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This week's Flashback
takes you back to Sunday, April 16, 1995. It
is just four days before the scheduled opening of Fox Cities Stadium, the brand
new home of the brand new team in Appleton, the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers.
The Sunday Post-Crescent had a special pullout section dedicated to the
Timber Rattlers and the new stadium. The
article we pulled out of the section was written by Chuck Carlson.
The picture at the top of this
article is taken from the center section. More
pictures along a similar line may be found at Rattler
To the article:
New park keeps Appleton in the game
Without Fox Cities Stadium, chances are minor league baseball would have found a
new home outside the Fox Valley
There were no gray areas, no
sugar coating, no alternatives.
terms of pro baseball remaining in the Fox Valley, it had come down to an
Either build a new stadium to replace the crumbling Goodland Field or watch the
area's minor league baseball team go the way of the pterodactyl.
It really was that simple.
"We knew in order to survive we had to build it," said Steve Malliet,
general manager of the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, formerly known as the Appleton
Foxes. "We really had no
For years, Appleton Foxes officials had tried to make Goodland Field work.
General managers came and general managers went and the one thing they
all shared was a sincere, if misguided, belief that fans would flock to the
cramped, inaccessible, 50-year old park that was far beyond venerable and
spinning toward decaying.
But they didn't. And they
haven't for years.
Finally, there reached a point last year when it became obvious that either a
new stadium would have to be built or the team would have to move.
For years, the vultures had been circling over the franchise.
They were well-heeled investors in other communities who were desperate
for a minor league team and well aware the game was struggling in Appleton.
"We'd been getting offers for the last several years," said John Wollner,
president of Appleton Baseball Club, Inc.
They haven't gotten any lately. And
they don't figure to for a while.
With the building of the $4.5 million Fox Cities Stadium just off U.S. 41,
Appleton baseball is back from the brink of extinction.
"We are going to have a top-notch, high-quality facility," said Mike Reese,
a member of the Wisconsin Sports Authority, which got the funding to build the
But it hasn't been easy.
While plans for the new stadium have kicked around town for years, they only
really got serious a year and a half ago when it became obvious that major
improvements to Goodland Field, mandated by a new Player Development Contract,
would cost at least $1 million.
"It really wasn't in our best long-term interest to do that," Wollner
said. "We could have put a $1
million into Goodland Field and it wouldn't have done anything for attendance.
We had to grow the attendance base."
The Foxes drew only 56,000 fans in 1993 and improved that to 76,000 last year.
But it was nowhere near what was required to make the team viable.
An old stadium and no fans. It was
not exactly the ideal mix.
It was obvious to everyone interested in baseball in the Valley that either a
new stadium be built or ... well, you know.
A fund-raising campaign was begun, a design team hired and a financial package
The Appleton Baseball Club, Inc. already held an option on 40 acres of land near
the Fox River Mall and all that was stopping construction was cash.
"There were three or four months last summer where we really had to do some
soul-searching as to how we were going to pay for this stadium," Wollner said.
"How much risk did we want to take?"
Enough, as it turned out.
Eventually, $2 million was raised in corporate and individual donations and
another $2 million has been assumed in a long-term debt package.
Rattlers officials are confident the other $500,000 or so will be
financed in the next two years. The
Sports Authority owns the stadium and has given the Rattlers a 40-year lease.
Terms of the lease were not released.
The stadium broke ground last August, the new team name was introduced in
September and, said Wollner, "Everything has taken off since then."
To date, nearly 750 season tickets have been sold.
Last year, 115 were sold. More
amazing, almost as many tickets have already been sold for this season than in
total attendance all of last season.
The stadium will seat 3,500 in the stands with room for an additional 2,500 on
grass slopes on either side of the stadium.
"It's going to be much better than Goodland Field," Malliet said.
"It's a great location for baseball with the woods in the background.
It's a level field. Much
more comfortable seating. The
concessions will be nicer."
There will also be more parking and the stadium will be more accessible than
Wollner said total attendance of 140,000 this season would allow the team to
"But I'd be disappointed if we didn't get 200,000," he said.
The project, which normally requires 11 months to complete, is being done in
seven so, literally, the stadium will still be going up when the Rattlers open
at home on Thursday.
But the necessities will be done and only behind-the-scenes work will be left to
do, said Malliet.
That the project has been completed at all is amazing enough.
Now the real task for Rattlers officials is just down the road.
"The curiousity of a new stadium will make a difference, I'm sure,"
Malliet said. "But once we get the
fans, we have to do a great job of getting them back."
FOX CITIES STADIUM FACTS
Who owns Fox Cities Stadium?
The Fox Cities Amateur Sports Authority, which was created as a non-profit
organization for the specific purpose of building the facility.
The Rattlers lease the stadium. And
the lease runs 40 years.
How much will the stadium coast?
The final cost will come in at $4.5 million, which is just over the original
projection of $4.3 million.
How was it financed?
Individual and corporate donations totaled about $2 million and another $2
million is being handled through a long-term debt package.
There is still a shortfall of $500,000, but the Sports Authority believes
it will make that up within the next two years.
There are two other pictures from the pullout section that show the stadium
under construction that
can be seen over at this post on Rattler Radio.
8: In fair territory (1994)
15: Fans flock to see Foxes (1987)
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.