Galloway ball park brought light to WWII years

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 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 ( http://bit.ly/1awg9U2 ).

“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.

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