Nicollet Park


In the spirit of equal opportunity, I would be remiss if I didn’t write a post about the long time home of the Minneapolis Millers. So as a follow up to my posting on the St. Paul Saints ballparks, here are some pictures, as well as a little story telling about the most beloved home of the Millers, old Nicollet Park.

As I mentioned in the previous posts, the Millers have been around in various forms since their founding in 1884, as part of the short lived Northwestern League. When the league folded the Millers were absorbed into the newly formed Western League. This version of the Millers lasted until 1891, when they folded. The name was resurrected in 1894 with the re-founding of the Western League by Ban Johnson and Charles Comiskey.

During these years the Millers kicked around to a lot of different places in town before finding a home at Athletic Park in 1889. Athletic Park was on the corner of Sixth Street and First Avenue North, behind the opulent West Hotel which opened in 1884. A location that is only a few blocks away from Target Field, the new home of the Minnesota Twins. According the definitive historian of Minneapolis Baseball, Stew Thornley, Athletic Park was a tiny little bandbox of a place with outfield distances only 250 ft. at the foul lines.

The West Hotel - Corner of 5th and Hennepin

The Millers were evicted from this prime piece of real estate in mid season in 1896. As a result they moved to a residential area on the corner of Nicollet Ave. and Lake Street. This new field would become their home for the next 59 years, and the Millers opened it by winning the Western League pennant in their first season at Nicollet Park.

Opening Day at Nicollet Park - 1925

When the Western League made the jump into the majors in 1900, and renamed itself the American League, Minneapolis was one of the franchises that was abandoned. In 1902 the team was reborn as a charter member of the minor league American Association where it would remain until the Twins came to town.

Babe Ruth comes to town - 1924 exhibition

Another shot of The Babe at Nicollet Park

To my eyes, the park didn’t look like much. Just the prototypical square of grass, with wooden bleachers crammed inside of a city block, and a high right field fence to make up for the short distance. But to Minneapolitans, the place seems to be the one park that they are the most nostalgic for.

1945

1954

As for distinguishing features, the one that sticks out the most is the red tile roofed, English-Tudor style building that served as the entrance to the park. An odd choice of architectural style for a ball park, but one that fit well with the period houses in the neighborhood.

One of the last games - American Association Championship vs. Rochester Red Wings 1955

The park played host to many home & home double headers against the cross town Saints. By the late 40’s and 50’s the Millers were the AAA club of the NY Giants, and the Saints represented the rival Brooklyn Dodgers. These trolley series a a big part of local baseball lore.

1950's style "light rail"

Roy Campanella circles the bases for the rival Saints - 5/31/1948

Right field fence along Nicollet Ave. - Legend has it that home runs would break windows in the shops across the street, which explains the screen atop the wall

The park initially sat around 4,000 but would be expanded to 10,000 by 1911, and added onto several times over the years. By the 1950’s, the AAA Millers had outgrown the place and began searching for a place to build a new, modern stadium. A site was purchased in St. Louis Park, but opposition by the neighborhood prevented the team from breaking ground. Finally, local businessmen led a bond drive, to raise funds to build a stadium in suburban Bloomington and Metropolitan Stadium was born.

Demolition 1955

Such a sad picture

The Millers moved in for the 1956 season, but their days were numbered. The Met had been built with the purpose of luring a major league team to the Twin cities. After several failed attempts, the local business leaders finally convinced Calvin Griffith to move his Washington Senators franchise to town, the Met was expanded, and the Minnesota Twins were born. As stadiums go, the Met was a very functional place, but it lacked the charm of Nicollet Park. Few of the erector set stadiums of the 1950’s ever developed much of a following. The lone exception being the late County Stadium in Milwaukee, which I once had the great pleasure of catching a game at. But that’s a post for another time.

I think I had this erector set as a kid

Met Stadium dedication 1956

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