June 24, 2019.
After numerous meetings, public hearings, debates, discussions, and on-the-record votes, it was clear that at the home opener of the inaugural season of the Milwaukee Milkmen in Franklin’s Routine Field, project organizers had one component they couldn’t control: the weather.
Fans began arriving as early as 4:00.
But then shortly after 5:00…
The skies opened, and how, for awhile.
There was hope, however.
There was a noticeable buzz and excitement inside the ballpark, despite cloudy skies, rain showers, gusty winds and cool temperatures.
Four hours and seven minutes after the first pitch the Milkmen lost to the Gary South Shore Rail Cats, 3-2 in 11 innings. That mattered little to enthusiastic fans. Franklin had witnessed what for so long seemed so impossible: minor league baseball in a brand new beautiful facility. What a memorable day, even with the pesky dark clouds.
A very loyal fan base had to endure a season of struggles as the Milkmen could only muster a 38-62 record.
Things just had to be better in 2020, right?
A rough start
In April the Board of Directors of the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball announced they were postponing the start of the 2020 regular season, which was scheduled for May 19. .
“The American Association looks forward to the day when we can safely re-open our stadiums to our fans and provide entertainment and social interaction,” said American Association Commissioner Joshua Schaub. “However, we will not jeopardize the safety of our fans, staff, players, umpires or vendors and will abide by all national and local restrictions when determining if we can open in early July.”
The league then decided in June to begin a six team, 60-game season with fans in attendance on Friday, July 3. The season would operate out of three hubs, with games hosted by the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks, Milwaukee Milkmen and Sioux Falls Canaries. Each team would play 42 of their 60 games in their hub to limit travel. The schedule would (and did) allow any of the three road clubs to return home for games if local governmental restrictions allowed for games with fans in attendance. Teams that participated in the 2020 season were based on cities allowing for fans in attendance at stadiums, geography, and the COVID-19 restrictions that persist in certain American Association cities.
ROC Ventures and the Milwaukee Milkmen released their readiness plan for a return to play on May 22nd after receiving local government approval. This included a “socially distant” seating plan to allow for plenty of space between groups, an emphasis on cashless payments, increased cleanings and hand sanitizing stations, and health screenings prior to entry to the stadium, among several other precautions and preventative measures.
Certainly the team had reason to be optimistic
Their 28-man offseason roster featured three players who had previously appeared in MLB, six players with Triple-A experience, four players with Double-A experience, three with high-A experience, two players who had played full-season A-ball, and three players who appeared at the short-season or rookie-level of the affiliated minor leagues.
Throughout the season the Milkmen remained within striking distance of the top spot in the standings and that was critical as the league announced it would shift to a seven-game series to determine the 2020 American Association Champion. It was the first time in league history a playoff series would be determined in a seven-game set. Previously, all playoff series had been a best-of-five format.
“2020 has been a unique season, to say the least,” said American Association Commissioner Joshua Schaub. “The American Association has been able to safely host high-level professional baseball at our ballparks and in front of fans since early July. We are excited by how the playoff race is shaping up and we want to reward the two clubs who earn post-season berths, along with our fans, by playing a seven-game series to determine the champion this season. As far as we are concerned, the more baseball the better.”
The Milkmen were not the most explosive scoring team in the league, but could play stingy defense and had great pitching.
On September 6 the defeated the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks 3-2 in 11 innings to clinch a playoff spot.
in the process. The victory coupled with the St. Paul Saints win against the Winnipeg Goldeyes gave the Milkmen a five-game lead over the three-way tie for third place with just four games to play sealing the first playoff berth of 2020.
A few days later the Milkmen split a doubleheader against Winnipeg but still clinched the top spot in the American Association season standings and the number one seed in the American Association Finals. They were set to take on the Sioux Falls Canaries in a best-of-seven series to decide the 2020 Champion.
Game 1 was played in Franklin where the Milkmen jumped on the Canaries, scoring six runs in the bottom of the first inning to win 11-6.
The Milkmen took a 2 games to none lead in the series after blanking Sioux Falls, 2-0.
Game 3 and the series moved to Sioux Falls but the result was the same. Milkmen 10, Canaries 5. One more win was needed to win the championship.
But there would be no sweep. In Game 4 the Canaries held on for a 5-3 win, forcing a Game 5, again in Sioux Falls.
On September 17, the Milkmen beat Sioux Falls 4-1 to claim the 2020 American Association Championship by winning the series 4-1. The Milkmen saw a strong outing from starting pitcher David Holmberg who worked 7.1 innings and allowed just one hit and one walk while striking out eight batters.
The win marked the Milkmen’s first American Association title after joining the league just one year ago. In their inaugural season in 2019, they finished 38-62 and missed the playoffs. This year, Milwaukee posted the league’s best regular season record going 34-26.
Celebrate champions and heroes
September 19 at Franklin’s Umbrella Bar:
From L-R, former Franklin Alderman and former Milwaukee County Supervisor Steve Taylor, Kyla Fischer, Franklin Mayor Steve Olson, and Kevin Fischer standing next to the Miles Wolff Trophy, symbolizing the Milwaukee Milkmen’s American Association 2020 Championship.
From L-R, Catcher Christian Correa, Milkmen owner Mike Zimmerman, Kyla, Milkmen Manager Anthony Barone, and Kevin.
Kevin and Jennifer with Brett Walker, a Milwaukee native, who was named the Player of the Year in the American Association.
The Milkmen organization followed all recommended safety guidelines. Staff at the ballpark wore gloves and masks in the stands. There was a significantly reduced capacity in the stands, down 35 percent from 4,000 seats to 1,500 with social distancing.
It was announced at the Milkmen Championship ceremony that Milkmen owner Mike Zimmerman was informed by the Franklin Health Department that during the entire Milkmen season at Franklin Field there were no cases of COVID-19 that resulted from baseball played there. The team and the city health department collaborated to make the 2020 season the safest ever and are to be congratulated for their efforts.
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