Field of Dreams: Baseball park brought light to World War II years

 By Hugh Bernreuter

The Saginaw News
GALLOWAY, Mich. (AP) — Snow covers the field that covers the memories of a different generation and a different time.
In the summer, corn and beans grow there, just as they did before 1937 and just as they have since 1959. But between 1937 and 1959, the field was covered by players, bases, umpires and a doodlebug.

In 1937, Henry Wenzel created his own Field of Dreams, turning farmland into a baseball field in Galloway, a small hamlet south of Merrill on the border of Saginaw and Gratiot counties. The field was built on the west side of Meridian Road, putting it in Gratiot County, according to The Saginaw News.

“People thought it was for money, but it wasn’t a moneymaker,” said Kenneth Wenzel, who played and managed on the field.

Wenzel, now 91, watched as his older brothers and neighbors helped Henry Wenzel build the field in 1937.

“It was more than a field. It brought people together. Back in those days, people didn’t have TVs and things like that. You got the news there. You got the gossip. That’s where people came together on a Sunday afternoon to share what was new. During the war, that’s where you found out whose son or neighbor had been drafted, or where they were fighting.

“A lot of us ended up marrying girls from Marion Springs. They had a softball team that played there. Maybe you played a little harder if you knew they were watching.”

Wenzel Park also had something unique for a 1937 ball field. It had electricity and lights.

“We didn’t get electricity to our farm until 1936, so that was something new for everybody,” Kenneth Wenzel said. “And even then, we didn’t have outlets on the wall, just a big light on the ceiling in the middle of the room. So to have electricity and lights at the ballfield was pretty special.”

The lights made weeknight games possible. The field featured Sunday afternoon baseball games, and the rest of the week belonged to night softball games.

Henry Wenzel owned the neighborhood grocery store, which also sold gas and fuel oil. He and his wife, Clara, had one daughter, Carol Sirrine. His brother, George Wenzel, had nine sons and three daughters: Warren, Kenneth, Dale, Rich, Danny, Archie, David, Gerald, Ben, Georgeann, Lila and Barbara.

“The kids in the neighborhood didn’t have a place to play ball . when my dad was growing up, he didn’t have a place to play,” Carol Sirrine said. “He wanted them to have a place to play. He loved baseball.”

Henry Wenzel built the field, leaving just a dirt skin and no grass. He used the trees from the farm to build the light poles.

“I remember watching a bunch of farmers, probably around 15 of them, get together to skin the bark off the trees,” Kenneth Wenzel said. “A week later, they got together to put them in the ground. I was too young to help, but I was the one who was in charge of replacing the light bulbs.”

For 20 years, the field featured men’s and women’s teams from not just Merrill, but Breckenridge, Hemlock, Marion Springs, Lakefield, Wheeler, Ithaca and Saginaw. Players from the farms near the ball field had their own baseball and softball teams, representing Wenzel Park in leagues and tournaments.

“Back then, it was like being at Tiger Stadium,” said Carl Honaman, 78. “Mr. Wenzel would charge a quarter to watch the game. Then his wife (Clara) sold candy bars, pop and ice cream. They would get 200 to 300 people for a game.”

Henry Wenzel was not just the owner. He was the groundskeeper, announcer and trainer. Between games, he brought out his doodlebug to rake the field, then chalked the lines. Before games on hot days, Wenzel filled a 10-gallon milk can with lemonade, though nobody knew where he got the lemons.

During the game, he took care of the announcing, giving the games a professional feel . at least until he became a little too emotionally involved.

“I got to keep score in the press box,” Honaman said. “He built a nice press box with a loudspeaker, and he’d climb up there to announce the players and do a little play by play. One day we’re up there, and Danny Wenzel hits a ball out in the bean field behind the fence. All of a sudden, Henry gets up and yells, ‘Run, Danny, run.’ He looked at me and said, ‘I can’t do that. You have to broadcast the game.’ I was 12.”

The outfield fences were 240 feet from home plate and 4 feet high, so outfielders could hop the fence to get the home run balls back. Because of the war, baseballs were not plentiful, and each game would only have one or two balls. Younger fans who chased down foul balls and brought them back usually received a reward of candy or ice cream.

Honaman remembers cars pulling up to the bleachers, radios on during the game. While the players competed on the field, Honaman remembers listening to a Joe Louis bout from his 1942 Ford two-door.
Games were played on the field through 1957, with Clara scheduling and keeping score.

She kept the scorebooks, maintaining a record of the games and players who graced Wenzel Park. When Carol Wenzel brought her future husband, Ernie Sirrine, to meet her parents, Clara Wenzel brought out her scorebooks, pointing at Ernie’s name and phone number as proof that he played at Wenzel Park.

“Nobody liked to see it happen,” Carol Sirrine said. “But it was too much to handle for my dad. He did everything, from working the field with his doodlebug to announcing.

“We (Wenzel Park) won the softball state championship in 1954. I was the pitcher for the Wenzel Park softball team. It was a great place to grow up. It meant a lot to the people in the area. But by 1959, it was just too much for my dad to take care of.”

In 1967, Henry Wenzel sold his store.

The field still means a lot to the people who remember going to the games or playing on there, even if the all-dirt field left the players hot, dusty and desperate for water.

“It was the dream of the Wenzel family . it only happened because they did it,” Honaman said. “They loved baseball, but it became more than just a baseball park.
“And now, nobody even knows it was there. There’s no sign or evidence that a park was ever there. It was a different time with different challenges. It’s important to remember what that field meant to us and our community during that time.”


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