Backstory and Context
Nicollet Park was hastily constructed in three weeks in 1896 to house the Minneapolis Millers, who had been given a 30-day notice to leave Athletic Park, their former home, due to the land it stood on being sold. That very year, 1896, would be the first year the Millers would win the Western League pennant. Nicollet would house this team, and many others, for the next 60 years, being the site where several future Hall of Famers would play and the place where folk-lore was born. This field would be the site of 4,800 wins for Millers fans and would grow too small for the crowds, forcing the Millers to move to Bloomington Park (later Metropolitan Stadium) in 1956 after winning the Junior World Series in 1955. The park would be torn down later in that championship year, and a bank would be constructed in 1957. A commemorative marker for the field would not be erected in 1983.
After becoming a charter member of the American Association, the ballpark would gain a new look over the next ten years. The main grandstand was rebuilt before the beginning of the 1909 season, resulting in a necessary move of the press box and players' benches. The third and first base bleachers were also renovated, becoming a covered grandstands. Following the 1911 season, an additional grandstand was added along with a new ornamental red roof supported with iron columns and increased capacity. The capacity doubled rising to approximately 10,000. This was only the beginning of the many renovations and all the history made at this ballpark.
Nicollet Park would house the rivalry of the Minneapolis Millers and the St. Paul Saints in conjunction with St. Paul’s Lexington Park. Hosting two of the best teams in American Association baseball history, these games were highly competitive. The Millers and the Saints would meet 22 games a season, including double-headers on three holidays each year, with a game in the morning in Minneapolis and a game in the evening in St. Paul. These rivalry games would help to break attendance records in Nicollet Park year after year.
Notable pieces of history were born at Nicollet Park. General Mills would first release their “Breakfast for Champions” slogan for Wheaties at the park in 1933, where a child could purchase a baseball ticket for two Wheaties box tops and a dime. Nicollet would also be the place where folk-lore states Andy Oyler hit a two-foot home run, though evidence of Oyler’s only home run as a Miller does not record this odd spectacle. Several future Hall of Famers would also play as Millers, including Ted Williams, Willie Mays, Ray Dandridge, and Babe Ruth. The Millers’ opening day in 1948 would also be one of the first events ever televised in Minnesota.
Willie Mays' career with the Millers wasn't long lived, only playing less than a season before advancing to the major leagues with the New York Giants. Mays averaged a .477 in 35 games and was acknowledged for his excellent defense. In his debut game, Mays was under the impression the game was canceled due to snow. But to his surprise, the tiny field was cleared of snow using a helicopter and the game went on. With Mays' skills, the Millers went on to beat the Columbus Red Birds 11-0. Two months later, Mays was in New York playing for the Giants.
The National Football League would house two teams in Nicollet Park in the 1920s and early 1930s. Both the Minneapolis Marines and the Minneapolis Red Jackets would play home games at the park. Nicollet would also house prize fights throughout its time as a sports venue.
In 1944, Nicollet Park would also become the home of a women’s professional baseball team. The Minneapolis Millerettes of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League would play their only season in the League at Nicollet. Managed by Claude Jonnard, a former New York Giant and Toledo Mud Hen, the Millerettes would have a difficult year and finish last in the six-team league. Due to long road trips and small crowds, the Millerettes spent most of their 1944 season on the road. Still, several notable All-Americans played for the team. Helen Callaghan, whose son would play in the major leagues, was their leading hitter, and Annabelle Lee, the aunt of Bill “the Spaceman” Lee, would pitch the League’s first perfect game as a Millerette in 1944. At the end of the 1944 season, the Minneapolis Millerettes would move to Fort Wayne and become the Daisies, playing from 1945 until the League folded in 1954. The Fort Wayne Daisies would become one of the most successful teams to play for the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.
Sturdevant, Andy. "Willie Mays’ south Minneapolis neighborhood — for just two months in 1951". Minnpost. October 12th 2016. https://www.minnpost.com/stroll/2016/10/willie-mays-south-minneapolis-neighborhood-just-two-months-1951/.
Thornley, Stew. "Nicollet Park, home of the Minneapolis Millers from 1896 to 1955." [Book excerpt] 1988. http://www.stewthornley.net/nicollet_park.html.
Thornley, Stew. Nicollet Park (Minneapolis), Society for American Baseball Research. Accessed Invalid date. https://sabr.org/bioproj/park/2e1a3a55.
Photo sources links:
http://www.projectballpark.org/history/aagpbl/nicollet.html http://www.aagpbl.org/index.cfm/teams/1944/minneapolis-millerettes/10 http://www.digitaldeliftp.com/Recommendations/retro10.html http://www.placeography.org/index.php/Nicollet_Ball_Park,_3048_Nicollet_Avenue,_Minneapolis,_Minneso...