games to two in the Championship Series.

The 2008 season started off slowly, but with a roster full of highly-touted prospects, the Bees turned the season around by winning the second-half Western Division Championship with a 43-26 record. The team finished the season with a 73-65 overall record. The Bees would go on to sweep the first two rounds of the Midwest League Playoffs over Kane County and Cedar Rapids. The Bees would go on to sweep South Bend in the championship series as well, going 6-0 in the playoffs, and capturing the fourth Midwest League Championship in franchise history.

The Bees became an affiliate of the Oakland A's once again in 2011, the 13th season overall. The Bees have been affiliated with the following teams since joining the Midwest League: Pittsburgh Pirates (1962), Kansas City/Oakland A's (63-74), Milwaukee Brewers (75-81), Texas Rangers (82-85), Montreal Expos (86-87 and 93-94), Atlanta Braves (88-90), Houston Astros (91-92), San Francisco Giants (95-96), Cincinnati Reds (97-98), Chicago White Sox (99-00), Kansas City Royals (2001-2010), and Oakland A's (2011-present.

Part of the fun of minor league baseball and its ever-changing landscape is following the careers of the players as they try to reach the ultimate dream of playing in the Major Leagues. There have been 180 former Bees that have played in the Major Leagues since the organization joined the Midwest League in 1962.

Larry Walker

Ruben Sierra
* 1997 National League MVP and five-time All-Star Larry Walker hit 29 home runs for the Bees in 1986 as a member of the Montreal Expos farm system. Walker won three National League batting titles, seven Gold Glove Awards, and 3 Silver Sluggers. He retired after the 2005 season, and ended his career with a .313 batting average, 383 home runs, 1311 RBI, 1355 runs scored, and 230 stolen bases. His next stop should be Cooperstown, NY and the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

* Ruben Sierra played with the Bees in 1984 and ranks second on the single-season list with 138 games played that year. Sierra is a four-time Major League All-Star and finished second in the AL MVP voting in 1989. In his career, he hit 306 homers in 19 seasons, made six trips to the postseason, and was named the 2002 AL Comeback Player of the Year.

* Left-hander Kenny Rogers pitched for the Bees in 1985. Rogers has been to four All-Star games, has won five Gold Gloves, and has a 219-156 record in 20 big league seasons. He helped lead the Detroit Tigers to the 2006 World Series.

Jose Vidro

Ugueth Urbina
* 2B Jose Vidro played for the Bees in 1993 and has been an All-Star three times in his twelve Major League seasons with the Montreal Expos, Washington Nationals, and Seattle Mariners. Vidro is a lifetime .298 hitter with 128 home runs, 654 RBI, and 720 runs scored.

* Closer Ugueth Urbina was the ace of the Bees pitching staff in '93, going 10-1 with a 1.99 ERA. During his career Urbina was selected to two All-Star teams, led the NL with 41 saves in 1999, and saved four games to help the Florida Marlins with the World Series in 2003. His 237 saves ranks 30th in Major League history.

* The Atlanta Braves groomed future stars like C Javy Lopez and LH relief specialist Mike Stanton during their stay in Burlington from 1988-90. Lopez was a three-time All-Star and was the MVP of the 1996 NLCS. In 15 seasons, he had a lifetime batting average of .287 with 260 home runs and 864 RBI while participating in the post-season nine times. Stanton was an All-Star in 2001 and pitched for eight different teams in his 19-year career . Stanton was 68-63 with a 3.92 ERA and 84 saves in 1178 career appearances.

Javy Lopez

Mark Buehrle

* Chicago White Sox pitcher Mark Buehrle made his professional debut with the Bees in 1999 and was one of the cornerstones of that year's Midwest League Championship team. He is now a star in the Major Leagues. In nine Major League seasons, he is 122-87 with a 3.80 ERA. He is a three-time All-Star, and started the All-Star Game in 2005. He led the league in innings pitched in 2004 and 2005, and even came out of the bullpen to earn a save on short rest as the White Sox swept the Houston Astros in the World Series in 2005.

