The Quad Cities River Bandits and Cedar Rapids Kernels will make history as the first Minor League teams to play Tuesday at the now-iconic ballpark next to the historic “Field of Dreams” movie site in Dyersville, Iowa.
In a throwback to a bygone era of sports, the hosting River Bandits will play as the Davenport Blue Sox (their name during 1913-1916, 1929-1933 and 1934-1937) against the Kernels as the Cedar Rapids Bunnies (their name from 1904-1932), for the ‘MiLB at Field of Dreams‘ Game.
River Bandits owner Dave Heller said Monday that he first suggested playing a minor-league game at Field of Dreams before last year’s first-ever MLB at Field of Dreams match-up between the Chicago White Sox and New York Yankees.
“I’ve been working on this for a year, since last year’s game was such a great success,” he said at Modern Woodmen Park, Davenport, which opened in 1931 as Davenport Municipal Stadium. “I went to MLB and said, we ought to be doing this at the Minor League level. Let us play next year and for a year, I’ve been lobbying for this issue. I’m so pleased we brought it to fruition.”
“Our players have to be so excited. They’re gonna be on national television,” Heller said of the Aug. 9 game broadcast on MLB Network. “That’s the first time most any of them ever have. They’re going to get a chance to play in front of baseball fans from all over the country. That’s gotta be such a thrill.”
“And they’re gonna be playing on the most hallowed ground for baseball in the country,” the Bandits owner said. “It’s an amazing thrill for them.”
“It’s going to be a once-in-a-lifetime, special event for Quad Citians to enjoy and it’s going to be very memorable and special,” Heller said.
In the 8,000-seat, sold-out stadium, he predicted there would be about 6,000 QC area fans.
“We’re gonna have a lot more fans there than Cedar Rapids,” he said. “Because we’re three times better than them, so we’re gonna have at least three times as many people there.”
“We know and we have proven it over and over again, that we’re the best team in eastern Iowa, and we are the best team that represents eastern Iowa, and we’re gonna prove it again Tuesday night,” Heller said.
That is clearly not true, according to the current Midwest League standings, as the Kernels are in first place in the division (61-41), and the Bandits are in last place (38-64).
Even though Cedar Rapids is literally closer to Dyersville (64 miles, compared to 90 miles from Davenport), Heller said the Bandits are considered the home team at Field of Dreams.
“Because we’re better; we have better-looking girls in the Quad Cities; because we have better hotels, a better airport,” he said.
Blue Sox merchandise not for sale yet
The Bandits won’t be able to sell Blue Sox caps and jerseys until 24 hours after the Tuesday game, and they were forced to buy a minimum of merchandise, Heller said.
“It’s their game; we’re playing,” he said of Major League Baseball, which will take sales of merchandise from Field of Dreams. “We can sell Davenport Blue Sox, but only 24 hours after the game. They give you enormous minimums, and we only have a month left in the season.”
“I just don’t imagine there is a big fervor in Moline to buy Davenport Blue Sox,” Heller said. “Cedar Rapids, they’ll buy Cedar Rapids stuff no matter where it is.”
“If you live out in that region of the state, like there’s nothing else there,” he said. “There’s just not – here, you’ve got Moline, Rock Island, Bettendorf. We all have our own identity.”
“If we had played as the Quad City Blue Sox, do I think people would buy it? I do, for sure,” Heller said. “I don’t think people in Coal Valley, Geneseo, Aledo are going, ‘I want to walk around in Davenport Blue Sox shirts.’ ”
Minor League Baseball talks up Davenport
A recent feature about the Blue Sox on milb.com said if either team Tuesday is to have a playing edge from ghosts, the Bandits will get a boost from the Blue Sox of ’33.
After all, if any team is capable of sending victorious vibes through an Iowa cornfield and across decades for the benefit of a descendent, it’s the 1933 Mississippi Valley League champions, the Aug. 7 story said. This was a Class B club so potent it earned mention in national publications as “the rampaging” and “hard-hitting Davenport Blue Sox.”
