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A History of Frank Wade Municipal Stadium

Eight decades of history enshrouds the historic landmark

Ryne Ryskoski

Duluth, Minn — When you walk up to the hallowed gates and the timely bricks of Frank Wade Stadium, an overwhelming sense of historical importance appears, and a certain mystique seems to manifest itself. With famed players such as Hank Aaron, Don Larson, Lou Brock, Gaylord Perry, and current New York Mets Manager Terry Collins having all at some point stepped foot on the field, it’s clear why the people of Duluth feel a connection. Some may just know it as the place the Duluth Huskies have played for the last few years, but the meaning and history of the storied ballpark goes much deeper.

The stadium’s name comes from Frank Wade, Duluth’s “Mr. Baseball.” Frank Wade was the owner of the Dukes from 1934 until 1951, and in many ways is the reason that baseball exists today in Duluth. Wade moved to the city from Illinois back in the late 1800s and integrated himself into the baseball world there, following and managing a couple different teams across the Twin Ports area. He helped lead the team to its only Minor League Title back in 1937 when the team won the Northern League pennant. Unfortunately, in July of 1948 six men were killed and many more were severely injured when the team bus struck head-on with a truck on Highway 36. George Treadwell, James Graeish, Gerald “Peanuts” Peterson, Don Schuchman, Gil Krirdla, and Steve Lazar died in the tragic accident. Four years later Wade sold the team and served as an advisor until 1953 when he passed away from a heart attack. Duluth Municipal All-Sports Stadium was then renamed to Frank Wade Municipal Stadium shortly after in his honor.

When Wade Stadium had been built back in 1941, it housed a minor league team named the Duluth Dukes who paved the way and made it the landmark we know today. The Dukes were originally a minor league affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals and stayed with the organization until 1951 when they played without a Major League parent team for two years and then became a part of the Cincinnati Redlegs. In 1956, the Dukes and the Superior Blues from across the bridge in Superior, Wisconsin were combined to create one team dubbed the Duluth-Superior White Sox that continued to play with several different Major League parent teams such as the Detroit Tigers and the Chicago Cubs. But in 1970 the Northern League ended, leaving Wade Stadium without a team to call it home.

The stadium remained vacant for nearly 25 years until 1993, when the Northern League was reinstated, and the Dukes returned to Wade Stadium. Former Duluth Mayor Don Ness remembers going to that opening day game. He still remembers the “excitement and pride of the community watching the beautiful game on a gorgeous summer night and with a clear sense that everyone there was creating a memory that they would never forget. Now, when I bring my family to a Huskies game, I know I’m investing in lifelong memories for my kids.”

While Wade Stadium was vacant over the 70s and 80s, Ness actually played there in the Central Little League when he was just 13 years old. “It was 1987 and the stadium was a mess since it hadn’t had a minor league team playing there for many years. We were getting crushed when coach brought me in from shortstop to pitch in relief. My pitching performance and the game as a whole was a disaster for our team, but it’s still a favorite memory because it was such a thrill to play in the stadium.”

The Dukes played there until 2003 when the team was moved the Kansas City and renamed the T-Bones, leaving the citizens of Duluth without baseball once again. But Bobby McCarthy took the opportunity and became the owner. The team was set to play in the Northwoods League under Manager Jeff Casper, bringing a new kind of baseball that the city hadn’t seen before. Up until 2003, Wade Stadium had only experienced professional baseball with the Dukes and White Sox, but fans have since had the privilege of watching young collegiate players who one day hope to reach the minor and major league ranks instead. Jon Winter is a longtime fan of the Huskies and the Dukes and has witnessed over 1,000 straight games at Wade Stadium, so he has been able to see both sides of the spectrum. He said that he actually prefers to watch the collegiate level players that play today. “Personally, I prefer the Huskies over what we had with the Dukes”, Winter said. “Watching players with MLB potential improve and being able to follow their careers is an advantage with the Northwoods League.”

McCarthy stepped down as Owner in 2011, which allowed current Owner Michael Rosenzweig to take over the role. “He (McCarthy) took a bit of a chance, and my hat is off to him for being that guy that was gutsy enough to do this”, Rosenzweig said about Bobby McCarthy bringing back baseball to Duluth. He also talked about the fact that when the Dukes left, “they left on not too good of terms with anyone. So with bringing a team back sometimes people remember the pain of the team leaving, so for McCarthy to go through all those painful events again, it’s pretty commendable of him.” When asked simply why he wanted to own the team, he said that “there are a lot of things we put on our bucket list when we’re young, and one of the things I had was to someday own a baseball team.” Rosenzweig is just as passionate about the team and knows what it represents to the city just as much as any fan, saying that “I want to keep this team in Duluth. There was worry (about the team leaving) because we’ve had other teams come and go, but I wanted this team to stay.”

There would however be a large obstacle to overcome to allow Wade Stadium to live on back in 2013/2014. Up until then the ballpark hadn’t been sufficiently renovated in such a long time to the point that it could have possibly been deemed unplayable. Ness, who was Mayor during all of these problems and had firsthand experience in dealing with everything said that “the drainage of the field was awful, even a modest rain would result in standing water for hours. The brickwork was crumbling, and the tops of the brick walls were leaning and there were a couple of times when the bricks collapsed to the ground. Ultimately, it was an embarrassment for the community.”

The Duluth mayor would not tolerate the poor conditions for very long as a $4.6 million renovation was approved which allowed baseball to continue in the city. A new drainage system, new lights, a new scoreboard, new synthetic field turf, new fencing and padding, along with brick wall repairs were all part of the new changes. Back in 2014, the city and Ness were investing heavily in the St. Louis River Corridor with a focus on family activities and outdoor recreation. “Wade Stadium’s renovation was the cornerstone for these efforts and I’m really proud of how it turned out.  There’s still more work to be done, but these improvements will ensure that Wade Stadium will survive to see its 100th anniversary”, he said.

It’s been smooth sailing for the Huskies and the stadium since then with no end in sight. Securing funding for future renovations are a goal, but for now, baseball will live on in Duluth in the form of the Huskies for the foreseeable future.

The Huskies start a two-game set against the Willmar Stingers tonight. First pitch is set for 7:05 pm with live game coverage on 92.1 The Fan and twinportssportshub.com beginning at 6:55 pm. All Duluth Huskies and Northwoods League games are live streamed online at portal.stretchlive.com/nwl to watch.

Be sure to follow the Duluth Huskies on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat all season long. Check out duluthhuskies.com for tickets to upcoming games. For more in-depth news on the Huskies, be sure to follow @XtraInningsWithRyne and @JoeChatzHuskies on Facebook.

 

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The Duluth Huskies are a member of the finest developmental league for elite college baseball players, the Northwoods League. Now in its 26th anniversary season, the Northwoods League is the largest organized baseball league in the world with 22 teams, drawing significantly more fans, in a friendly ballpark experience, than any league of its kind. A valuable training ground for coaches, umpires and front office staff, more than 200 former Northwoods League players have advanced to Major League Baseball, including three-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer (WAS), two-time World Series Champions Ben Zobrist (CHC) and Brandon Crawford (SFG) and MLB All-Stars Chris Sale (BOS), Jordan Zimmermann (DET) and Curtis Granderson (TOR). All league games are viewable live via the Northwoods League portal. For more information, visit www.duluthhuskies.com or download the new Northwoods League Mobile App on the Apple App Store or on Google Play and set the Huskies as your favorite team.