* Royals prospect Mitch Maier played his first full professional season with the Bees in 2004 when he hit .300 with four home runs, 36 RBI, and 34 stolen bases. He was first called up to the Major Leagues in 2006, and finished the 2008 season with the Royals where he hit .286 in 34 games.

* Although Luke Hochevar's stay in Burlington was short, he made a great impression on Bees fans. The young star pitcher sported a 1.17 ERA in four starts for the Bees in 2006. Hochevar would make his ML debut with the Royals in 2007.

Mike Moustakas

Eric Hosmer

* 2011 saw eight former Bees make their Major League debut, including former first round selections 3B Mike Moustakas (2nd overall) and 1B Eric Hosmer (3rd overall). Moustakas was a big reason the Bees won the MWL championship in 2008 when he led the league with 22 home runs. Hosmer played in Burlington in 2009 and had one of the best rookie seasons in Royals history when he hit .295 with 19 home runs. Other notables making their debut in 2011 include 2B Johnny Giavotella, P Danny Duffy, C Salvador Perez and P Louis Coleman.

Starting in 1999, a series of projects started to improve Community Field and make it more fan-friendly. All of the bleachers and box seats have been replaced, the sound system has been upgraded, the Budweiser Party Deck has been elevated from ground level to provide a better view of the game and a more exclusive spot for group outings, a new addition to the maintenance shed was built to provide extra storage and keep things neat, new concrete has been poured around the shed and the party deck area, and an upgraded scoreboard with a message center sits in right-center field courtesy of Pepsi and the Witte Foundation in conjunction with US Bank.

Several other projects had to be complete in order to make Community Field a more attractive place for an affiliate to develop its players. The playing field was completely redone for the 2001 campaign and now ranks amongst the best playing surfaces in the Midwest League. The home clubhouse facility has been expanded and remodeled several times in the last ten years and also ranks among the best in the league. An indoor batting facility was added in 2003, giving the team a chance to get their work done without worrying about the weather.

The funding for all of these projects comes from all of the various fundraisers run by the Friends of Community Field throughout the year like the NFL and NASCAR Pools, the annual Golf Outing, and the Winter Banquet. Contributions of materials and labor from local businesses and volunteers have also been an invaluable resource for the organization.

In 2004, the Bees joined with representatives from the Burlington Public Library, the Des Moines County Historical Society, Big Hollow Recreation Park, and the Burlington Auditorium to form the Great River Gateway Group. With the help of the Southeast Iowa Regional Planning Commission, this group applied to the state's Vision Iowa program for funding to complete major construction or renovation for each facility. In August, the Vision Iowa Committee awarded the group a $5.5 million dollar grant of which the Bees received $1.1 million dollars. This money, combined with other funds received from the City of Burlington, Des Moines County, corporate and private pledges, and in-kind donations from contractors, allowed the Bees to complete a $3 million renovation of Community Field in time for Opening Day, 2005.

The "Extreme Makeover" of Community Field included: a brand new building to hold the concession stands, souvenir store, ticket window, front office, and board room; a brand new press box (double in size of the previous one) that includes the Hall of Fame Suite that fans can rent on a game-by-game basis; an expanded main concourse with protected seating; a canopy roof to cover the entire concourse and a portion of the seating in the center of the grandstand; an expanded clubhouse for the visiting team and the umpires; more public restrooms; a scrolling marquee along the street in front of the stadium; paving on the outer drive and center lanes of the parking lot, and two stadium entrances with brick pillars and ironwork. All of these improvements turned a quaint little ballpark into a beautiful professional baseball stadium.

More improvements were to follow. Both dugouts were upgraded and expanded, and a new concession stand was built on the Budwesier Party Deck. Light poles were also recently added in the parking lot.

The future of Bees baseball has never looked brighter and the organization thanks everyone involved for all of their efforts to help us reach this point. We hope you have an opportunity to come to Community Field to share in the history and tradition and have some fun while watching the future of America's Pastime up close and in person!