Friday, July 18, 2014

Geary County and Baseball: A Long Standing Love Affair




This county’s love of baseball has spanned nearly 150 years.  This city has seen amateur leagues, little league teams, professional leagues, army teams, and farm teams.  There is no doubt that Geary Countians love their baseball.
The love of baseball began when Junction City’s first ball club was formed in 1867.  It’s unknown what field these gentlemen played on, but the Weekly Union reported that for the team, to “become an organization of which Junction City may justly, feel proud it needs only close application to, and strict observance of the rules of the game, together with the highest respect for any and all officers who may be chosen from time to time.” 
By the 1890s there were numerous teams in Kansas and it seems in 1895 that there was a decent rivalry between the Junction City team and that of Enterprise.  In 1895 the Republican felt that, unlike the team in 1867, the Enterprise boys were not behaving in a manner befitting ball players. The Junction City team lost to the Enterprise team and the paper quipped, “The Junction City team still preserve their good name and honor. The bruisers and bummers at Enterprise can keep the $25 and with it employ some one to teach them a grain of common decency.”
During the 1890s baseball fever was rampant and parties of fans, tally-ho parties, would gather and ride a stage or wagon to other towns to watch the Junction City team play. The Republican reported, “a tally-ho party was made up Tuesday and those composing the party all started for Enterprise with gay and joyous hearts to see the bloody battle.”
Milford Ball Team circa 1900
By the 1920s baseball was well established in Geary County and there were teams across the county and in the different cities.  Milford, Wreford, the Union Pacific, and other areas all had their own teams. There was a ball field along Grant Avenue where the teams played until Rathert Field was completed in 1937. 
The Y ballpark was located about halfway to Ft. Riley by the Union Pacific Y near the shops.  According to Keith Hemenway, “The open air street cars would pull on to a side track, to load and unload the fans.”  For years this field was not supported by funding from a Junior League as later fields were.  Milton Clark, a longtime Junction City baseball fan remembered that the players would chip in money every week so they could buy the ball for Sunday’s game, and “on Sunday morning everyone would be at the ball grounds with rakes and hoes to clean the field” before the afternoon contest.
Y Ball field along Grant Ave near Union Pacific Y
Geary County was lucky and during World War II a number of pro-ballplayers played on the Army team: Archie George played for the Browns, Joe Garagiola played for the Cardinals, Harold Reiser played for the Brooklyn Dodgers, and Alpha Brazle played for the Boston Red Sox. 
Geary County has even had a few home grown people go on to play professional ball.  George Giles played for numerous Negro League teams in the 1930s and Joey Devine was drafted and played for the Atlanta Braves from 2005 to 2011.
Baseball season in Junction City is nearly over, and we all wish the season would last just a few weeks longer so we can watch the Brigade from the green wooden bleachers of Rathert Field.  While enjoying the games at Rathert it can be easy to forget that we’re sitting on a piece of history.  Rathert Field was a WPA project in 1936 and 1937 and has been the venue for professional and historic teams like the Kansas City Monarchs.
So this summer as you’re sitting down on the bleachers or in front of the TV to watch a game, remember that your love of baseball has deep roots in Geary County and that fascination with America’s Favorite Past Time has been shared by its citizens for 150 years.