It was sheer delight last evening to play the Brewers game from the MLB.TV app on my PlayStation and then use the WTMJ radio broadcast for the audio. Getting to listen to Bob Uecker and Joe Block in a relatively well-synched fashion with the game video was fantastic. What a feature.
Late in the broadcast, Uecker began to talk about going to Brewers games at Borchert Field in Milwaukee, which was located approximately where I-43 runs today up between Burleigh Street to the north and Locust Street to the south. There’s a plaque in the area today to commemorate Borchert Field and the minor league Milwaukee Brewers that played there.
Those Brewers, of the American Association, were a team that featured the Barrelman as a logo and played in Milwaukee for half a century (1902-1952). They started out as a Single-A club but by the time Uecker would have seen them, they were a Double-A and later a Triple-A team.
At first I thought Uecker said he’d played at Borchert Field as a pro, but that likely would have been impossible. Uecker, 79, was born in 1935, and the last season for the American Association Brewers at Borchert Field was 1952. So, Uecker would have been only 17 years old when the minor league Brewers played their last season on the north side. That timeline would have given Ueck plenty of opportunities to catch games as a young fan, however.
Uecker, an elder statesman of Milwaukee baseball, has been around what seems like forever, especially for younger fans. But when you think about it, Ueck was only 22 years old when Hank Aaron and the Milwaukee Braves won the World Series in 1957.
Aaron, 80, was born in 1934, so despite his already-advanced status in 1957, he is only a year older than Uecker. Uecker spent that season in the minors, in Eau Claire, Evansville, Indiana and Wichita, Kansas. He played in 102 games that season altogether, with a respectable .275 batting average.
At age 21, Uecker began his professional baseball career with the Eau Claire Braves of the Northern League, a Milwaukee affiliate for which Aaron had also played. Uecker debuted in Eau Claire in 1956, three years after the Braves moved to Milwaukee. Uecker played for a number of teams with the Braves moniker according to Baseball Reference. B-Ref lists among his teams the Boise Braves, the Evansville Braves, the Wichita Braves and the Jacksonville Braves, along with the Milwaukee and Atlanta Braves. Uecker was also one of a handful of Wisconsinites to play for the 1958 Atlanta Crackers, another Milwaukee Braves affiliate.
At age 27, Uecker made his MLB debut with the Milwaukee Braves in April of 1962, nearly ten years after the Braves had moved to Milwaukee. By that time, the American Association Brewers, the dominant hometown team of Uecker’s youth, was long gone, off to Toledo, Ohio, displaced in Milwaukee by the big leagues.
It must have been interesting and maybe a bit strange for Uecker to witness Milwaukee’s transition from minor league baseball at Borchert Field toward the major league happenings at County Stadium. Milwaukee became part of the big time at a crucial juncture for Uecker, allowing him to spend some of his professional career in his hometown.
Of course, Uecker wasn’t just a witness but a participant, doing his apprenticeship in the minor leagues in various parts of the country before joining the big league club in Milwaukee. It’s pretty awesome, though, that in Uecker, fans of the Brewers have a living, breathing, articulate connection to those long-faded days when the American Association Brewers and Borchert Field ruled the roost, more than 60 years ago.