At 82-32, they posted the highest winning percentage (.719, a league record) of any team in the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues, the American League or the National League that year, and better than that of the famed 1927 New York Yankees. They won both halves of their split-season circuit, set multiple records and brought the joy of baseball to weary people living through hard times.
Playing in the same park where the River Bandits play their home games today, that Davenport team was helmed by Cletus Dixon, the first baseman/manager who’d led the previous year’s Blue Sox to a first-place finish before losing the title series to the Rock Island Islanders.
In ’33, he got by so well he wound up with the league’s manager of the year honors and was credited in the local press with crafting a lineup the likes of which the league had never seen. Both the Blue Sox and the Islanders started strong, but over the course of the summer Davenport separated itself definitively, burning through a 15-game winning streak from the end of July to mid-August.
By year’s end, the Blue Sox had beat the second-place Islanders in 15 out of 23 meetings and had wrapped up the season 19.5 games ahead of them. They trounced them, 4-1, in the best-of-7 championship series, too.
Blue Sox at start of stadium
It was in 1929 when the Blue Sox reorganized and joined the Mississippi Valley League. With few large baseball fields in Davenport, the Blue Sox used a field at the Mississippi Valley Fairgrounds for home games, according to a Davenport Public Library history.
Fans soon discovered the fairgrounds baseball field was lacking in modern amenities compared to Douglas Park in Rock Island and Browning Field in Moline. Its distance from downtown Davenport was another mark against it, as fans had to spend money on public transportation or extra gas for their vehicles to attend games, the library said.
By early 1930, the Davenport Blue Sox’s managers, the Davenport Baseball Club, began to worry that the outdated field would threaten the team’s place in Mississippi Valley League.
With an interest in keeping baseball in the city, the Davenport Levee Commission stepped in to help fill the need for a new modern stadium.
On Sept. 17, 1930 the Davenport Levee Commission authorized the construction of a municipal stadium with a preliminary cost estimate of $60,000. The initial plan was for a baseball park, a football field, practice softball/baseball fields, tennis courts, and playgrounds to be built. The complex would occupy the property between Gaines Street and LeClaire Park, and from the railroad tracks to the riverfront.
Close proximity to downtown Davenport, easy access from Rock Island and Moline, and the potential to create a large parking area were among benefits touted by the Levee Commission.
With lights for night games, the stadium would allow the Blue Sox to compete with other teams in their franchise whose stadiums had been similarly updated.
In the announcement for what they then called the Municipal Stadium, the Davenport Levee Commission made it clear the stadium was not being built for baseball only. It was intended as a recreation center for the citizens of Davenport to enjoy year-round.
The dedication of Davenport Municipal Stadium was held on May 26, 1931, at the start of the first afternoon baseball game. Its first night game — decades before Chicago’s Wrigley Field hosted its first 1988 night game — was held June 4, 1931.
Just two years after it opened, Municipal Stadium hosted a championship team when the Blue Sox beat Rock Island to win the Mississippi Valley League crown. Though pro ball was absent in Davenport from 1938-45 and again from 1953-56, the arrival of the Midwest League in 1960 put Minor League Baseball in the Quad Cities to stay.
The QC team has been known by many different nicknames but most notably as the River Bandits for all but four seasons since 1992. Over the last three decades, the club has helped produce some of the biggest stars in baseball while capturing four championships from 2011-21.
Expansions in the 1940s and in 1962 brought the Davenport stadium capacity up to 6,200 and 8,500 respectively. It is one of the oldest ballparks still in use in all of the minor leagues, although it underwent a major renovation before the 1989 season, lowering the seating capacity to 5,200 and before the 2004 season that brought the ballpark up to modern professional baseball standards and a seating capacity of 4,024.
Cubs to play Dyersville on Thursday
The Tuesday Bandits game is a prelude to the second MLB game Thursday, Aug. 11, at Field of Dreams, between the Chicago Cubs and Cincinnati Reds. That game will be broadcast on FOX.
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