75 Years with Carson Park
our favorite baseball stadium celebrates diamond anniversary
The 75th anniversary of an event is occasionally termed a “Diamond Jubilee.” This term is appropriate for the 75th anniversary of a notable event in Eau Claire, when a diamond – a baseball diamond – appeared on elevated ground in the middle of Half Moon Lake, the sprawling recreational gem we now know as Carson Park.
Carson Park can be used to describe the aforementioned baseball stadium, or the neighboring football stadium beyond left field, or the entire park that includes the sports complex. In fact, Carson Park the park has existed since 1915, while Carson Park the football stadium and Carson Park the baseball stadium saw their first action in the mid-1930s. However, the baseball section has become the park’s most famous element, considering the storied history of the players that have graced its field.
The ballpark started its life as part of FDR’s New Deal, as a Works Progress Administration project to help lift the nation out of the Great Depression. Once it and the football stadium were complete, Eau Claire had two top-rate facilities for the most popular team sports in the country, with the minor league Eau Claire Bears making the ballpark its home.
The Bears, later becoming the Eau Claire Braves as an affiliate of the National League team of the same name, brought the most significant memories to the ballpark. Bears and Braves players like Bob Uecker, Joe Torre, Andy Pafko and, of course, Hank Aaron, put on the uniform below the Carson Park grandstand. You can see their legacy in concourse memorabilia and in plaques in the Eau Claire Baseball Hall Of Fame out front. Even after the end of the Braves era in 1962, a long run of successful baseball came in the 1970s with the amateur Cavaliers, winning numerous games at Carson under the tutelage of Glenn St. Arnault and Harv Tomter.
Alas, by the 1990s, the Carson Park baseball stadium was in need of renovations, and received them in the form of permanent seats and the aesthetic upgrade of the Henry Aaron statue in front of the stadium, among other modifications. When the Express began play in 2005, more modifications were made, including the construction of the Fan Deck, followed by gradual changes in recent years like a larger press box, a leveled playing field and, this year, a new scoreboard.
Being a baseball fan and longtime Eau Claire resident, I have plenty of Carson Park memories. The first time I recall being in the stadium was as a ten-year-old in my Boy Scout uniform at a Cavs game in the summer of ’88. A few times I would find myself in the first base-side bleachers, chasing foul balls in the scaffolding below the benches before Billy Noss could collect them. Most of my ‘90s Carson Park experiences were during graduations, singing “Pomp & Circumstance” in the Memorial choir during my sophomore & junior years, then receiving my diploma and leaving the MHS choir for the last time – all in the general vicinity of second base.
The majority of my Carson Park days have come in the last seven years of the Express era, either while singing the national anthem, filling in for the PA announcer, helping out my radio stations during a promotional event or simply enjoying the copious amounts of Fan Deck food and drink. What I have noticed in particular is that Carson Park finally feels like home. In the dingier pre-Express days, it felt like a relic of a time when Eau Claire mattered in an athletic sense, reduced to a symbol of the city’s stagnation into the biggest suburb in the middle of nowhere. Now this New Deal project is the heartbeat of numerous summer nights in downtown Eau Claire, where families and baseball folk alike watch the possible next MLB star, and a throng of college kids in the Fan Deck do college things while occasionally noting the game itself. Add with accomplishments like the 2010 Express title, new history is being made all the time.
Be sure to pay Carson Park a visit before the end of this summer. Three hours in one her seats is a most-appropriate gift for good-lookin’ 75-year-old.