Foul Weather, Fair Ball

Courtesy UW-Madison Archives

Wisconsin does not, perhaps, have the most felicitous climate for outdoor sports. Just ask the men’s and women’s golf teams how much they like to practice during the state’s long, cold winters. (See “Hole in One.”) As you can see in the picture above, the weather problem is hardly new — the UW’s athletic department has always had to think creatively when it comes to dealing with ice and snow.

This shot, circa 1960, shows the UW baseball team holding winter practice within a netted enclosure at the Camp Randall Memorial Shell. The Shell was built between 1954 and 1956 to give the athletic department an all-weather practice facility, and it took some 1,600 tons of concrete to make a roof that would protect Badger teams from the elements. The finished structure was big enough to enable the baseball, tennis, and track squads to practice simultaneously.

Unfortunately, an indoor practice facility wasn’t enough to make the UW’s baseball team very good. In nearly a century of Big Ten seasons between 1896 and 1991, the Badgers won only five conference titles, the last coming in 1950. The team’s sole appearance in the NCAA’s College World Series occurred that year. The Badgers did not win. In the following decades, the squad sank into mediocrity — and worse. The UW finished last in the Big Ten in five of the program’s final eleven seasons.

After 1991, varsity baseball became a victim of a financial crunch at the athletic department and of Title IX gender-equity rules. But a non-scholarship, club team started in 1999 and continues to play on campus today. It holds its winter practices at the McClain Center.

Published in the Spring 2011 issue

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