Play Ball!

by Anne Gaynor

Thousands of fans will flock to Miller Park today for the Milwaukee Brewers opening day game. One hundred years ago, Milwaukee fans flooded smaller ballparks and sandlots to see lesser-known teams for the same occasion. Of these teams, the Kosciuszko Reds were a south side Milwaukee favorite. In its decade of existence from 1909 to 1919, the Reds won several local circuit pennants as well as a devoted following in Milwaukee’s Polish Community.

The Kosciuszko Reds were founded in 1909 in part by Louis Fons, a prominent Polish-American businessman, joining the ranks of dozens of other semiprofessional and sandlot teams outside of the world of organized baseball. The Reds worked their way up from the local semiprofessional City League to the more exclusive Lake Shore League where they claimed the pennant over their rivals in other southeastern Wisconsin and northern Illinois towns in 1912, 1914, and 1915.

Although many of the Reds players were not, in fact, Polish, its founder’s Polish roots, the team’s red and white uniforms echoing Poland’s flag, and the community support of Milwaukee’s Polonia helped make the Reds a decidedly Polish team.

In 1912, a new ballpark for the Reds was erected at Harrison St. and Grove St. (now W. Harrison St. and S. 5th St). It opened in May, unfinished, with an exhibition game against the Peters Union Giants, an African American semiprofessional team from Chicago. Roman Kwasniewski hauled his equipment to the ballpark that day to photograph the action.

Kosciuszko Reds George Disch swings and misses

Kosciuszko Reds George Disch swings and misses

A player for the Union Giants slides into first base
A player for the Union Giants slides into first base

More images from the Giants vs. Reds game can be found in the Milwaukee Neighborhoods collection: http://collections.lib.uwm.edu/cdm/search/collection/mkenh/searchterm/kwasniewski%20baseball/order/nosort

Kwasniewski captured other photographs of the team as well, including these:

A Kosciuszko Reds player warming up
A Kosciuszko Reds player warming up

A Kosciuszko Reds player poses with his bat
A Kosciuszko Reds player poses with his bat

This information in this post comes largely from UWM History Professor Neal Pease’s two excellent articles on Milwaukee’s Kosciuszko Reds:

Pease, N. (2004). The Kosciuszko Reds, 1909-1919: Kings of the Milwaukee sandlots. Polish American Studies, 61(1), 11-26.

Pease, N. (2005). Big game on the South Side: A Milwaukee baseball mystery decoded. Wisconsin Magazine of History, 88(3), 28-39. http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/wmh/pdf/spring05_game.pdf

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